It is a tough job being the director general of the Law Society. And Ken Murphy has an anecdote to prove it. He remembers a particularly frenetic week in the late 1990s when the number of dinners he was eating on behalf of the solicitors’ representative body was so high, it had become a health and safety issue.

Murphy did the sensible thing and checked himself in for a medical in the Blackrock Clinic, which, with approval, he expensed to the Law Society. The good news was that everything was right down the fairway, health-wise.

At the end of the medical, Murphy was also given a stress test. He was a man in his early forties and had been running the Society for around three years at this point. When the results came back, the clinic told him he had the lowest stress levels they had ever found in any chief executive.

“I’m famously laid back,” he says with some pride. “Nothing gets to me. I will just deal with the issue as it comes along.” And that, in a nutshell, may help explain why Murphy is currently the longest-serving chief executive of a bar and law society anywhere in the world. This is something he knows to be a fact.

But not for much longer. After 26 years as DG, and without a single sick day to his name, Murphy is stepping down from the role on March 22, which is his 65th birthday.

He made the announcement last October. This is the long goodbye.

To mark the ending of an era, The Currency sat down with Murphy a week before Christmas to reflect on his hugely successful career working with (and sometimes doing battle against) some of the biggest legal and political figures of the past three decades.

Over the course of a two-hour conversation, Murphy talked to me about legal reform, politics, the Marian Finucane Show, the fallout from golfgate, dodgy solicitors and how to get the media message right when in a crisis.

Murphy will be missed in the legal profession. “Ken never let solicitors down and, and whenever there was trouble and he was wheeled out to explain things – to us ourselves or to the general public – we could always have absolute confidence that he would do the best that could possibly be done,” said one encomium in the Law Society Gazette.

In truth, it is a fair assessment. Murphy is the epitome of a trusted safe pair of hands. He has also been part of the fabric of legal life in Ireland for so long, through multiple professional dealings I have convinced myself that I know him quite well. But as we sit down to talk, I realise I know next to nothing about him other than that he is unfailingly polite, thoroughly decent, and a voluble interviewee.

Because of Covid-19, we meet in the Council Chamber of the Law Society at Blackhall Place rather than his office. The room, where council meetings are held, is long and high-ceilinged with rich red carpeting, magnolia walls, and chandeliers hanging from a corniced ceiling, painted red and white. A glass-topped mahogany table runs almost the entire length of the room surrounded by wine-coloured leather chairs.

On the walls are the original charters of the Law Society dating back to the Victorian era.

Despite the quality of the detail, there is a Spartan frugality to the room, and the rest of the Law Society – a sort of low-Protestant aesthetic at odds with say the flamboyant adornments of the King’s Inns or the sparkling glass towers with curated artworks preferred by some of the top blue-chip law firms in the silicon docks.

The building is close on empty.

Early encounters

Murphy stands at a sideboard pouring me tea and making small talk as I “one-two” into my recorder to make sure it is working. He tells me how he would have liked to have worked in media and how he moonlighted as a business journalist in the early 1990s, mostly writing stories with an EU law twist, while working as a Brussels-based commercial lawyer and partner in A&L Goodbody. 

KM: In my Brussels years, my stories would appear in the business pages of The Irish Times quite a lot. Business and finance – businessy type of stuff mainly with a European law angle. It was really promotion, to be honest, but I remember Padraig Flynn had just arrived as commissioner in Brussels. So I went in and sat in the corner of his office and set down my little dictaphone and did this, you know, very probing interview full of softball stuff – tell us something else that’s wonderful about you commissioner. And, of course, I went out and it was barely audible you could just about hear it. What did I do? I just invented it anyway. It wasn’t the most challenging interview.

FC: Like all the best journalists.

KM: This was before his time on the Late Late Show.

Sutherland was still commissioner when I arrived in Brussels in the latter half of ’88. I’d known Sutherland since I had been an apprentice solicitor, what we used to call a trainee solicitor for Hickey Beauchamps Kirwan & O’Reilly. They used to do a lot of work for Irish National, defence personal injury work. So I had the job as the apprentice of going down with Tommy O’Reilly, the partner in charge of the cases, going down to the Round Hall. My job was to stand there holding the files, real apprentice work. But Suds was the defence in a lot of these things and he’d be going around, you could see him in operation. He would have four or five negotiations going on simultaneously around the Round Hall, going one to the next and then he’d come back, sorting it all out. None of the cases ever went on of course because they were all settled at the door of the court at the very last minute.

