Eugene McQuaid, EU regulatory and public affairs consultant, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP
‘Although it may sound like a tired cliché or hyperbole, it would not be inaccurate to say that my secondment at the Law Societies’ Joint Brussels Office changed my life or, at the very least, its course.
Having been happily involved in a wonderful private practice in Antrim, I saw the secondment opportunity in Brussels as a last chance to explore Europe and get a taste of EU law before coming back to Northern Ireland and focusing on my career.
I had always seen myself as a lawyer, at least since I had given up on my dream of being a footballer (around age 5), and so I had never truly considered the possibility of doing something different.
Developments in the Northern Irish market, however, had led me to begin considering alternative options. Cuts to the legal aid budget played a huge factor in this. I will not go into detail on the reforms but I fear that they have had a devastating and permanent effect on the landscape of the Northern Irish legal sector. In a trend that I noticed during my early years as an undergraduate at Queen’s University Belfast, the best and brightest were encouraged to pursue careers in large corporate firms, particularly in England, with many of the small and medium sized law firms, which make up the fabric that underlines our justice system, being side-lined. The public, understandably, is not particularly sympathetic to cuts to the legal sector but I do feel strongly that something needs to change if we are going to be able to offer the most vulnerable in our society the same, incredibly high, level of protection that we have done until now.
My perception of the legal aid cuts aside, I was also strongly drawn to secondment opportunity by my interest in EU law. My understanding of the EU had always been rather theoretical and thus the secondment gave me the perfect opportunity to see how it worked in practice.
That being said, my experience at the Law Societies’ Brussels office was very different to what I had initially expected. With the role of representing the interests of the UK legal profession before the EU institutions, I was thrown into a world in which politics, advocacy and law were beautifully intertwined. I felt that I was suddenly at the epicentre of the political universe (what we in Brussels refer to as ‘the bubble’) and was engaging on issues such as trade relations with the US (i.e. mutual recognition of qualifications), transparency of lobbying at EU level and in mapping out the potential consequences of Brexit for the legal profession (at a time when Brexit seemed so unlikely!). Suffice to say, I was immediately hooked and, following my qualification, I sought out a job in Brussels.
I realise that this may not be the best testimonial to show your firm when trying to convince them to let you come to Brussels but I hope that helps you decide whether the secondment opportunity is the right fit for you. Many of the skills you will learn, as well as the different areas of law you will come into contact with, will be beneficial for your future career – in the EU or not. What is more, the amazing and experienced team at the Joint Brussels Office will help you get what you want out of the secondment and make sure you have a good time. I cannot but recommend it!’