From DCU to USA – Aoife Moore Kavanagh chats with oxygen.ie about how, at the age of just 22, she passed New York Bar .. from her bedroom!
At the risk of sounding totally cliched, can I ask if it was always your dream to work in law?
No, not always … when I was younger I used to want to be a Spice Girl..
I feel you on that one, but eventually we had to look into more practical options, right?!
Yeah, I soon realised I was going to have to look at more practical options.. At school my favourite subject was English … I particularly loved creative writing and debating. My teacher pushed me to enter writing competitions and I won prizes for my short stories and poems. I wanted a job that would allow me to make a difference, something that would give me a chance to fight for what I believed in
And fast forward a couple of years, you ended up in UCD?
I studied in DCU not UCD, they are the enemy hahaha … no only joking!
Haha, top class journalism here, eh hem.. So you studied in DCU, what was that like?
There are so many brilliant things about DCU, I had the absolute time of my life there. I made friends for life, I had top class lecturers and received an amazing education all while having the craic at the same time. I never had to repeat an exam in the three years I was there because I enjoyed it so much when I studied it didn’t feel like a chore. Over the three years our class (BCL – Law and Society) got significantly smaller but I respected those people for having the courage to leave something behind that they knew wasn’t for them, if your not enjoying it whats the point! My favourite thing about DCU is that they know that becoming a fully rounded graduate is not just about having an excellent academic record, its also about socialising, networking and making friends.
And then from DCU to USA, how did that come about?!
Everyone has heard about the infamous craic that is had on the J1 visa. USIT came into DCU one day and had a chat with us about it and I thought to myself sure I’d be mad not to go. I was in final year and it was my last chance so I had my mind made up. None of my friends had decided to go so I was facing doing it alone until one of the girls said she would come with me. I was so excited I went around chanting SAN FRAN WITH HAN! Hannah was my friend and San Fran was where we were headed and I could not wait! I had an amazing 4 months it changed me as a person in so many positive ways and opened me up to the possibility of a career in America. While I enjoyed the laid-back vibes I knew something more fast paced would suit me and where better to venture than New York.
Fabulous, I did something similar for a couple of Summers… Were you like a mystical Irish fairy to everyone when you lived over there?!
I worked as a concierge in a robot restaurant in San Francisco so it was all a bit mystical alright! Between trying to explain how to pronounce my name “No not Oiiffff or Ayyohfii its actually Ee-fa” to trying to explain how your food would come out through a cubby-hole in the wall I had a great aul laugh.
The classic name struggle! What else did you struggle with? I missed my dogs and tea when I was there… what did you miss?
OH I longed for a spicy chicken fillet roll and didn’t understand why you people didn’t eat mayo with everything (I had to settle for ranch) but I did discover a new found love for burritos and pretzel crust pizza. By the time I came home I realised 1) no matter how long I spent in California I was never going to get that Cali tan and 2) nothing, and I mean nothing, is as bad as a Four Loco hangover.
We hear ya! So, what’s the story with getting a visa to practice law there?
There are four main visa’s for graduates/working professionals. The H-1B visa which allows American employers to employee foreign workers in specialised professions. The Graduate Visa which allows Irish graduates to work in American for 1 year (which can be extended) provide their departure date is no more than 1 year after their graduation date. The Traineeship visa allows people who either i) have a degree from a recognised third level institution and 1 years full time work experience in your qualified field, or ii) someone who has no degree but 5 years of career experience in your field of expertise. Lastly there is the Student visa which allows students to study in an American law school. Depending on the course, you may or may not be allowed to work while you study. The visa situation definitely hasn’t been made easy especially recently but it is possible and people are still moving to America, it just takes time and perseverance. The immigration lawyers in New York are amazing and they are happy to consult with you over the phone about your visa options. Lorcan Shannon is proof of that, he is an Irish lawyer who moved to New York and launched his own law firm at the age of just 29!
Brilliant stuff. And what about the whole Bar exam craic? How did you go about that?
It was very difficult to find out even the most simple things as the bar exam whole process is very much geared towards American students.There were endless phone calls and emails over and back to the Board of Law Examiners as I tried to become familiar with a system that was completely new to me. I did extensive research on the New York Bar Exam and eventually arrived at the Barbri bar preparation course, which was designed to help international students who were taking the New York bar exam. The education in Ireland is fantastic, an Irish degree can take you places you may not have even considered, but thats the problem. A lot of graduates don’t even know what options are out there for them. I think it would be a massive help to students to have some guidance specific lectures implemented into their academic schedule focusing on what avenues are available once they finish college. When it all ends you kind of feel in a daze and if you don’t walk straight in to a graduate job which is often the case you can feel very lost and disheartened. The world is your oyster and every student should feel that!
Tell me, what was it was like to live with Aoife when she was studying 9 hours a day?! Were you a ball of stress living on cans of red bull like I would have been? What did you do to relax?
I was a cranky feck I’m not going to lie. I found it very hard to stay in constantly for days at a time without seeing my friends or leaving the house at all. When I failed the first time I was still seeing my friends regularly enough and still going to the gym, but I knew if I wanted to give it my very best shot I had to dedicate myself 100% to the exam. I usually had one day a week where I would be study free and I found that working out was an excellent way to relieve any stress I was carrying around which is funny for me to say because I always thought I was allergic to exercise but it honestly is good for you not only physically but mentally.
What advice would you give to somebody who is looking to do something similar to you?
What I’ve been saying to people who are asking me for advice is this; Yes its an absolute mission but if it was easy sure wouldn’t everyone be doing it and it will be the most rewarding thing that you have ever done. When you’ve actually done it and you look back at every obstacle you’ve overcome along the way and you know that you deserve your success, nothing beats that feeling. Pick a bar preparation course. Get them to check if your degree confers the requisite amount of academic credits making you eligible to sit the exam. Register and send in your supporting documents. Do your 50 hours of pro bono legal work. Study study study study until your eyes go square. Get the main exam done, the UBE. Its two days long, 6 hours a day and includes 200 multiples choice questions, 2 performance tests and 6 essays on 14 subjects. Once thats done your flying! Do the ethics exam (MPRE) which is usually held 3 weeks after the main event and also requires you to be in New York so kill two birds with one stone and get the two done in the one trip. Do the 18 hours of lectures on the New York Law Course which you can watch on your laptop at home. Do the New York Law Exam (also on your laptop at home). When you pass the UBE, MPRE and NYLE you can prepare your application for admission. You’ll do an interview with the fitness and character committee and then hallelujah! You’ve done it. It’s a tough road but the tough things are always the most worthwhile.
Aoife, you are some woman to do all that. Lucky the man that has you! For the romantics out there, tell us about your lucky man!
We met in a bar in Manhattan, he was the bartender and I was the one ordering g&t’s. We were just friends at first, I thought he was handsome but of course I couldn’t let him know that. He knew how to have the craic and whenever I was with him I always laughing. He became one of my best friends and before either of us knew it we were a couple, though all our friends say it was as obvious as anything. Neither of us were “relationship” kind of people but it just happened so easily and I’m so happy it did. He is studying to become a lawyer too so it’s great that I can give him advice along the way. People always say to me “oh well how do you cope with being long distance that must be so hard”, and yes of course it is, but the only other option is not being with him at all and I know which I would prefer.
What does the future hold for Aoife?
I hope the future holds lots of exciting things for me! I want to go to New York and start working as an attorney, maybe have my own firm one day. I would like to work with the Innocence Project, I would like to be a judge (someone has to take over from Judge Judy, right). I want to write a book. I would love to open an animal sanctuary. The possibilities are endless and so they should be for all Irish students, dream big guys!