So I think he vaguely remembered me from that. But I know I’ve come across him afterwards.

So when I arrived in Brussels in September ’88 to open the A&L Goodbody office there, again through connections on my very first working day, I got to meet the commissioner. So I arrive up and I’m waiting up on the 13th floor. He had a corner office, which was an indication of his prestige and the prestigious portfolio and how well in he was with Delors. So I was waiting outside for a while with people coming in and going out, and eventually I go in. I remember saying to the commissioner: “I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed I would have thought you would be lying out on the chaise lounge with, you know, nymphs pressing grapes into your mouth. Isn’t that the image that we have of European Commissioners.” He said: “That only happens after five o’clock.”

I always had an interest in politics, and a vague background in politics which I’m not going to talk about now because people then categorise you

But he was still the commissioner and strode Europe like a Colossus. He was an extraordinary figure and went on to this super stellar career.

FC: You would have met a lot of interesting figures in that era in Brussels, John Hume…

KM: I met John many times in Brussels. There was this other Northern MEP, whose name will come back to me, an Ulster Unionist who had this slightly wry take on Hume. You’d be arriving for some function, an Irish embassy function or something. My experience of Hume was that he had a tendency to arrive a little bit late. 

But I remember the question being asked: “Has God arrived yet? I think I saw God in the reception area.” It was a little bit of that. 

FC: You were quite young to be sent to Brussels.

Instead of answering the question, Murphy hands me an old copy of the Law Society Gazette from March 1995 featuring an interview with him following his appointment as director general of the Society. In true lawyer form, he has marked the page with a yellow post-it note. On the cover of the magazine, a younger Ken Murphy looks out. It is unmistakably him. Apart from some grey, his hairstyle and moustache have not changed a jot in the intervening years. 

FC: It’s not a job, I would imagine but I could be wrong, that someone maybe working in A&L now would necessarily want to do.

KM: Well nobody ever came from the background that I came from. My predecessor Noel Ryan – the late Noel Ryan who died from cancer a few years after that – he had done four years and he left to become the chief executive the Irish Horse Racing Authority, which was a real instance of mixing your job and your passion because he loved the sport. He went for the newly established authority. He’d been, I think, an assistant secretary general in the Department of Justice. So that was his background. For years before him was there was a guy named Jim Ivors. When I was first with the Council, Jim Ivors was DG. He had been chief executive of the Dental Association. So that was the kind of background.

FC: It sounds like something more for people who may be heading to the tail end of their career, and thinking this would be an experienced role, but maybe also a stepping back. Why did you do it?

KM: I’d been a council member. I’d been elected 12 times and it was my 12th year on the Law Society council. I was one of the youngest ever council members elected to the council at the age of 27. Typically people still get elected to council in their mid-thirties, early forties. But I’d always had an interest in, as it were, the politics of the profession. I had practised as a partner in A&L Goodbody. I was back from a four-year stint in Brussels. I was in EU and competition law, which was an interesting development area and I was intellectually very interested in it. I used to lecture in it generally and internationally. I’d write in The Irish Times, I’d do occasional pieces. I remember being interviewed by Brian Dobson on a now-forgotten business programme called Marketplace when the Competition bill came in – what ultimately became the Competition Act. So you know, I developed a niche area of expertise. There were probably only about five or six people in the country had that, who worked full-time in that area in commercial firms. 

But actually, in some respects, you know, I’d been involved in student politics. I became very interested and involved from an early stage in the council of the Law Society, getting elected to the council. So I was rising up through the council. I was chair of the Education Committee and a whole series of other committees. I never in my life thought about being director general of the Law Society. Noel Ryan left unexpectedly and at relatively short notice this position came up. And I began to think “now, wouldn’t that be interesting. As a council member, you’ve influence and insight but you don’t run anything really. So I always thought, wouldn’t it be more interesting, actually? In the end, I was one of 32 partners in A&L Goodbody but I became the only director general of the Law Society.

FC: Did someone tap you on the shoulder?

