This Working Life – ‘When you get the result and it’s a win, making that call to your client is a huge feeling’
Paul Rochford is a partner in the Employment Law & Benefits team Mason Hayes & Curran
I’m up at 6.30am and straight out for a long walk with our dog Wendell. This clears my head and I might listen to a podcast; history or current affairs.
I get back and often have eggs for breakfast. My wife and I are working from home and usually share the school run for our sons (aged 10 and 11). Every two weeks we sit down and match up our calendars.
I’m at the desk before 9am. I sort through emails from the previous evening and sketch out a plan for the day – and no two days are the same. The law is the law, it’s the facts, but how you apply it in a comprehensive way is what causes the variety. It is satisfying to solve a client's problem – to come back and say ‘I have an answer for you, this is what we can do’.
When I am not working, things pop into my head all the time, especially if I have a case in front of the Labour Court that week. If I am out walking I do a voice recording or send myself an email.
For any client service job, to some extent, you are never fully switched off, you have to manage that and by jotting things down, I know I can come back to it.
Smoothing the way
My job is to help clients, mainly employers, resolve employment issues ranging from advising on or drafting contracts of employment, reviewing or drafting employment policies such as those dealing with workplace harassment, advising on an investigation within the workplace, or assisting when an employee is dismissed or made redundant.
I also help them deal with litigation in the Workplace Relations Commission, the Labour Court or the civil courts.
One of the big highlights is getting a good outcome. When you get the result in the post and it’s a win, making that call to your client is a huge feeling.
Equally, when you don’t get the result you wanted, that's very hard. Ringing your client, telling them and deciding what to do. That can really be very tough. You put a lot of time and effort into it all.
On days like this in the office you wander over to a colleague and ask, have they ever seen the like of it, could they read over it, and tell you what they think?
It’s more difficult to ask them when working at home. That type of organic interaction can only happen in person.
Long way around
Some people grow up knowing they want to be a lawyer, but I joined the army straight after school in 1990. My dad was in the army reserve for 40 years as an officer and would go off on training weekends. I remember chatting to my dad's friend who went into the permanent forces through the reserve and he told me if you think it’s for you, you’ll never regret it.
I was always good at maths and science at school in Wexford and so as part of my officer cadet training, I went off to UCG for an engineering degree.
I was out in Lebanon in 1997 as part of the Irish Battalion Reserve, which meant if one of the Irish static posts needed extra support we would provide it. Thankfully that didn’t really happen during our six-month tour so we carried out our normal day and night patrolling of the Irish area. As a result, I saw more of south Lebanon and met a lot more people than I might have done.
President Mary McAleese came out to visit. Her brother was an Air Corps pilot and she chose Lebanon as her first overseas engagement. She had a huge entourage including Gerry Ryan and DJ Larry Gogan. I ended up volunteering to do his just-a-minute quiz. I did reasonably well. I have always been good at retaining information, remembering random facts.
Learning the law
When I got back from Lebanon I had already decided to study law and went into Kings Inns to do a two-year diploma, and then a two-year degree by night. I would toddle up and back to the Curragh each day. When you find your interest, you find the time.
I went overseas to Kosovo in 2003 and was lucky to get the experience assisting the department dealing with PTSD claims and after a year applied for a place in the Deputy Judge Advocate General office; my first interaction dealing with clients.
Here I had commanders of units around the country ringing up to ask for advice with military law. As a junior lawyer, I was lucky to get that experience. In 2004 I married my Canadian girlfriend after meeting her at a New Year’s Eve party and a couple of years later we left to live in Toronto.
If I had not retired in 2006 I would have been in the army 30 years. It’s funny, I remember when I started out thinking the ones that were there 30 years were such old codgers.
I had to do a certain number of exams to equate my law degree with one from a Canadian university. Here you have to apply to firms for an apprenticeship. I was 34 and all the other lawyers were in their mid 20s, but I got on so well with them.
The team I was on did a bit of employment law on the military side and when a partner left to go to an employment law firm, I left with her and ended up as partner there.
In Canada there is less of a difference between solicitors and barristers and I enjoyed the cut and thrust of litigation. Thinking on my feet, my military training came out.
Employment solicitors here still go down to the Labour Court and litigate the case in some areas. This is one of the perks. Getting to suit up and fight a case, make your argument. At the start you get sideswiped by your opposite number, but you improve. We try to encourage it within the team, to go down and get stuck in. You get a different view of the law, and how it is applied in a litigation setting.
When you go in and test the thing, that's where you find where the blind spot is and you make the connection in your brain to do it better in the future.
Walking Wendell helps me switch off. He is a rescue dog, when we saw him last year we just fell in love. At lunchtime I try to go for a run and usually bring the dog with me.
If I have a call I’ll pop out for 10 minutes to walk around in the fresh air.
Working from home I get out for a lot more runs. We have a gym in our office building, but before Covid I preferred to get out for a run and would still have time to grab a quick bite. I don't know anyone who takes their lunch hour formally anymore. Working from home there are other things going on so if I need to take some time off in the day I add it back later.
I love cooking and do the majority of it at home. I get a kick out of it and find it relaxing as I concentrate on what I'm doing. In the evening I do my reading for work. Most days I go back for a couple of hours to make sure everything is covered.
If employers and employees engage to work out solutions on remote working, the outcomes will be positive. On one hand there are many jobs where there is a benefit to being in location with your team but there is a personal benefit to working from home and now we know certain things can easily be done well remotely.
The difficulties will arise where there are very fixed ideas, but as long as everyone is flexible, in the end a balance will be to everyone's benefit.
The world of work is always changing and we need to examine how those changes fit within our current legal structure. There is a big conversation to be had on flexible and remote working. With new problems, we need new solutions to be crafted and that’s where we employment lawyers come in. For me there is a certain nerdy excitement in that.