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To thine own self be true
Law Society President Michelle Ní Longáin

20 Jan 2022 / Law Society Print

'To thine own self be true' says Law Society President

Law Society President Michelle Ní Longáin has urged trainee solicitors to be true to themselves in their future careers.

“Don’t forget to be yourself. That’s the most vital thing to say.

“A lot of people think they have to play the part of the lawyer, and fit into a mould. I don’t think that works,” she said.

Speaking to the trainees at a Law Society psychological service event entitled Leading with Purpose, hosted by Blackhall Place psychotherapist Antoinette Moriarty (19 January), Ní Longáin said she was fortunate in not having to change who she was to progress in her career.

“I’ve really valued that,” she added. “I’ve been able to be myself.”

She urged the trainees to really think about their careers, and the lives they want, in the way that they use the solicitor qualification they work so hard to get.

“It’s worth investing in your future,” she said.

Soft skills

Ní Longáin also spoke about the importance of really listening to clients, and the so-called “soft skills”.

“Be somebody your clients want to come and talk to,” Ní Longáin advised.

Interested in justice from a young age, her parents described Michelle as the house advocate, because she spoke up for siblings about any perceived unfairness.

As a law student at Queen’s, Ní Longáin spent time with marginalised people, and that experience has stayed with her throughout her career.

“I did learn from that the importance of respecting the people to whom you were giving advice,” she said.

Be careful of your demeanour, she advised the trainees, and never leave a client waiting.

She learnt that a lawyer should bring both emotional intelligence and respect to their work.

As a young lawyer, Ní Longáin did a lot of employment law representation and she realised that trade unions were very particular about the culture of the firms which they engaged.

Culture of service

“They were very demanding, and I think rightly so, about the style of service and the culture of service that was delivered to their members,” she recalled.

Such qualities are absorbed from those around you, the Law Society President said. 

A lawyer can be seen as a ‘distress purchase’ in that clients are there in times of need she said, but cautioned against remarking that clients have an “interesting” problem.

That makes the matter too abstract and not about the individual client.

Recognise that your client has a priority, which may not be the same as yours, she added.

Ní Longáin eventually moved to the employer side of employment law, because she felt such work would steer longer-term outcomes.

Anxiety

The Law Society President said she had been able to channel work anxiety and adrenaline to her advantage, but that recovery time is important from such stress peaks, and not “rattling on from one thing to the next”. 

“I remember coming back after a day's hearing and finding my chair was piled up with files to above my head, all of which were marked ‘very urgent’.

“And I thought, well I can’t choose between those ‘very urgents’, and that was very difficult," she recalled.

That situation required stepping back to pause, reflect, and compose oneself, and to recognise an impossible task, and ask for help, the president said.

It’s important to challenge unhealthy work practices, and there is more openness to doing so now, she added.

The two-year pandemic has made everyone rawer and more vulnerable, but there is more acknowledgment of these difficulties, she continued.

“There are conversations that weren’t happening before,” the president noted.

Psychotherapist Antoinette Moriarty pointed out that lots of people thrived during the pandemic, through different ways of working, because they were up close with their growing children.

“Increasingly, I’m working with young men who want more access to their children,” she said.

Ní Longáin described how her family life has worked well with her husband full-time at home, minding their two children.

Not hung up on status

Her husband was not hung up on status, she said.

“We thought it would work better for us if one of us were at home. I appreciate that that’s very privileged, and we didn’t go abroad for many years on our holidays, and still don’t really.

“We weren’t making the better financial decision, but it was the better decision for us to survive,” she added, despite tough times during the recession.

Moriarty said that such successful negotiation of family and work life would be encouraging to young people at the beginning of their careers and faced with the same decisions.

“We are never just employees or partners in an organisation – we have a whole other world around us,” the psychotherapist said.

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