Alumni Stories – Diane Sutton speaks to John Freeman BL
Welcome to the 12th edition in the series of Alumni Stories with our Member Relations Officer, Diane Sutton. The last conversation in the Series was with Dáithí Mac Cárthaigh BL, a barrister at The Bar of Ireland, the Law & Irish Academic Coordinator at King’s Inns and former President of Conradh na Gaeilge.
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. Read the full Series so far HERE>
If you are interested in being part of our alumni series, drop Diane an email at MEMBERS@KINGSINNS.IE.
Diane Sutton in conversation with John Freeman BL
John Freeman BL is a practising barrister at The Bar of Ireland, with a particular emphasis on banking and financial services, disciplinary / regulatory and defamation. He has also worked in–house in regulated financial services and at the Central Bank of Ireland.
The path to King’s Inns
John’s interest in law began from an early age; he recalls his parents driving down Church Street in Dublin when he was a child, pointing out the Law Library and King’s Inns – “I always had a sense it was a very interesting place.” He followed a straight study trajectory, from secondary school to BCL at UCD, to the degree of Barrister–at–Law (BL) course at King’s Inns, following in his older sister’s footsteps.
With a love for everything historical, he was inspired by his surroundings at the Inns. During his time there, he enjoyed the classes and participated in some debating and rugby, competing against the French Bar, who performed the traditional haka before kick–off.
“I remember being inspired for my final exams as my Mum gave me a letter which was in her family. It’s an original letter of 1829 which was sent with an opinion of Daniel O’Connell.”
King’s Inns Graduation 2004, with his mother and late father.
Early Working Life
Following his Call to the Bar in 2004, John worked for a stockbroking firm for three years in Dublin doing legal and compliance, his BL qualification at King’s Inns giving him a head start on the legal module of his stock exchange exams. It was an enjoyable experience in a young, dynamic workforce, and John’s initial plan of staying for six months turned into three years. Tempting as it was to remain, John’s vision was always clear – he wanted a career at the Bar, and in 2007, he made the transition.
Master and Pupillage Relationship
Devilling at the Bar with Mark Dunne (now Senior Counsel) thanks to Vincent Foley SC’s introduction, John credits Mark and Mark’s wife, Mairéad McKenna SC, with giving him an excellent grounding.
Diane, intrigued about the Master/Pupil relationship, asked John: Do you think your experience with your Master is crucial? What impact does it have on your onward experience? John says,
“I consider it just as important as any degree or post–graduate qualification. Having that guidance was so important, speaking to someone on a practical level regarding cases. But also to see the impact of good working relationships with colleagues – judges, solicitors…. forming the bonds…Mark and Mairéad were brilliant at that.
In a relaxed way, Mark gave me good guidance on how I might develop and connected me with people for a second year of devilling that would put me on a commercial/financial services path.”
Building his practice / The Bar of Ireland
Although John found the work enjoyable and exciting, he says relocating to the Bar from working in–house was a significant adjustment. He was challenged in a good way; his Master was very good to him, but “the pay was a shock… that’s difficult. It is certainly a feature of early years at the Bar.” He says he has no regrets about persevering and now enjoys a diverse and exciting workload.
As a young barrister, he recalls working as a Night Lawyer for some tabloid newspapers (and broadsheets), working right up to the moment the page proofs went “off stone,” editors pushing and tweaking the “splash” (front page) until the last moment – something he admits was unnerving for a young lawyer.
John additionally worked at the Central Bank, where he gained experience working in prudential regulation. Recognising the need for a consolidated reference of legislation, he wrote “The Central Bank Acts*” in 2019. With two young children at the time, it was a huge undertaking. He is currently working on the second edition, to be launched in 2024.
Central Bank Acts, launched by His Honour Mr Justice David Barniville with John McCarroll SC
Nowadays, with a wide–ranging commercial practice in Dublin, John wears several other hats. He also has a circuit practice in Co. Louth, where he lives with his wife and two children and continues to practice in the world of media and pre–publication, banking and financial services. John has represented parties before the Disclosures Tribunal, a particular highlight and, he says, “advocacy masterclass”, providing an invaluable learning experience, as well as other significant tribunal–style inquiries.
