Alumni Stories – Diane Sutton speaks to alumnus James Mulcahy BL
Welcome to the ninth edition in the series of Alumni Stories with Diane Sutton, our Member Relations Officer. The last conversation in the Series was with Darren Lalor BL, a practising barrister based at The Bar of Ireland. Read his interview with Diane HERE.
In this Series, Diane is chatting to our alumni community focusing on the degree of Barrister–at–Law first before we delve into other course graduates. This initiative will hopefully embrace the diversity of our alumni and members 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. View the Series so far HERE.
If you are interested in being part of our Alumni Stories series, drop Diane an email at MEMBERS@KINGSINNS.IE.
Diane Sutton in conversation with James Mulcahy BL
Following his election this year to King’s Inns Council, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to pose a few questions to James Mulcahy based at Citibank Europe’s headquarters in Dublin and find out more about his career to date. King’s Inns activities are co–ordinated by Council, the Society’s governing body, more of which can be found here.
A qualified barrister since 2008, James has provided legal counsel within several organisations in the banking sphere as well as undertaken legal research for the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Murphy Commission.
Were you always interested in law?
I didn’t have a family background in law, so it was something that evolved; as a teenager I was interested in current affairs and politics, and I enjoyed English and History in school. Although I studied Civil Law in UCD, graduating in 2005, I remained open minded about my options at that time. In the summer of my graduation year, I worked as an intern in a public interest law firm in Seattle where I worked on several civil rights cases. This was part of the Thomas Addis Emmet Fellowship organised by FLAC, a fantastic opportunity for law students.
After this I worked for two years as a Legal Researcher on the Murphy Commission, a Commission of investigation into the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin. There wasn’t a set path that led me to study the Degree of Barrister–at–Law at King’s Inns, but it was certainly at the Commission, working with a team of barristers, that my interest was sparked.
I had grown up with a grandmother with a strong work ethic; she took a great interest in our studies and careers and encouraged us to take every opportunity (and sit every exam!) that came our way. I decided to sit the Barrister–at–Law Entrance Examination at King’s Inns and was accepted.
How was your time at King’s Inns? Did you enjoy the course?
I thought the course was great because of its focus on skills. I had never studied something like that before, that was practice based rather than academic. It was quite clear from the outset that you are being trained to be a court advocate, to practice as a barrister in the courts. From Day 1 you are learning advocacy, negotiation and consultation skills alongside legal procedure and drafting. The tutors were all practicing barristers who could provide guidance based on their own experience, and this was invaluable.
“I thought the course was great because of its focus on skills. I had never studied something like that before, that was practice based rather than academic.”
Call to the Bar, 2008
What did you do after your Call to the Bar?
I worked in the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser, which is headed up by Mellissa English BL, for just over a year. This supplied direct exposure to providing legal advice in–house and developed an understanding of how to present complex legal issues to a non–legal audience.
I then devilled at The Bar of Ireland for Emily Farrell SC and then Ms Justice Teresa Pilkington, focusing on judicial review, regulatory law and civil law. Around this time, the Central Bank was expanding its legal and enforcement teams post–financial crisis and the public law and regulatory nature of the roles appealed to me. I joined the Central Bank as legal counsel.
Tell me a little about your role at the Central Bank
I spent nine years in total at the Central Bank, progressing to Legal Manager – a very varied role with a lot of work. This was just after the financial crisis, so a key focus of the Central Bank was to rebuild the public’s confidence in the financial system and make it more resilient in the future. Certainly, a lot to sink your teeth into including (but not limited to) legal and policy development at Irish and European level, reviewing draft policies, working on legislative projects to strengthen the regulatory framework, drafting regulations and codes, and advising supervisors on regulatory actions. Outside of the financial regulation space I got up to speed with GDPR and the large volume of work involved around that, something I enjoyed. Those nine years were broken up with a year’s secondment in 2017 to the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.
Any advantages or disadvantages to taking that break?
The gap provided an excellent opportunity to expand my knowledge and perspectives, and work with many nationalities in an English–speaking workplace. I would say working for a bigger organisation with a wider reach provided an exposure to areas I hadn’t covered before on the monetary side, and the legal framework around that. It was fascinating to see how the ECB operated and how it made its decisions, and to learn about the impact those decisions had on the economy and people. Living in Frankfurt was a wonderful way to experience a living city.
