He advised upskilling in international trade law and learning about cross-border regulation.
He pointed to guest speaker and High Court judge Bobby Eagar as a sign of what can be achieved by solicitors, as the bench opens up to this side of the profession for those with this “wonderful qualification”.
Gilhooly observed that the biggest deals aren’t always the best deals and that those in the profession should fight the good fight for their clients. “Humility is a good quality to have… and there is nothing more disarming than an apology.”
He said never to reply in anger to an email but to pick up the phone because nothing replaces the personal touch. “And always try to get on with your colleagues.”
Gilhooly advised against ignoring what he called “fish files” – the file in the corner that smells – and encouraged Ireland’s newest solicitors not to be afraid to ask more experienced colleagues for help.
Guest of honour, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, – a former solicitor – said that he saw no upside to Brexit, and that Ireland faced a major threat as a result.
However, he said, there would be huge opportunities for lawyers as business was pushed away from Britain to other European destinations.
The minister said he fundamentally disagreed with British Prime Minister Theresa May when she said that no deal on Brexit was better than a bad deal.
“I never see any circumstances when walking away from the opportunity of a deal, and walking away from the negotiation table, is in the best interests of one’s client, or indeed in the best interests of business.”
The minister said that clients are often distressed and vulnerable when they come to see a solicitor and they put their trust in an advocate. It was both an honour and a responsibility, he said, to play that role in society.
He recalled an extended postal strike when he was a young apprentice. This was a disaster for the legal profession, which relied so heavily on postal communication at the time. As the youngest apprentice in the office, the role of postman was added to his duties and he set off in a Renault 4 and delivered 50 letters around town each evening.
“My plan B was to embrace the postal service as a postman, should indeed I falter as a solicitor,” he quipped.
Minister Flanagan pointed out that the Department of Foreign Affairs was unique in having its own separate legal division and was, therefore, less reliant on the services of the Attorney General.
The legal division is directly involved in the negotiation of international treaties, UN conventions, human rights law, and the international criminal court, and also acts as an agent before the European Court of Human Rights.
Importance of languages
He concurred with Stuart Gilhooly on the advantage of having a European language, adding that the Department of Foreign Affairs offered a wonderful career for lawyers.
High Court judge Bobby Eagar commented that, in criminal law, the solicitor walks with the client “in the valley of death”. A solicitor could advise or persuade but could not direct, he added, even if they believed they had the better idea, he said.