KM: No, I just thought that it would be interesting. And I suppose the fact that I’m still doing it, coming up to 26 years at it, shows that it was a good fit between my skill set and my interests.

FC: You weren’t afraid of scuppering your career in law?

KM:  I mean I did it initially on a five-year contract. Yeah. But I didn’t really think in those terms. I was always thinking in terms that this was just a really interesting challenge.

FC: Did you ever see it as a stepping stone into politics?

KM: I always had an interest in politics, and a vague background in politics which I’m not going to talk about now because people then categorise you, they put a label of a party on you, and then they can’t see beyond that and that colours their whole perspective: “Well, of course, you’d say that. Sure you used to be involved in x party.”

FC: And were you ever involved with any political party?

KM: Yes, but I’m not going to say which because otherwise the brand…

FC: Predating your appointment?

KM: Exactly, long before. So I had an interest in politics and an interest in media. People have said to me previously: “If you hadn’t have become a solicitor what would you have done?” I think I’d have been a journalist. I used to sit in Philosophy lectures in UCD. I did an English and Philosophy undergraduate degree. I used to sit next to Fintan O’Toole. He got a first and I didn’t, but I was always involved in student journalism, that kind of thing. I’m interested in that kind of thing.

But also I think the international scene in Brussels at the time, probably even more so now, there were about 100 non-Belgian law firms and offices in Brussels. And so I got exposed to the international thinking and trends, these giant US law firms that had an office in Brussels, big city London law firms would have an office in Brussels but also firms in Spain, Germany, France and some would have offices in Brussels. I got to know lots of people there. So I have always had this sense, this perspective of the legal profession, of the changes affecting it and the trends characterising the arc of the future for the legal profession and I didn’t get a sense that there was an awareness of that here. I thought that was something I could bring.

The fun has gone out of it

In the past year, Murphy has missed travelling abroad for his job, a perk stripped away by Covid-19. The day before our interview, he convened online with representatives of 90 different countries for a council meeting of the International Bar Association (IBA). In a normal year, he would have attended the IBA’s annual conference in Miami last November, followed almost immediately by a jaunt to Namibia for the conference of the International Institute of Law Association Chief Executives (IILACE), which he tells me was in Seoul the previous year. Instead, like almost everybody else, he has been rooted in Ireland.

If the reason for attending international conferences was to access cutting-edge ideas to bring back to the Law Society, Murphy is not shy in admitting there was an enjoyable element to it too, for someone like himself who is disposed to international travel. He explains the effect it had on his decision to step down as DG.

KM: I surprised a lot of people with my announcement in October. I sent an email, having thought about it long, just myself and one or two trusted friends and of course, my wife Yvonne. We talked it through, thought it through, took advice and then made a decision. Then pretty well out of the blue, I sent an email to the President late on a Wednesday evening in advance of a council meeting on the Friday. So about six people at a high level in the Society knew about what I had to say and then I spoke to the council at the Friday meeting. There were two things. First of all, a lot of people think that I’m younger than I am, because I look younger than I am. This is something I keep getting all the time: “I can’t believe you’re, you know, 64 going on 65.”

I made it clear that my retirement date is my 65th birthday in March. So I always had that in mind. But a lot of people thought I would just go on. One of the things that definitely influenced me was the onset of the pandemic and the way in which, and I actually said it to the council, in truth, a lot of the enjoyment has gone out of the job.

FC: How are lawyers faring in the pandemic?

KM: I would say one of the things we managed to succeed in doing was talking to the then Minister Charlie Flanagan on the day decisions were being made that the legal profession and legal services were listed as essential services. So therefore solicitors weren’t confined to their homes and were able to go out and continue to practice. And most are doing so. It’s like everything to do with the pandemic, it isn’t entirely uniform. It’s not uniform across the country, it’s not uniform depending on their areas of practice but I think, you know, solicitors are surviving. And nobody’s going to listen to us to complain anyway.

FC: I remember doing a piece to that effect and getting feedback that it wasn’t all rosey. In the big firms, trainee solicitors who might have expected to be kept on were being turned away.

