The Weekly Read: There's more to this young barrister than meets the eye
Every now and then you come across a person with an inspirational story that needs to be told.
More often than not the person whom the story revolves around is of a humble nature and doesn’t perceive their achievement to be quite as remarkable as you do.
Claire Geraghty is a 25-year-old from Maynooth, Co. Kildare.
She recently graduated from the Honourable Society of King’s Inns as a Barrister-at-Law. While this is an exceptional achievement in itself, Claire found her experience more challenging than some of her colleagues.
Not because she is incompetent or inferior, far from it in fact, but because she suffers from a condition called glaucoma.
Glaucoma damages the optic nerve of the eye and leads to progressive, irreversible vision loss. It is the second leading cause of blindness in the world.
Claire was diagnosed with glaucoma when she was six years old and has been adapting herself to accommodate her disability ever since.
As is evident from her honours law degree and recent graduation from King’s Inns, Claire hasn’t allowed her disability to define her, but instead used it to shape her into the person she is today – a confident, young woman who can be found bustling about the Four Courts.
To earn the “BL” initials which now duly follow her surname, Claire had to overcome some difficult obstacles along the way.
“I think one of the biggest obstacles I had was the sheer volume of paper and information that they would give us. It is not an electronic based industry at all so they gave us reams of paper because in reality that is what it will be like in court.
"Being able to read all that information at the same speed as other people or finding the legal answer within those pieces of paper was one of the most difficult things”.
As Claire would tell you herself, there is a means of doing everything. She cleverly uses a magnifying glass as an aid to help her read.
Like most Irish people, she also possesses the ability to add humour to unfortunate situations.
She once made a flippant joke at a King’s Inn dining event whereby she said “God, I can’t believe King’s Inns didn’t enlarge all their books and notes for me”.
What was meant to be a sarcastic joke, was instead interpreted by a fellow colleague as an opportunity to pose the question, “What are you going to do when a solicitor hands you notes ten minutes before a case is due to start?”
“I brought it up in a flippant, anecdote way, teasing King’s Inns and I was pretty taken aback by what he said to me because I felt I had made it there, I was the same as him, so did he not think I had come up with a way of reading, which is using a magnifying class.
"It wasn’t me implying I can’t do this, so I don’t know why he thought I couldn’t”.
Law is renowned for being competitive and cut-throat in some respects, so sometimes those in the industry lack sensitivity, as Claire has unfortunately experienced.
Glaucoma is not a visible disease, so you would not assume that Claire suffers from it when you first meet her.
As someone who would prefer to be judged on her merits, rather than her disability, she does not like to adopt the “I HAVE GLAUCOMA” stamped on her forehead approach. Instead, she only brings up her condition if she feels it needs to be addressed, or when she establishes a close relationship with someone.
“I find it hard to bring it up with people I don’t know straight away because it is not a visible disability so I don’t know when to bring it up. I don't want to overshare when I just meet someone but you also don't want them to feel uncomfortable and they can't ask. I would rather try and show my merits and then bring it up, so people can be like oh ok, there is this but she is clearly capable”.
College students have a lecturer for at least twelve weeks which enables them to establish some sort of a rapport with their superiors.
King’s Inns, in contrast, have a different lecturer teach the students each week because it is a question of when the lecturers, who are practicing barristers, have the time.
Hence, students do not get to know their lecturer on a personal basis.
“The first few days were hard for me because I didn’t want to stand out or make a big deal about it at the beginning but I was always aware this person might think I am strange because I am reading really slowly”.
Claire didn’t see having a different lecturer each week as detrimental to her education, instead she viewed it as a positive thing.
“Different people offer different things and no person is going to give the same criticism or advice twice”.
She is now devilling under a Junior Counsel barrister so spends Monday to Friday in between the Law Library and Four Courts. Devilling is the period of training undertaken by a barrister after they graduate from King’s Inns.
While Claire admits it is tough, she is finding the experience both interesting and beneficially challenging.
When asked what piece of advice she would give to someone who suffers from glaucoma and is considering pursuing a career as a barrister:
"If you have a disability then you've grown up finding ways of doing things and coping and this is no different. It's very paper heavy and meeting different people every day can be tricky but that doesn't mean you can't do your job competently. There is always a way”.