Incoming lawyers should avoid trying to fit a mould in how they speak and act, Law Society 2021/22 President Michelle Ní Longáin has advised (23 May).
Speaking to trainees at a Law Society Psychological Service ‘Shrink Me’ discussion today, the president urged the value of authenticity, and warned against cliched thinking, acting in a guarded manner, or pretending to be part of an elite group.
Ní Longáin observed that there is now a considerable variety in socio-economic status in the profession, with intake from many different backgrounds.
It would be a mistake to pigeonhole all lawyers in Ireland as cut from just one cloth, or to imagine that all practitioners come from ‘legal families’, she pointed out.
“The law is open to everyone,” she said.
“If you dig a bit, you find that there is greater complexity in people's lives than first appears,” she suggested.
She cautioned against adopting a guarded “outsider” mentality, or pretending to be what one is not, whether by the car one drives or the accent one adopts.
“You don’t have to be somebody of a particular sort to get on well in law, and you’ll do better if you don’t burden yourself with any of that,” she advised.
Sharing one’s true self will lead to better career outcomes, she said.
The Law Society president also said that she hoped that the profession would also become more reflective of Irish society, and that it would be open to all as a space to use legal skills, regardless of geographic location, or socio-economic background.
Trainees need to listen to their own hearts, however, in finding the right niche and work that suits them, she suggested, whether that is a preference for structured or unstructured work, or a tolerance for ‘messiness’ or grey areas.
There is space in law for every type of personality or way of thinking, with many diverse opportunities, she said.
The law is a tough but interesting career, the Law Society president added.
She warned against bottling up about difficulties, in the effort to present as a “polished professional”.
Seek help if you need it, and do not be motivated solely by money, though the law should offer a good living, she told trainees.
Self-awareness about one’s career, and the type of work one finds fulfilling, is very important, she suggested. Some lawyers are good at speaking in public while others excel at working quietly producing reports.
“You know how you can best contribute,” she told the trainees, adding that there are many ways of working in the legal profession.
“Pay attention to what drives you and what you find interesting,” she suggested.
President Ní Longáin described her grounding in employment law while working for a firm in England that specialised in trade union matters.
She then moved from employee-side to employer-side.
Employment matters requiring legal advice often relate to difficult colleague-to-colleague interactions, she observed.
Policies to handle difficult situations
“When you're working with employers, you're educating and informing people about developing policies to help them handle difficult situations.
"Often the employer is in the situation where one employee has an issue with another, so actually it's not the employer seeking to mistreat anybody.
“They're seeking to handle the matter well, and to respect the rights of both people, that's often the space that the employers are actually in,” the employment-law legal expert said.