With a refreshed executive leadership team now bedded in at the Law Society, Callan believes that there are exciting times ahead for those serving on Council: “There’s a lot of scope for change and evolution in the next ten years,” he observes.
Callan qualified in 1988 and, soon after, began working in the family practice in Boyle, Co Roscommon. After a merger in 2008, the firm became the much larger entity of Callan Tansey, which now has five regional offices and is known for its expertise in medical negligence.
Shaping the response
Chris’s initial introduction to Law Society committee work came when he was asked by his cousin (then President Donald Binchy) to join the Future of the Law Society Task Force, which was being set up to help shape the Society’s response to the publication of the Legal Services Regulation Bill in 2011.
That work was a valuable exercise in learning, Chris says. It opened the possibility of serving on Council, to which he was duly elected in autumn 2012: “I regret that I didn’t try for Council earlier in my career, but that’s hindsight,” he says. “However, my focus until then had been on growing and expanding our own firm.
“I have really loved being on Council, it has been a fantastic experience. I started in the Regulation of Practice Committee and was very fortunate that, within a couple of years, I was chair of what was a quasi-judicial forum. It gave me a real insight – most of the solicitors who came before the committee were those whose practices had just got away from them, and they couldn’t quite catch up. Then they got stressed and into trouble.
“The reality is that the Law Society has a public-interest function and has to make sure that the interests of clients are being protected,” he notes.
“Then I moved on to the Money-Laundering Reporting Committee, which I’m still on. That was invaluable to me, both professionally and personally. You gain a huge amount of personal growth when you’re working with people of the calibre of those working for the Law Society and colleagues on Council. It was an absolute privilege, and I also saw very clearly, at first hand, the amount of work done by people working in the Law Society.”
Chris subsequently became chair of the Finance Committee, which had the job of steering the Law Society sustainably through the COVID era while attempting to maintain Law Society services and managing expenditure.
He strongly encourages any solicitor who feels they would enjoy such learning and experience to consider running for Council. “They will gain an insight into the profession and a network of friends and colleagues that is hugely beneficial.”
The time commitment is significant, he notes, but one that comes with a huge pay-off: “The reality is, the busier you are, the more you get done!” he says. “If you make the commitment, you make the time.”
Chris recommends anyone thinking of standing to get involved with a Law Society committee first. “The truth is that it took me a while to read myself into the job of being on Council. It does help if you’ve got an understanding of how the Law Society itself works, the various departments and directors’ areas, and how they fit together.”
What type of people does he feel the Council now needs?
“We’re currently developing a new strategy for the Council and for the Law Society that must fulfil the future needs of the profession. The landscape has changed, and we need to have a Council that is reflective of the profession. That’s the most important thing.
“It’s a truism that every solicitor looks at the profession through their own work/life experience. But, of course, the Law Society and the profession are becoming ever more diverse.
“We must try to have a Law Society Council that considers the way society is moving, and gives voice to the various interest groups and segments in the profession, such as increasing female participation and the greater role of the in-house sector,” he adds.
That said, Callan cautions would-be Council members against a too heavily weighted ‘sectoral approach’ to the job: “The real challenge for the individual on Council is to leave aside your own perspective and the temptation to see everything through that prism,” he says.
“In truth, you’re not there to represent a constituency – you’re there to represent the profession.”
No one sector should be allowed to dominate, he believes – whether that’s the sole practitioner or the big firm. “You’re not only serving the members you represent, but you’re also serving and protecting the public interest,” he states firmly. “If the profession is to remain strong and vibrant into the future, it will only do so if it really understands the public interest.”
A young hand at the tiller
Fiona McNulty, a senior associate on the Mason, Hayes & Curran healthcare team, was elected to Council by its members following the unexpected death of solicitor Richard Grogan.
At the time, Fiona (34) was chair of the Younger Members Committee, a position that propelled her move on to Council.
“I was elected by Council in a somewhat unusual way. Candidates putting themselves forward in the upcoming elections will be going the more traditional route,” she explains.
Fiona believes that significant change lies ahead for the profession, so it’s imperative that younger members have their voices heard at Council level in order to shape their future.
