News Stories

Alumni Stories: 07 August 2020

Alumni Stories – Diane Sutton speaks to Paulyn Marrinan Quinn SC

Alumni Stories – Diane Sutton speaks to Paulyn Marrinan Quinn SC

Welcome to next in the series of Alumni Stories with Diane Sutton, our Member Relations Officer.

The third part of the Series was with Hazel Smyth BL, Legal Counsel at SurveyMonkey’s European Headquarters in Dublin. Read the article HERE.

In this series, Diane will chat to a variety of alumni focusing on the degree of Barrister–at–Law first before we delve into other course graduates. It will hopefully embrace the diversity of our alumni who are practising in the Courts in Ireland and internationally but also working in many other professions like communications, politics, the public sector, education, and policy.

As the new Member Relations Officer, over the past few months, Diane has been working on getting to know more about King’s Inns, its long history and cultural heritage, our alumni and subscribing members, and of course, our wide range of law courses.

Through her research for the series, Diane is discovering the degree of Barrister–at–Law provides you with a highly–valued professional qualification that can be used across a wide range of professions, as well as a strong foundation for further academic studies.

If you are interested in being part of our Alumni Stories series, drop Diane Sutton an email at MEMBERS@KINGSINNS.IE.

Diane Sutton in conversation with Paulyn Marrinan Quinn SC

Are you a barrister looking for inspiration on shaping your career, or perhaps changing direction? Are you graduating this year or a recent graduate? Then this article will be of particular interest to you.

I spoke to Paulyn Marrinan Quinn SC, one of the most exciting and diverse legal minds in the industry, to find out more about her esteemed career since leaving King’s Inns and her hopes for future generations. Paulyn has been an instigator and leader of change throughout her life. She shares her thoughts on how lawyers can get more involved to initiate change themselves and how we should educate the younger generation.

King’s Inns and the Law Library (The Bar of Ireland)

Paulyn Marrinan Quinn has fond memories of her time studying at King’s Inns, an opportunity she did not think she would get to experience. Having been born in Belfast and educated at a London secondary school, Paulyn did not have the compulsory Irish qualification required at that time to study law. Her parents had moved back to Dublin, and with two generations in law, it was always spoken about, as if agreed, that she would follow in those footsteps.

Trinity, as the only academic institution you could attend without a qualification in Irish, seemed like a solution. However, Catholics were unable to attend Trinity College at that time; this changed shortly afterwards, but Paulyn took her chances and applied. She read English, French and History and loved the extracurricular activities – writing for college publications and joining the celebrated Players Theatre.

A short time post–graduation, the compulsory Irish requirement was eased (you could start your legal studies, but you still had to gain a qualification in Irish before being called to the Bar). Paulyn jumped at this opportunity. She recalls evening lectures at King’s Inns and the many impressive lecturers – including our current Chief Justice who delivered presentations on ‘practice and procedure’ in a way that made it all sound so simple! Though not all experiences are memorable for the right reasons. Paulyn recalls the subtle hesitancy about women entering the traditional zone that existed in her early days at the Bar. She says:

“They are indelibly etched into my mind. It was so different back then, in every sense – the size of the Bar and the Law Library itself. I think, as women, we amounted to around six of that membership. Almost everything was geared towards the traditions of a predominantly male environment”. 

That is, of course, with the exception of the famous ‘pink room’ the ladies’ changing room, decorated in a deep pink gloss paint!  

call to the bar

Paulyn at her call to the Bar ceremony at King’s Inns in 1979.

Paulyn paints a picture for me of the Law Library at that time. The communication system consisted of three telephonists and a few wall–mounted telephones; when someone rang looking for you, your name was called over the tannoy system and you made your way to the nearest phone to take the call. One of the many good traditions was that you could approach an eminent senior member of the Bar to discuss a legal question; a little difficult to conjure up the courage to do so sometimes; but she confirms it did give a sense of collegiality. If you were away from your desk, there was a mini pigeonhole for telephone messages; small slips of paper would go into the alphabetical pigeonholes with the name of the caller. Paulyn would look through the slips, “noting with envy, the volume and source of messages for eminent members whose names were close alphabetically!”.