I wouldn’t diminish the power and the influence of the number of civil servants around the table in that review. I think the state is – I wouldn’t say hostile – I’ll say ambivalent about judicial review

KM: Again, we’re not through it yet so we don’t know what the ultimate outcome is. So the ultimate duration and depth of this is not yet known. As the Law Society, we’ve taken the decision to conduct, in the early months of 2021, a research-based survey of the profession, so that we’re not going to be operating just on anecdote. We are going to actually have data from as many individual practitioners and firms as we can get to assist us, to get a truly accurate picture of it. But if you look at all the stuff from the UK legal press, larger international firms don’t seem to be suffering much at all. 

FC:  I was wondering after all this time, do you think that you’ve left the Law Society in good shape? Are you happy enough with your stewardship?

KM: How do you think I’m going to answer that (laughs)?

FC: Well are you happy with how you’ve left the finances, that the organisation is strong?

KM: Financially, we’re very strong. We’re fortunate to have substantial reserves which are helping us to cushion the impact now. I just think it’s a very professionally run business operation with extremely high quality people involved. We’ve much more external oversight than we used to have.

Introducing external oversight

FC: Arguably that would be seen as a diminishment of the Society’s role. It’s a smaller organisation in terms of its remit. (Self-regulation of the profession came to an end under legislation introduced in 2015 and now falls to the Legal Services Regulatory Authority).

KM: It isn’t at all. People are sometimes surprised that we have approximately 230 staff and an annual turnover of about €45 million. The other element I always say is an extremely complex internal and external politics. So that’s what I have to manage, but in terms of the impact of the Legal Services Regulation Act, that’s been one of the big things on my career path, I suppose. The bill literally goes back to the OECD report, which led to the Competition Authority study published in I think December 2006. You’ll note that I have a very clear timeline memory. I’m sort of known for my vivid and accurate memory.

Then I think at the end of October 2011 was the publication by Minister Alan Shatter of the Legal Services Regulation Bill, which is something that fell out of the troika deal. It was on the list of things that needed to be done, but it also played to, I think, personal interests that minister Shatter had in these issues. When the bill was published, we were pretty dismayed by the contents. A lot of it we thought really didn’t… Our main concern was there was a real and immediate threat to the independence of the profession, which is there not to protect the profession but the public. And so we went through all that period. And then if you look at the legislation, the bill that was enacted in December of 2015, the difference between the two is, I wouldn’t say stark, but it is significant. We thought it a much-improved piece and workable piece of legislation to the bill. In fairness to Minister Shatter, people expect me to be critical of him and I’m not, I don’t think. I remember, when the bill was published and there was a review of it and I was doing an interview with Newstalk and I began by paying tribute to Minister Shatter for his vision and dynamism, and his openness. The interviewer nearly fell off her seat. “What! You’re supposed to be here rubbishing Alan Shatter” – but I don’t.

FC: There was a lot of kickback from lawyers at the time against independent oversight. Were lawyers not a little over-reactive? I mean, there was an element of that.

KM: The core things we identified that needed to be addressed were addressed. And actually, the main changes to the bill, the structural changes to the bill and its scope were amended not subsequently by Minister Fitzgerald, but by Minister Shatter. We obviously engaged. We sat in this room. My watchword has always been constructive engagement. There are some people who want to protest and condemn and not talk to anyone, “how dare they” kind of stuff; that’s never been my style. I prefer to engage through evidence and argument. Let’s see if we can persuade change here. 

FC: I presume you’re happy enough with the oversight. It’s early days, I suppose.

KM: I’m a fan of it. I think we needed to see this kind of modernisation of the regulation of legal professions because again I’ve looked at what’s happening. A lot of this was inspired, or at least influenced by what happened in the lead up to the 2007 Act in England and Wales. That regime, that model specifically wasn’t followed here and I remember sitting here talking to Alan Shatter, as I did many times on this, and he had without difficulty been persuaded this was not an appropriate model for Ireland, a vastly different scale apart from anything else. So there’s been a lot of change throughout the world, but I think Ireland should always be leading in its models for things like the regulation of the legal profession and we have done so.

Opening up legal training

FC: Other things have been slow. I mean, obviously it’s on the table for discussion now but legal training is still a closed-shop scenario.  (A Legal Services Regulatory Authority report, published last November, recommended allowing new providers to be accredited to provide professional training for solicitors and barristers.)

