This week in our MHC Life series, we speak to recently promoted Health & Prosecutions partner, Sonya Bruen. Sonya talks us through her varied career path which lead her to law and a typical day WFH.
Tell us a bit about you and your career journey to MHC – what inspired you to get into this career?
In 2011, I started with MHC as my first job as a qualified solicitor. Prior to this, I trained in Trinity College as a social worker and worked with child protection and welfare services in HSE for 6 years. I really enjoyed my role as a social worker and through my involvement in a number of court cases for children coming into state care, I developed a particular interest in the legal issues in child protection. While in the HSE, I took an evening course in order to prepare for the Law Society FE1 exams but don't remember getting to very many lectures, always getting caught up with work! I managed to get through my final FE1 exams, got married, left my job in HSE and started studying full time within a few short months, which was a bit of a shock to me (and my husband!) but a welcome breather from working life.
I had always wanted to specialise in the area of child protection/ family law, but of course had to train in all areas and found myself to be surprisingly good at probate during my stint at a general solicitors practice. A couple of years after qualifying as a solicitor, I wrote to MHC to tell them I would be perfect for a job on their child care team and I haven't looked back since! My main role now is advising TUSLA Child and Family Agency in court proceedings at District Court level for children coming into or remaining in state care and facilitating legal training for social work students and child protection practitioners through Trinity College and other universities.
Favourite thing about your role?
My favourite thing about my current role is the variety of the work. One day, I could be in court with a difficult case for a child being placed in emergency care and the next I am with a group of enthusiastic social work students to deliver a legal training workshop. I really enjoy working with social work students and practitioners because I understand where they are coming from and can tailor my advices to meet their needs.
What was your first job?
I have had a lot of jobs but one of my most unusual ones was working in a restaurant while I was away on a Greek Island during summer holidays from college. I thought I was going to be a waitress but something got lost in translation and instead they asked me to clean and peel potatoes all day. I lasted to the end of the first day and went looking for something else. My parents thought this was the most hilarious thing ever as I grew up on a farm in Galway where we sold potatoes - I had always found excuses not to do the work at home but somehow ended up doing this on holidays!
What has been your biggest learning so far WFH?
Well, working from home wasn't as new for me as it was for some others as I had already been doing some hours from home before COVID-19. Our team and MHC has always been so accommodating of this and I really liked the flexibility. However, it was quite different working from home while the children were off school and probably my biggest learning was that I did not miss my calling as a school teacher and I think my children would agree!
The Health and Prosecutions team has been very busy throughout the COVID-19 crisis because unfortunately lockdown brought a whole different set of challenges for those in already difficult domestic situations, especially children. I think the work done by women's refuges, social workers, residential care and family support workers during this crisis has been somewhat overlooked as they have been very much front line workers.
This reality has put many of our day to day difficulties of working from home into perspective.
Talk us through a typical day for you during the COVID-19 pandemic…
I have been very lucky to have space for an office at home and this has made a huge difference in terms of being able to work successfully as I have been doing a lot of zoom calls and training so need somewhere I can make sure there are no interruptions!
As mentioned, there is a lot of variety to the work, which means that each day is quite different. At the moment, I am in court once or twice a week and the rest of the time is spent on calls with social work teams, preparing for court and facilitating training for students in Trinity. I am also in the process of developing some new legal training programmes for child protection professionals and we are currently working with other MHC teams to see what we can offer existing clients in terms of the practical implications of the Children First Act 2015 and other related Child Protection legislation. There is a very real shift towards organisations taking more responsibility for child protection and welfare and many are seeking guidance on compliance.
Overall, we are all adapting well to the day to day routine but I am missing the office and seeing our team on a regular basis. I think you really need your colleagues to be able to vent to after a difficult day but we are doing this by phone and zoom calls, which works well. I think we are realising how much we can do remotely and our team has been incredibly motivated to continue to provide a consistent service to clients in difficult circumstances. We have tried some new ways to communicate with clients such as recording short video/ webinar updates and guidance on COVID-19 processes in court for the teams, which were all very well received.
What tv shows have you binge watched during lockdown?
I feel as if I have watched enough Disney movies to last a lifetime…. many parents out there will know about the joys of a new channel called Disney plus, which we got a few weeks into lockdown but I think I will block from the TV from now on!
What's your idea of a perfect holiday/favourite place you've ever visited?
We usually go to Lanzarote or Portugal for our family holiday but as we couldn't go this year, we decided to try Centerparcs in Longford. This ended up being one of our favourite holidays so far. It was our first time going there and we were so delighted to be able to go anywhere after months of lockdown, it probably made it extra special! I would also love to go somewhere sunny in January as I hate the cold but think it will have to be 2022 at this stage!
What sports/hobbies/pastimes do you enjoy?
Now that I haven't had to do a CV for a while, I have given up pretending that I have any interesting hobbies! I hoped I would have time to develop some during lockdown but somehow this did not happen. However, I do think COVID-19 has provided me with an opportunity to develop more work- life balance with extra hours saved from commuting to the office. We are very lucky to live beside the sea so I try to go for walk on the coast most days. I also love listening to audiobooks while walking but would be embarrassed to share my taste in literature – let's just say I like "light " reading as a bit of a contrast to my work.