Name: Robert O’Donoghue QC
Chambers: Brick Court Chambers
Year of call: 1996
What’s your most vivid memory from being a trainee?
My first proper solo hearing in pupillage, in a messy constructive dismissal case against a major multi-national company. In spite of me, we got a result. I think like most lawyers it’s the moment you make the terrifying realisation that you are actually a lawyer and that someone trusts you enough to act like one.
What is the wisest thing anyone ever said to you (and who said it)?
“There is a time and a place for everything,” which the dean of my boarding school said (usually, it has to be said, when we were doing the wrong thing at the wrong time). Most of us wonder if we are doing the right thing at a given time or moment, and the perspective that that is not a purely binary question in that moment is worth remembering!
Who (for better or worse) has been the most influential person in your career? Why?
I’ve been fortunate to have had several great mentors, and think that mentorship should be a de facto obligation for any established legal professional. Very few lawyers have their careers sketched out before them, and most appreciate guidance or a sounding board.
But the person who was most influential was Dr. John Temple Lang, who was one of the most respected lawyers in the European Commission before entering private practice. He had two major influences on me. First, he forced me always to think from first principles rather than by analogy, which is essential when dealing with novel legal issues. Second, he encouraged me really to commit to developing a recognised expertise by publishing and speaking widely on particular legal topics. Indeed, his very imprimatur was important, since he is so widely respected.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do?
First, you have to have self-belief and optimism. Plan A rarely works out for most people.
Second, you need to think about which areas of law are likely to expand in future, and firmly put your flag in the ground as a budding expert in that area.
Third, you need the flexibility and courage to seize opportunities when they arise – they won’t always be obvious or wrapped in red ribbon.
Fourth, the law is made up of multiple individual communities of professionals. You need to become an active and prominent participant in those communities by writing, speaking, volunteering on committees, etc.
Fifth, you must at all times cultivate and present professional excellence – it eventually becomes a good habit.
Finally, try to be fun to work with; litigation can be arduous and being fun and low maintenance may tip the balance in your favour when two or more candidates have similar technical strengths.
What’s your best friend from law school doing now?
He runs a very successful business. He was an excellent lawyer but ultimately realised he hated the law!