Why I Picked My Masters: Orlaith Cullen

What is your current area of study?

I am currently completing my Masters of Law or LLM in DCU.

What previous qualifications have you obtained?

In May 2020 I graduated from DCU with Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) also called Law and Society.

What made you decide to pursue a postgraduate course? Did COVID-19 influence your decision?

I always knew I wanted to Masters but I thought it would be a year or two after completing my degree before I did one. I wanted time to work and travel and figure out exactly what I wanted areas of the law I wanted to study in more detail. However, COVID-19 meant it was next to impossible to get a job as all law firms were closed while everyone worked remotely and it was no longer safe to travel. I started studying for my FE1s (entrance exams for the Law Society of Ireland that must be completed before you start a traineeship to become a solicitor) and I prepared for exams in August and November. I was feeling really lost and watching the plans I had made for the next two to three years get further and further out of reach. But then at the start of summer all final years got an email about a new scholarship for the LLM programme in DCU. The Scott Scholarship is sponsored by Arthur Cox and the family of the late Frank Scott, a partner at Arthur Cox. The Scholarship is worth €12,000 and covers the academic fees and a stipend for one student to complete an LLM in DCU. I applied straight away and was then shortlisted and interviewed before finding out that I had been awarded the scholarship. The scholarship gave me something positive to focus on and I felt more in control of my future again.

Did you take time out and work or go straight into your postgraduate course following your undergraduate degree and why?

I started my Masters straight after finishing my degree. The Masters was online for the full year and I was used to virtual college from final year. I finished the last of assignments and exams in April 2020, began studying for my FE1s in May and then started my Masters in October 2020. In a normal year I think I would have taken a year out before beginning the Masters to give myself a break after final year but I was grateful to have something else to focus on during lockdown.

Orlaith completed the LLM in DCU.

What factors did you take into consideration when selecting which course to pursue?

The most important thing for me was that I could tailor my Masters to my interests while also learning practical research skills that I could use throughout my career. I knew that doing a taught masters would be really beneficial this year, especially while studying from home. The structure of most of the modules is a mixture between taught and independent research and this provided an opportunity to pick my own research question and really focus on topics that interested me while also learning about the subject more broadly. As I am due to begin my traineeship in 2022, the length of the Masters was a big consideration. The LLM is one year and it’s the perfect amount of time to study each module in detail and write my dissertation and continue studying for my FE1s. I was able to view the course content online before applying for the Masters and there were so many modules that appealed to me. These modules were different from those I studied during my degree and this was also a big consideration as I really wanted to study new areas of the law instead of repeating the same modules. As a DCU student, I was already familiar with the university and the teaching staff and this massively reduced my nerves when I started in October. Studying from home is naturally more difficult than studying on campus as you’re not in contact with your friends, classmates and lecturers as you normally would have been. I knew a lot of the lecturers from my degree and I knew they wanted every student to succeed. There is no internship opportunity in the LLM but having completed an internship in third year of my degree helped me decide what area of law I wanted to pursue and what subjects I wanted to study for my Masters. The Masters is completely online this year but having only six lecture hours a week would allow you to work full time which is another very important thing to consider.

Did your course meet your expectations and why?

I was nervous at the beginning as I wasn’t sure whether the content and the course structure would work with remote learning. Thankfully everything was adapted to ensure it was possible to complete the Masters from home without too much struggle. The LLM has completely surpassed my expectations and all my worries were for nothing. I’ve been really lucky that my lecturers have listened to our concerns and made the course as accessible as possible by providing all the materials as we have no access to the library at present and setting reasonable assessments and assessments. I have been able to develop my knowledge of the intersection of law and society through modules such as Law, Ethics and the Person, Race, Minorities and Indigenous in International Law, Policing and Society and Key Issues in European Migration Law and Policy. These are new subjects that I have never studied before but each one addresses really topical legal issues in the modern world and I get the chance to assess the world around me through a legal lens.

What role do you hope to go into once you complete your postgraduate course?

In 2022 I will begin my traineeship with William Fry and I hope to qualify as a solicitor by 2025. I hope to work as a litigation associate before diversifying into a pro bono focus. The Masters will allow me to pursue these more specialised areas of the law in the future.

What advice would you give to someone unsure as to what they should study at postgraduate level?

Take your time and do as much research as you can. Find out: what modules each course offers and if any of them are compulsory, the assessment types for each module, whether the course is taught or research, the amount of lecture hours each week and whether the course can be done on a full time or part time basis. Make a list of all courses that you are interested in and even add in similar courses that you may initially not have been interested in. If possible speak to the lecturers and students from the modules you intend to pick and find out first-hand what is expected of you. Most importantly remember that for the most part you do not need to go straight from your undergraduate degree to a postgraduate degree, many students benefit from a break after final year or from working in their field of interest. Many employers will cover the cost of a postgraduate course and this is really beneficial for reducing the financial burden of the course and can help develop your professional and academic skills simultaneously.

Orlaith Cullen

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