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Patrick O'Kane, barrister and Compliance Counsel for Cordery advises companies on a range of issues including compliance, data protection, privacy and extraction law. Today he takes some time out to share his experiences of what it means to be a commercial lawyer in the latest instalment of our many hats interviews.
How did you end up being a commercial lawyer?
I qualified as a barrister and worked in Northern Ireland for 13 years. Almost by accident, I was briefed in a commercial case for a company that lasted several years. The case began as a small one and then grew and grew in value and complexity.
Tell us about a memorable moment of your career.
I was qualified as a barrister for only a few months when I had my first jury trial. It involved an allegation made by a bouncer that he was assaulted by someone in a darkened nightclub. The case took an unexpected twist when a prosecution witness did not come up to proof and my client was acquitted.
What makes a lawyer a commercial lawyer?
Being able to see the bigger picture. Often lawyers are detail-orientated and this can be very useful. But working in the commercial world means that lawyers have to have a broader view and work towards finding a solution rather than presenting the client with a list of problems.
So, what tips do you have for making legal advice more digestible/commercial for business?
It is important to speak clearly and simply without using jargon. If a lawyer truly understands their client and their client’s case then they will not need to resort to legal jargon.
What advice would you give to someone entering the commercial law arena?
I would advise getting some experience in the real world. Having a job when you are growing up or when you are a student is very important in seeing how businesses operate and helps us understand the pressures they are under. Understanding these pressures is key to understanding commercial law. It is also important to stay informed every day on what is happening in the economy both globally and locally.
Is the profession doing enough to make lawyers truly commercial?
Yes. The conferences that help lawyers understand commercial issues in different sectors and countries is helpful in giving lawyers a broader perspective which is important in understanding commercial law. I attended an excellent one in London recently on Panama.
What could we be doing better to train lawyers working at the sharp end of business and commerce?
I think lawyers should get training not just on the letter of the law but on the practical skills they also need. Negotiation and client care are very important skills and more should be done to train lawyers in these areas.
Is there a recent development in the commercial law arena that concerns you?
The new regulatory burden that companies have is becoming very onerous and can be disproportionate.
The new EU data Regulation is only in draft form at the moment but I believe it is going to put companies under a huge burden in terms of handling data. For example companies may be fined 2% of their global turnover for breaching this law.
What do you do to switch off from the day job?
I love running and going to the cinema.
And finally, which hat is your favourite?
I have a black fedora which I wore during a Michael Jackson talent contest in 1989 when I was aged ten. I lost to someone who went on to be a professional Michael Jackson impersonator. The injustice!
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