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Newly-qualified solicitors urged to uphold fundamental rights
Solicitor Noeline Blackwell and Ms Justice Caroline Biggs of the High Court Pic: Jason Clarke

21 Apr 2023 / law society Print

Uphold fundamental rights, new solicitors are urged

Being a solicitor suits “bossy, big-sister-type personalities”, lawyer Noeline Blackwell said at the Law Society last night.

Being a solicitor was a great job, she said, especially for the eldest in a family: “You get to give people advice but, actually, you are telling them what to do,” she quipped.

Speaking at a Blackhall Place parchment ceremony for 60 recently qualified solicitors (20 April), Blackwell, who has announced her retirement in the autumn as Dublin Rape Crisis Centre chief, said that being a solicitor was an enormous privilege, and that our society was dependent on the rule of law.

“That means that no one is above the law, that the law is clear, that it is accessible, that it is stable and applied evenly, and that it respects rights,” she said.

Blackwell urged the new solicitors to remember their duty to uphold fundamental freedoms and rights, which were hard-won, and easily lost.

She also commended the Law Society for its work in investigating the problem of bullying and harassment in the profession, and said that lawyers must stand against such behaviour, which often came from a sense of entitlement and privilege.

Blackwell asked the attendees to consider working for FLAC, and said that she found it distressing that huge value could be placed on protecting the public purse at the expense of recognising rights.

That was something that lawyers should rail against, and not accept as the status quo, she added.


Law Society President Maura Derivan, commenting on her own career, that she had a unique insight, having practised in both large city and small rural firms.

The leadership roles at the Law Society, Dublin Solicitors’ Bar Association, and Southern Law Association were all currently filled by women, Derivan added, describing this as historic, and a sign of true equality and diversity.

She told the new solicitors that they had a duty to represent clients diligently, and act with independence, objectivity, confidentiality and integrity, guided by strong principles, through the advice they offered.

“Your advice must never be subject to outside influence,” the Law Society President warned, given that being a solicitor was a privilege and responsibility.

Wealth of expertise

President Derivan urged the new solicitors to become involved in their Law Society, and to tap into the wealth of expertise available through the committee system.

She cautioned against overwork, and the belief that a solicitor should be able to handle everything by themselves and without help.

“Your first duty is to yourself,” she said, advising the trainees to find balance in their lives.

Ms Justice Caroline Biggs of the High Court told the new solicitors to take time to learn from senior colleagues.

“Give yourself the freedom to make mistakes, because from mistakes you are going to grow and learn,” she said.

“Have the humility to know that you need to learn more, but also have the confidence to know that it’s okay to make mistakes,” the High Court judge said.

Vulnerable clients

Clients seeking out the skills of solicitors were often at a vulnerable stage in their lives and might have lost perspective as a result, yet must always be treated with respect, even if they were difficult to handle, she said.

The judge added, however, that solicitors must be careful about the stresses they faced, in terms of diet, sleep, exercise and communication with people who were genuinely interested in them.

“You are experts in law, but you are not experts in mental and physical health. Others are, and they can help you,” she commented, signposting the expertise offered by Law Society Psychological Services.

Lawyers should not be afraid to change career direction if they wished, she added.

“If you feel that you are good enough, put yourself forward to seek promotion – seek advancement.

“I wasn’t made a judge the first time I applied, but I never regretted trying,” the judge continued.

“Finally, be grateful. One of the greatest things I learned in 25 years at the criminal Bar is that people’s lives are terribly difficult, and they suffer so much pain and sadness – but still the human spirit always prevails,” she concluded.

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