Fiona qualified in 2016 and initially worked in criminal defence before moving to MHC, which she describes as a progressive, modern, and outward-looking firm. She spends much time in court and specialises in child-care and capacity law.
Was it difficult to settle into sitting on Council?
“There is a lot to take in and learn, the workload is significant, and there was a lot of learning and reading, right from the start. But fellow Council members were hugely welcoming and supportive, and very collegial in sharing advice and guidance,” she explains.
“In terms of workload, Council meetings are every six to eight weeks, and you need to devote almost the full day to the Council meeting, as well as preparation time. There is an expectation that members of Council will participate in various committees,” she adds.
“I was fortunate to have the full support of my firm in taking on the role. I do think it’s important that law firms – whether big or small – should encourage and facilitate their younger lawyers to be involved in committees, or to run for Council.”
So, while the workload is a significant commitment, Fiona believes it is fully achievable, with employer support.
While Council currently benefits from the priceless experience of very senior lawyers, Fiona believes that the younger members of the profession need to make sure that they have their say as well.
Those considering running should have a clear sense of what they wish to achieve, she suggests: “My role on Council is similar to the mandate of the Younger Members Committee – to represent the interests of, and advocate for, younger members. Others may have a different mandate.
“Have a clear sense of what you would like to achieve if elected, in terms of your priorities,” she suggests.
“The Law Society is currently formulating its strategy for 2024 onwards, and there’s a lot of competing interests in there. Younger members want to know that they will have some level of work/life balance, the right support structures in their workplace, and opportunities for mentorship, advancement and promotion.
“I think career supports are a big part of that early stage of one’s career,” she says. “I am also trying to increase the sense of community within the legal profession. Many younger members are training within large corporate firms, and they get a lot from within their firm, but it can mean that the profession is a little bit more disjointed.”
Fiona’s goal is to build lateral collegiality across the profession and to create a network of younger lawyers and trainees, particularly in a climate of increasing movement and career mobility. Younger members have their own agenda, which may be at variance with that of more senior lawyers, she points out, but “we need to work together”.
“I think younger members of the profession don’t necessarily want to work in the same way that lawyers have always worked. That was shown in a survey conducted two years ago by the Younger Members Committee.
“The profession will look very different in ten or 20 years’ time, and younger members have an opportunity now to influence what it will look like.”
LAW SOCIETY COUNCIL ELECTIONS 2023/24
Any solicitor holding current Law Society membership is welcome to put themselves forward each year for election to the Council for a two-year term.
The Council’s purpose is to act “for the better rule and government of the Society, and for the better direction and management of the concerns thereof”.
Comprising 31 elected members, four provincial delegates, and 13 nominated members, the Council represents the Law Society and its members, both in the interests of the public and of the solicitors’ profession generally.
At least eight meetings are held annually on a hybrid basis to discuss a variety of matters, including reports from committees, assigning working groups and task forces, and selecting Society representatives to a variety of bodies.
The greater the diversity of membership across different areas of law, experience, geographic location and practice type, the more representative the Council will be. So, why not get involved?
TAKING THE FIRST STEP
First of all, you will need to be nominated by two other Law Society members – neither of these can be an existing executive member of the Council, that is: president, senior vice-president or junior vice-president.
This year, as part of the Law Society’s ‘digital-first’ policy, the nomination process will be conducted online, so whether you’re putting yourself forward or supporting a colleague’s nomination, you will need to login with your solicitor number and password. Nominations and voting will take place through the Law Society’s website (www.lawsociety.ie), so you will need to know your solicitor number and password ahead of time.
- 1 September – nominations open online on lawsociety.ie,
- 25 September – nominations close at 5pm,
- 12 October – closing date for sending in your canvassing profile (up to 500 words),
- 20 October – e-voting opens: login to lawsociety.ie to get access to the secure e-voting system,
- 2 November – e-voting closes at 5pm,
- 9 November – election results announced at the AGM at Blackhall Place.
For further information, visit lawsociety.ie. Council election queries should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Website login queries should be sent to email@example.com.
Mary Hallissey is a journalist with the Law Society Gazette.
Read and print a PDF of this article here.