KM: I don’t accept that. I think it’s very open to anyone. It’s not that difficult. The model works…

FC: Where is the legal College of Surgeons?

KM: It’s to do with scale. This is not a chalk and talk system. It is a system whereby the law, substantive law isn’t really taught here in the Law Society. What we teach, it’s a how-to system, it’s how to perform certain legal tasks. You get good training in university law faculties in the law of property, but nobody tells you how to transfer the ownership of one piece of property, and the dozens and dozens of individual tasks that that involves and the numbers of checks and the level of detail that that involves. The actual transfer of title is only a small part of it; all of the tax issues, the planning issues, the Family Home Protection Act compliance issues, all of the intricacies of that. So it’s legal practice that is taught here, not black letter law. I’m not dismissing black letter law… 

FC: That’s not impossible to teach though elsewhere.

KM: We did have a law school in Cork that we established in 2006. The numbers in Cork never really… it was loss-making every single year. And then when the recession came the numbers fell off a cliff. We had to close it but we made that effort. So Cork, maybe, in better times.

Murphy goes into proud father mode, expanding on the world-class excellence of the Law Society’s core training programme; extolling the hundreds of legal practitioners who give of their time for modest fees to impart their experience in vital legal skills like drafting, advocacy and negotiating; all in small class settings, and with the lawyer’s answer to the medical student’s lab – the mock courtroom. For now, the facilities lie empty as students log into classes online.

He notes that in the US, for example, students are judged on what law school they graduate from but they sink or swim on the job. They are not offered comprehensive professional training.

He stresses the importance of the learning-by-doing model introduced in the 1970s and its dependence on professional engagement by lawyers who want to give back.

We discuss legal training for quite a while. Show us where it’s done better, he says at one point. I am sceptical – not about the quality of the Law Society’s offering but about its perceived uniqueness. Why would another provider struggle to put together a similar programme?

Murphy responds that apart from skills, there is a value system that has to be passed on to students, the core ethics of the profession, which he sees as best taught by the Law Society in everyone’s interests – a view put to the LRSA as part of its review of legal training. However there is a trend towards specialisation in law, and Murphy sees advanced subjects like tax or aviation law potentially being taught beyond Blackhall Place. “We’re not insisting that the Law Society should deliver all aspects of this but there is a good balance there,” he says.

Ireland is very small, he notes, a point that Murphy says made an impression on a visiting “world guru” on legal professional training. “The fact that the possibility exists here to have everybody for at least part of their professional training together in the same place, that builds collegiality, it builds a sense of identity with the profession, and with the values of the profession, which is really powerful.” 

The civil servants are in the room

The conversation turns to the recently published report of the Civil Law Review Group, chaired by former High Court president Peter Kelly. The study recommends sweeping changes in civil law procedures that will streamline litigation, cut costs and improve access to justice. Murphy finds the report impressive and sensible. “I’m nerdy enough to have read most of the 500 pages,” he tells me. Apart from Kelly, the review group consisted of judges, senior civil servants, legal lobby groups, the Attorney General’s office, the Chief State Solicitor’s Office and the Courts Service. Solicitor Stuart Gilhooly was the Law Society’s man in the room.

However when it came to judicial reviews of decisions made by statutory or regulatory bodies, such as An Bord Pleanála or the International Protection Appeals Tribunal, the report suggested beefing up the legal test that allows such High Court challenges to go ahead. 

FC: One of the thrusts in the report is the need to increase access to justice and yet in respect of judicial reviews, there seems to be almost a political position adopted in respect of not blocking Strategic Development.

KM: I think you’re right. I wouldn’t diminish the power and the influence of the number of civil servants around the table in that review. I think the state is – I wouldn’t say hostile – I’ll say ambivalent about judicial review, being held to account and being challenged all the time. I think judicial review is a really important part of democracy. 

The efficacy of the report will largely come down to resourcing, a top priority in a recent zoom meeting the Society held with Jusitce Minister Helen mcEntee. The budget of the Courts Service dropped by 40 per cent from peak to trough in the last recession. The IT infrastructure in particular was left behind.

The pandemic has now underlined the value of robust IT systems. Faced with court closures last spring, the Courts Service had to adapt an app designed for online meetings and previously used occasionally when overseas experts testified in the High Court, into a critical piece of court technology – the bedrock of the current system of remote callovers and court hearings.