“The gap provided an excellent opportunity to expand my knowledge and perspectives, and work with many nationalities in an English–speaking workplace.”
James’s photo of the ECB, 2017
You then moved to Citi – what is your role, and how did you manage the move at the beginning of a pandemic?
I am currently Assistant General Counsel and Senior Vice President at Citi, based in Dublin. I started at the beginning of the pandemic, March 2020, as EU Regulatory Legal Counsel; there was a lot happening on the regulatory front related to Covid, so it was a busy time. It was certainly a different induction experience, remote working providing a different space to get to know my work colleagues and Zoom in its infancy, but the whole process was managed very well by Citi.
The regulatory landscape is rapidly evolving and Citi puts significant effort into staying on top of new rules and also staying abreast of new matters on the horizon. At the moment, we are seeing many developments in the Environmental, Social and Governance space, with a particular focus on how climate change impacts banks and their customers. In addition, there is a focus on diversity in banks and the culture and accountability of the sector generally. Also, the ever– increasing use of digital technology requires additional focus on cybersecurity, in addition to enhanced efforts at combating financial crime. And also the regulation of crypto.
“The regulatory landscape is rapidly evolving and Citi puts significant effort into staying on top of new rules and also staying abreast of new matters on the horizon.”
So, add these to the other issues arising from Brexit and then Covid, and there is plenty of interesting work in the regulatory space.
You have extensive in–house knowledge and experience. How has the knowledge you gained studying for the BL qualification been applied to your roles over the years?
I have only worked for large organisations – they are very busy, you must present on issues to senior executives who are also very busy, and you must therefore be present, concise, and provide advice in a clear and actionable way. When you are in the Inns training as an advocate you are learning how to package complex information – you have looked at the issue forensically, you have analysed it, and to be able to package it into a clear format and communicate it easily is a huge benefit.
There is a focus within the BL course on being an advisor – you are learning, as a barrister, how to be the person providing this advice. The buck stops with you, you can’t outsource to somebody else. You become comfortable being that last stop…that is hugely important for an in–house role because you provide advice all the time. Also, when you are devilling you are aware that time is a previous resource for a lot of people – you have to be clear, bearing in mind there are risks.
“When you are in the Inns training as an advocate you are learning how to package complex information – you have looked at the issue forensically, you have analysed it, and to be able to package it into a clear format and communicate it easily is a huge benefit.”
Do you think there are enough career development and training opportunities currently for in–house lawyers?
I think the current range of Advanced Diplomas in King’s Inns are spot–on in terms of the areas; I would give a particular mention to Quasi–Judicial Decision–Making which is hugely important. In the Central Bank, working in any regulatory space, you are working with a lot of quasi–judicial decision makers. I would also highlight Data Protection, there are a lot of in–house roles especially in tech firms, fintech firms, lots of which are based in Dublin. Somebody could have that as their job or part of their job, and I think that is crucial. And Mediation, a very large growth area, extremely important for barristers generally but also in house lawyers. I hope to do the course myself when it starts this Autumn.
Opportunities for Barristers are much wider now – do you agree?
Beyond The Bar of Ireland, there are more in–house opportunities for barristers than ever before. So, in addition to the established route of becoming a government lawyer, the increased presence of technology, financial services and professional services firms in Ireland brings with it a more diverse range of legal roles for qualified barristers.
You have put your knowledge to good use and volunteered as a mentor with Future Voices – can you tell me a bit about your time with the organisation?
Future Voices was set up to empower marginalised teenagers attending DEIS schools to achieve transformation in their lives. The project encompassed providing supports, advice, connections, guest speakers and mentoring mainly for ages 14 to 17.
If students expressed an interest in law as a potential career, I was on hand to provide advice and connections to supports and networks, but to also build their confidence and opportunities that this was possible. It was practice based – projects, debates, meeting people from other schools. We debated on all types of political and human rights issues… fascinating to hear participants views and attitudes, they got very involved in the whole process.
As I didn’t come from a legal family, I understood where they were possibly coming from in terms of not perhaps having a clear path set out for them, or the awareness of how to pursue a particular path.
Keeping a balance
A sample of James’s photos, taken around Dublin
In his free time James loves photography with an architectural slant (which he claims not everyone will get!) and is a self–confessed news junkie.