Tell us a bit about you and your career journey to MHC – what inspired you to get into this career?
This is my 11th year in Mason Hayes & Curran LLP, beginning at the firm as an intern in the summer of 2010 and starting full-time just days after my last FE-1 exam. However, it wasn’t always clear that law would be my career path.
Having been interested in maths, science and art as a secondary schooler, law might seem like it was an unusual pursuit. I toyed with the idea of various other careers paths, including architecture, and automotive engineering and design. Ultimately, though, it’s unsurprising that I ended up in law, given that I come from a relatively long line of lawyers!
I’m the fourth generation of five that have joined the law, starting with my great-grandfather, Patrick J Neilan. His children all ended up studying law, including two grandaunts, Eileen and Mary Neilan, who were among the first 100 women to join the roll of solicitors here. My grandfather went on to become the State Solicitor for Roscommon, succeeded by my late uncle, while my father moved from solicitor to the bench as a District Court judge.
Given my broader interests, however, I think I found a fitting career in the law of privacy and data security.
Favourite thing about your role?
No two days are the same. Not only does data protection and privacy law have a lot of grey area and offers scope to argue interpretations and defend positions, I’m also lucky to work with some of the world’s biggest names and advise on the cutting edge of their technology. As I’ve already mentioned, having a keen interest in science and technology (a geek, I suppose) made this the perfect area of law for me to work in.
While my work is ultimately based off the same principles of the GDPR and regulatory guidelines, the fact pattern of each client instruction carries its own nuances. As a result, each day there’s always a challenge in the work, which makes it even more stimulating and enjoyable. Certainly, data protection law isn’t for everyone (and I’ve seen many an eye glaze over if you attempt to mention it socially!) but it’s an ever-growing niche that certainly provides me with job satisfaction.
Talk us through a typical day for you during the COVID-19 pandemic…
As I had already been working from home 1 day a week before COVID-19, I thankfully had an office setup in the house. This meant that the transition to full-time working from home wasn’t too big of a leap (and I wasn’t scrambling to get IT equipment home).
Funnily enough, I’ve largely found that my working day has thrived during the pandemic. This is evident by the fact that I now kick-start my day with coffee and a run before 8am (I was not generally a morning person before). Then it’s back to the desk for a team workflow call around 9am. Each day, I try to stick to some loosely structured times for lunch and coffee breaks in the morning and afternoon. Depending on deadlines and my call schedule for the day, I’m happy to keep the times for these breaks fairly flexible. If the weather is good, I will try to spend some of these breaks reading out on our balcony – it’s a complete suntrap. Subject to the number of remaining items on my daily ‘to-do’ list, I might break for dinner and a walk with the dog before returning to the desk to finalise the last few things. As the day comes to a close, I’ll settle in for the Netflix show or boxset du jour.
Do you think life as you knew it will change post-COVID-19?
There are certainly many positives to be drawn from how we have adapted to life under lockdown and living through COVID-19. Everyone’s experience has been different, sometimes markedly so. However, I think we’re learning the benefit of a slowed pace of life, the ability to look at the bigger picture, and the importance of not taking the ability to meet friends and family for granted.
Despite this, I’m not an enthusiast of the idea that the adaptation to working from home should spell the “end the corporate HQ” and push for “WFH for life”. I would love the opportunity to work from home or remotely for 2-3 days per week, but suggesting that there may no longer be a place for the workplace environment is very short-sighted. Whether it’s a newly-qualified in a house-share, a parent with a family, or someone living alone, we all need the office environment. MHC prides itself on its open plan office, ensuring that new joiners are not siloed, we draw creativity and inspiration from colleagues, and the firm culture can continue and flourish. If we all permanently work from home, this would all be lost.
What sports/hobbies/pastimes do you enjoy?
My first passion is electronic music, having been introduced to my brother’s turntables and record collection around the age of 13. Since then I’ve been behind the decks in one capacity or another, although playing gigs is a much more infrequent activity these days. However, I still love to collect and listen to music. Both in the office and at home, I listen to old and new music throughout the day while working. Also, I’ve long wanted to try my hand at music production, but it’s no mean feat and requires a lot of effort and dedication – it’s still on the list of long-term goals.
With a busy life as a solicitor not being as conducive to playing gigs as my college days, I found a second creative outlet in photography. Around 7 years ago I picked up a second-hand camera and from there began to burn through memory cards at a rate of knots. This has meant that there’s a large collection of unprocessed photos crying out for some attention but, thanks to some pushing and prodding from my girlfriend, I’ve managed to exhibit and sell some of my work, including through the MHC Christmas Art exhibition. There’s a unique satisfaction and enjoyment in seeing others’ interest in your work.
I can’t remember exactly where or when I came across this quote, but there’s a comfort factor to it:
“When you look at yourself from a universal standpoint, something inside always reminds or informs you that there are bigger and better things to worry about.”
― Albert Einstein