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‘Wretched Brexit’ opens up opportunities, says anti-trust lawyer
Oonagh O'Sullivan BL

12 Jun 2020 / EU Print

‘Wretched Brexit’ opens up EU law – anti-trust lawyer

Building a career in EU law was the topic of a webinar organised this week by the Irish Society for European Law (ISEL) and the Young Bar Committee of The Bar of Ireland.

Moderated by Eoin Sreenan BL, speakers included Anne Riley (former head of global antitrust at Royal Dutch Shell), solicitor Emma Lavin (Eversheds Sutherland) and barrister Oonagh O'Sullivan, who spoke about her experience working at the European Courts of Justice in Luxembourg.


Anne Riley said that she always hired those with, firstly, excellent academic qualifications, and, secondly, language skills – even though she has none herself. All speakers agreed that a working knowledge of a second language is desirable for a career in EU law.

Anne Riley said she began her career in European law studying EU competition law. While subsequently working at a top London law firm in the EU law field, she was told by a senior at the firm that there was no future in EU law.

“He was wrong then, and he’s even more wrong now,” she commented, despite what she termed “wretched Brexit”.

Opportunities for Irish lawyers interested in EU law will open even more, she said, in the post-Brexit era. Riley anticipated a wind-down in the volume of EU law matters dealt with in London, with a switch to Dublin as a result.


In her well-travelled experience, she said that many common law and civil law jurisdictions have based their competition law on EU law, and this throws up many openings around the world.

During her time working with Shell, Riley travelled around the world through the International Competition Network, an informal global body that facilitates cooperation between competition law authorities around the world.

Evershed Sutherland’s Emma Lavin, who works in employment and commercial law, told the webinar that strong EU workers’ rights, such as on maternity leave, breaks, discrimination, and protection from harassment and collective redundancies, are often a surprise to employers outside the continent.

She also commented that the EU would remain interested in workers’ rights in Britain, post-Brexit, and whether they matched up to EU standards.

A knowledge of EU case law is essential for a career in employment law, she said, and both are flourishing areas of practice for solicitors and in-house counsel.

Barrister Oonagh O'Sullivan gave an account of working in the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). 

She worked as a stagiaire with Judge Eugene Regan, President of the Fifth Chamber.

Ten chambers

O’Sullivan explained the timeline of the preliminary reference at the court, and how the CJEU is split into ten chambers, comprising three to five judges, each with an elected president.

No particular areas of law are assigned to each chamber, and the cases range across competition, public procurement, social securities, and so on. The judgment is written by the designated judge-rapporteur (reporting judge) after the preliminary reference is processed.

French is the working language of the court and observations and submissions from notice parties or intervening states are all translated.

The rapport préalable (preliminary report), prepared by the judge-rapporteur, is mandated by the procedural rules of the court.

Oonagh O’Sullivan described this as an “extremely privileged and confidential document”, compiled before the hearing.


The court may decide not to hold a hearing if, on reading the written pleadings or observations lodged, it believes that it has sufficient information to give a ruling.

This decision is made under article 76 of the court's procedural rules.

Under the doctrine of acte clair, if a judgment or rule of law provides clarity, then a member state has no duty to refer a question for preliminary ruling to the court.

Oral hearings

Oral hearings last 90 minutes and, in contrast to Irish law, questions follow the submissions.

The advocate general announces when he or she will deliver their opinion, and then the judges draft the judgment and deliberations.

The work of the court is assisted by référendaires (law clerks), juriste assistantes (judicial assistants), and stagiaires (trainees).

For those interested in a career in EU law, O'Sullivan said that the stagiaire route was worthwhile, and could lead to work as a member state lawyer or a career at an EU institution.

No qualms

The barrister said she had no qualms about spending time away from Irish practice, adding that a stint abroad had increased her knowledge, awareness and drafting skills specific to European law.

All this had hugely benefitted her career at the Irish Bar, O’Sullivan concluded.

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