He regularly appears for print and broadcast media in cases where a reporting restriction has been imposed. John is also a founder member and vice–chair of the Financial Services Bar Association, which promotes and develops members’ expertise in all areas of financial services law.
Advanced Diploma in Legal Practice through Irish / Ard–Dioplóma sa Dlí–Chleachtadh trí Ghaeilge
Proficient in Irish, John hopes to run a case in Irish in the future. He completed the Advanced Diploma in Legal Practice through Irish at King’s Inns in 2012. Born out of his love of cycling in the Pyrenees and watching the Tour de France in 2012 on TG4, he realised that although he had a good understanding of the Irish language at that time, his conversation skills had lapsed. Inspired to improve, his starting point was some classes in Gaelchultúr (”a brilliant place in town”).
Although he enjoyed the Inns the first time and enjoyed the lectures, he found the Barrister–at–Law course a difficult transition from UCD and repeated exams in his first year. He says of returning to complete the Advanced Diploma, “it was nice to be back, feeling more on top of things, doing it for enjoyment” and took pride in his conferral “as much as the Degree.”
He feels there is a buzz around Irish at the Bar and in legal practice right now. A recent highlight was attending the Cumann Barra na Gaeilge: “Éire – 50 Bliain de Dhlí na hEorpa” conference in Belgium – for him, an inspiring gathering of Bar, lawyer linguists, judges, and solicitors “with really varied and interesting contributions across all areas of practice. I don’t think I spoke English for three days.” The conference was held in the Irish College in Louvain/Leuven, where the Earls rested over Christmas 1607 on their flight to Rome. John spoke on the surprising connection between wine and the legal vacation under the French Constitution of 1791, having traced the story through the debates of that year’s National Convention.
Law of September 1791 on legal vacations
Given his experience, Diane asked John if he had any advice for King’s Inns students or recent graduates. He says he would be slow to advise, as the current course is applied and practical. He professes to be very envious of students now having everything centralised on a tablet rather than handwritten notes and folders!
Work / Life Balance
Gravity Enduro 2021, Carrick
As well as cycling trips to the Pyrenees, John loves to (slowly, he emphasises) race Gravity Enduro mountain bike events and ride the hidden trails at Three Rock and Ravensdale. A French Revolution buff, over the last couple of years, he has bought legal documents at online auctions in France, sometimes for the price of a coffee. He has been enjoying some amateur detective work to discover some stories behind them.
One of the first things that John bought was a 1795 order of the Committee of General Security, the sister committee of the better–known Committee of Public Safety. The committee is ordering the immediate release of one Citizen Garnier. “I am fairly sure he was a priest who refused to accept the new Civil Constitution of the Church. One of the committee members who signed is Armand–Joseph Guffroy, a barrister at the same Bar as Robespierre and later played a role in his downfall. He started as a moderate, became an avid Montagnard, started a newspaper, spoke in the debates on the trial of Louis XVI and was expelled from the Jacobins club, which would have put his life at risk. I want to find out more about both these men.”
“I have a letter from the great Revolutionary era avocat Guy Jean–Baptiste Target. While he appeared in the biggest cases of the time, he is sometimes known for refusing to defend Louis XVI in December 1792. This letter is fascinating because Target is declining a brief for a Duchess in 1776 for the same reasons. I had the chance to put the story together for a talk for Cumann Barra na Gaeilge (on the cab–rank rule in revolutionary France) and believe this letter rehabilitates Target somewhat.”
“Reading the documents and looking into the backstory is good for improving my French, but I enjoy the whole experience. Our work can be intense, so an immersive and calm outside interest can be a good thing. I like to follow the threads that interest me… so it’s different to reading for a case.”
- *The Central Bank Acts (Roundhall, December 2019)
- Clipping the Vulture’s Wings? Private Litigation of Codes of Conduct under the Central Bank Acts. Commercial Law Practitioner—May 2020
- The Actionability of Codes of Conduct in English and Irish law (with David McIlroy). Journal of Banking and Finance Law and Practice, Volume 32/2 2021