Circa the early 90’s, an EU Green Paper: ‘Citizens’ Right of Access to Justice’ – and related topics – were of particular interest to Paulyn. In what seems like fate a new opportunity arose in that field, as the inaugural Insurance Ombudsman. After a series of competitive interviews, Paulyn considered herself lucky to get the job.

“I did not feel that I was leaving the Bar, as such – I was conscious that I was doing the job as a barrister – bringing not just any knowledge and experience I had gained but the values and standards of the Bar to guide the operating ethos of the Office – which was a quasi–judicial role”.

Office of Insurance Ombudsman – widening access to justice

Generally speaking, an Office of Ombudsman provides opportunities for people to pursue their rights without having to incur the costs of taking on a local authority or a large organisation like an insurance company to pursue their complaint or claim. Paulyn recalls that, over the following six years, a wide variety of cases were adjudicated, or mediated through early intervention – representing significant value for money as well as vindication for thousands of complainants. However, this increased oversight brought growing resistance from the industry, so Paulyn stood down in September 1998.

Centre of Excellence – Conflict and Dispute Resolution 

With such an exciting and varied career, I was curious if there was a ‘stand–out’ moment for Paulyn. She confirms that one such moment came with the support she received from then Provost Thomas Mitchell in Trinity College, to set up a centre of excellence in Conflict and Dispute Resolution Studies (CDRS) in early 2000. 

Partnering with the Irish School of Ecumenics, she engaged its top academics in the Post Graduate Diploma and brought in leading practitioners in specific areas of ADRs (alternative dispute resolution processes), such as ombudsman and mediation and reconciliation to give guest lectures. She recalls memorable lectures by the renowned sociologist, Micheál MacGréil. Support was also received from people such as Niall Kearney, at that time one of the leading lights in the area of Restorative Justice, and Nuala O’Loan, the first Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland.

Ombudsman for the Defence Forces 

Paulyn returned to practise at the Bar and took silk* in 2000. Then in 2005, a new role of Ombudsman for the Defence Forces was advertised – Paulyn was thrilled to win the Public Appointments Competition and “so honoured” to be appointed, under warrant, from President Mary McAleese and celebrate the occasion in Áras an Uachtaráin. She says:

“The legislation establishing the Office of Ombudsman for the Defence Forces was ground–breaking and had significant powers. It was an outstanding job and such an opportunity to gain an understanding of how highly our Defence Forces is viewed internationally in the discharge of its UN deployments. Not only was Ireland the only Common Law jurisdiction to have a Military Ombudsman in this part of the World, at that time, but the members of the Defence Forces already had a legal right to make a complaint; when engaging with other groups throughout the OSCE region, it became clear that this was not always the case”. 


Paulyn at Áras an Uachtaráin with Mary McAleese, President of Ireland (1997–2011), now a Professor and a Honorary Bencher of King’s Inns.

Voluntary roles

I am inspired by how much Paulyn has packed into her working life. Also, she has held several voluntary positions including chairwoman of the Irish Youth Theatre for the Deaf, working with the Irish Youth Foundation Charity and the Irish Writers’ Centre, and served on the Executive and Board Audit Committee of Trócaire – to name just a few.

Changing times

Bearing in mind Paulyn’s years of experience in law, I was interested to know what significant changes she has seen. She cites technology – access to library facilities, streamlining of case management systems as being high on the list. Also, the proportion of women, both solicitors and barristers far exceed anything imagined over 35 years ago. She recalls an IWLA Dinner which hosted a Chief Justice, former President of Ireland, the Chief State Solicitor, the Attorney General, DPP and several other legal officers present who were women, “a remarkable historic moment to witness”. Paulyn is one of the founding members of the IWLA (Irish Women Lawyers Association), set up to encourage and support women in the legal profession in Ireland by facilitating professional, social, and educational networking between women lawyers. 

