This working life: 'At least I get to see the kids at breakfast now'
This working life
Weighing the options
When I joined Arthur Cox in 2000 my aim was to work up towards partnership. Now it is no longer assumed everyone wants that career path. There are brilliant lawyers operating at a high level who have different goals and law firms are adapting to accommodate this.
At school, I gravitated towards English, classical studies, history and economics. I enjoyed the reading side of learning so opted to study law with European legal studies in UCD. My brother was a lawyer and this was a factor.
Our mother died when I was quite young and Paddy, who is 10 years older, along with my father, have always been a big influence on me professionally.
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I do remember wondering at the time if I had what it took to become a lawyer in a large corporate firm - maybe I wasn't confident enough, but I guess the skills were in there and I was lucky to learn from outstanding people.
Following the usual milk-round of graduate jobs I found myself with some offers and choose a traineeship at Arthur Cox. After this I temporarily left for London to do a post-grad in business at the London School of Economics. This year gave me a fascinating insight into business in the political and economic system and left a lasting imprint on me.
When I was asked to head up the London office two years ago, I jumped at it. The scale of London commercially is huge. It's an important market for our firm and an opportunity I could not pass up.
There is an element to my job of generating new clients and business and this involves plenty of socialising. You have to be savvy and not over-indulge. I have learned to be strict on this, otherwise I lose energy as the week goes on.
If I get to the gym twice a week I'm more productive and clear-minded. I have to force myself as there is always something more pressing than press-ups.
There are days, nearing the end of a deal, when going to the gym, or really doing anything else, is out of the question and we will be working into the night or early morning. In these situations, you need to be available pretty much all the time. It is both exhilarating and draining.
I advise lenders and borrowers on all kinds of financial transactions - M&A, real estate and so on. The deals and structures can be technically complex and negotiations can be intense. I find it helps to keep a focus on where the client wants to get to If you keep this at the front of your mind, it helps cut through the noise. You have to keep the main thing the main thing.
I do sometimes question myself, especially when things have gone wrong, as this happens. Am I up to this? You remind yourself to trust your skills, your experience and the people you work with. The solution that keeps everyone happy will emerge if you work at it and don't panic.
United after red-eye commute
For the first two years in London I was commuting early on a Monday or Tuesday and returning to Dublin late on Friday. My wife, Karen, is also a lawyer and our three kids, aged 10, seven and six, were happy in school. It seemed disruptive to move everyone.
We managed this fine until it started to become a strain. Many corporate lawyers don't see their children during the week but I missed them, and I know they missed me. I also felt I needed to give London a couple of years with my full attention.
Last summer the family moved over and Karen transferred with her firm. I left my bachelor pad and we moved out to Balham in south-west London where we have friends and family.
There are many Irish people who do this commute. I often see the same faces on the planes, and it can work well, but I like not having that pressure to pack in quality time when I am at home just two days a week. Even if I only see the kids for breakfast in the week it means a lot to me and to them.
Arthur Cox founded the firm in 1920 and, after his wife died, he became a priest in 1963, joining a mission in what was Northern Rhodesia.
He died there in a car accident in 1965 and every year trainees travel to do community work in Mwandi, Zambia, where he had spent his time. Our firm's centenary is next year and I wonder what he would make of how the firm that bears his name has progressed.
At the weekends I try to really switch off and I enjoy reading, movies, walking and meeting friends and family. To put work properly aside can replenish your mental energy - even if it is just for a few hours.
There can be a temptation to work all weekend, but a break sharpens your thoughts.