She is conscious however that women, not just in the legal profession, are still faced with the same dilemmas she experienced starting out, the ongoing challenges of managing work/life balance and division of labour on the domestic front. But yes, some things have come a long way considering that 100 years ago the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, 1919 was enacted allowing women to practice and become part of the professional working life. King’s Inns, in association with the IWLA, The Bar of Ireland and the Law Society of Ireland launched their yearlong CELEBRATING A CENTURY programme in November 2019 with a Celebratory Dinner of which Paulyn says:

“The dinner at King’s Inns commemorating 100 years since the removal of legislation that actually blocked women’s access to the legal profession was, in many respects, a stark reminder of the resistance women faced on entering all jobs and professions. We must remain mindful of how many of the present advances can be attributed to the determination of a few who were prepared to ‘stick it out’ until that legislation was removed, and then proceed to take their place in the professions thereby leaving a trail for other women to follow.”

“What Does Law Mean, Mumu?” 

Not one to rest on her laurels, Paulyn recently published a storybook about law, aimed at the young adult reader: “WHAT DOES LAW MEAN, MUMU?”. The Book sets out to explain some aspects of some topics of law to a younger generation. Prompted to write the book by the curiosity of her children and grandchildren (who call her ‘Mumu’) – their observations and questions, Paulyn says she hopes that through these stories young people can see how the law touches on their everyday lives, and how important it is as part of the scaffolding of democracy as we live it. She dedicates it to “all young people who are interested in fairness, justice, and peace”. 

One of the desired outcomes of Paulyn’s book is, in her words:

“That young people step off the conveyor belt of their generation from time to time; scrutinise information; confront ‘group think’ and peer pressure; speak truth to power; hold to account the systems and administrative processes; and test them against all the proper criteria of justice, independence, transparency, and fairness – with a view to testing whether they sustain a landscape for social justice and peace”.


Paulyn celebrating her book launch with her beloved grandchildren, July 2020.

The future

On a positive note, Paulyn believes that the law is in safe hands. She saw evidence of this when judging a recent IWLA Article Competition: ‘What I have learnt from Covid–19’. 

She found it heartening to see how the finalists had internalised so much as lawyers due to COVID restrictions: all had considered legal and social implications for women including access to justice. One focused on emergency access to the Courts for those affected by domestic abuse in seeking injunctive relief by way of Protection and Interim Barring Orders. She observed how the Courts’ response in facilitating such applications as ‘urgent matters’ provided visibility of domestic violence within the Courts System. 

Another finalist wrote about the differences in the allocation of time, between men and women, to care activities, pointing to the fact that, during lockdown, women were increasingly expected to carry the ‘double burden’ of balancing paid and unpaid work. Having done an analysis of the threats, this finalist concluded that women lawyers should act as the custodians of lessons learned during the crisis about presenteeism and productivity. 

The third writer observed that in the time of great challenge, that challenge was not felt equally: she now saw it as her duty to challenge the comfortable and status quo when it clearly is not working and that representation will always be a part of contributing to change.

Paulyn says:

“Lawyers who assume responsibility and who volunteer to be custodians of lessons learned sound good to me!” 

“WHAT DOES LAW MEAN, MUMU? – A Book about the Law for Young People” is available from Legal & General – and on Amazon as a Book, e–Book and Audio Book. You can connect with Paulyn on LINKEDIN.

For anyone interested in the development of Ombudsman work: 

  • Insurance Ombudsman of Ireland Digest of Cases 1992–1998 (book available in the King’s Inns Library) 
  • The Office of Ombudsman for the Defence Forces has all of the Annual Reports of that Office, since inception, on its website: ODF.IE

* Within the Irish Bar, there are both junior and senior counsel. A practising barrister at the start of their career is known as a junior counsel. After some years in practice, usually twelve, a junior counsel may apply to become a senior counsel, a status awarded by the Government that is normally reserved for barristers of ability and experience in a particular area of law and is commonly known as “taking silk”. The process is changing with the establishment of the Legal Services Regulatory Authority (LSRA).