“It’s a classic example where there’s been a huge leap forward in a very short period of time, because of the pandemic. But the infrastructure just isn’t there,” Murphy says. “I have very high regard for Angela Denning (Chief Executive of the Courts Service).  She’s doing a great job, I think. I know she would really love to have the level of investment required.  We’re not talking about patching over the systems. We need to talk about transformative investment.”

There is no facility in the app currently used by the Courts Service to mute attendees in the virtual court, it is up to the individuals to be vigilant. Inevitably mistakes happen. I tell Murphy I heard one poor man, while waiting for the judge to log on, unwittingly give a five minute broadcast about fixing his blocked loo. He says he has heard stories of participants being caught red handed making disparaging comments about the judge. It may be funny when it is not you, but it is not ideal.


On the subject of technology, Murphy is a big fan of author and adviser Richard Susskind who is an expert on how computers are changing the work of lawyers. His books include The Future of Law, Online Courts and The Future of Justice, and The End of Lawyers?

KM: Susskind argues that when we talk about the delivery of professional services, like legal services, we instinctively think there has to be some human mediation involved. But he’s looking at systems, where there may not be. Provocatively he asks: “Do we really need judges?” Surely it’s just a question of the evidence being properly presented in a format that is digestible and sophisticated systems that can say this is the result.

FC: Nobody fully believes that, do they? Yes, it might be viable for certain types of disputes but the law is not perfect, it is a matter of human relations.

KM: I’ve organised international conferences on this so I’ve heard all the views, including that one. I’ve heard the head of legal at Microsoft worldwide talking about this issue. There was the argument from someone standing up at the conference and saying: “What about the ethical principles?” Issues of right and wrong come in to judgement calls because a lot of it is about judgement. Can you say this may be legal but it’s wrong? The response was: “That can be programmed in as well.”

FC: Would there be an appeal?

KM: The appeal would be to a bigger computer (laughs). I’m very interested in this stuff, particularly the American stuff. Even the popular stuff, there was an article in The New York Times. There’s no doubt it’s one of the biggest trends.

There is a guy I’m a big fan of called David Wilkins who is a Harvard Law professor. I was at a conference in 2013, there was a presentation by him. He talked about the big trends. He talked about big law primarily and globalisation, the way the legal profession has geared up to follow globalisation. Multinationals dominate the world, the legal profession and legal services have met their demands, therefore you get the internationalisation of business law. Feminisation of the profession is another global phenomenon. We were the first legal profession anywhere in the world to tip over the halfway mark, to go 50 per cent plus one female practitioners. 

FC: Not at senior levels.

KM: It is still a fact that we were the first legal profession in the world to have majority female practitioners. Merete Smith, my counterpart in the Norwegian Bar Association, was saying – and in Norway they are always ahead of us – that when we were fifty plus one in 2014 they were 38 per cent. So it’s not nothing, what’s happening in Ireland. We have seen something really significant happen in Ireland. The law has been very open to female participation and to women coming in in enormous numbers. You can say: “Is the trickle-up effect happening or not?” I’d love to see it. Ultimately you’re aiming for balance in everything. Increasingly you’ll see in the commanding heights of the higher echelons of the larger law firms there are more and more women filling those roles.

Murphy is aware that diversity is about more than gender. But rather than discuss disabilities or socio-economic and racial imbalances in the legal profession, the outgoing DG uses the topic as a jumping-off point to express his dismay at the new heads of the bill for reforming judicial appointments (a seemingly evergreen thorny topic) rushed out in December in the wake of the Justice Seamus Woulfe golfgate scandal. At least, at first he does.

The plan is for a new Judicial Appointments Commission with nine members, equal number judges and lay people, and the Attorney General. The Chief Justice will chair the group but have no casting vote. The two representative groups, the Law Society and the Bar Council are to be left out in the cold, which Murphy believes will have a detrimental impact on the number of solicitors appointed to the bench.

KM: One of the aspects of diversity to which the judicial appointment system has been resistant is the appointment of solicitors. Solicitors represent 80 per cent of practitioners, actually closer to 83 or 85 per cent of legal practitioners in the country. They represent I think around 12 per cent of senior judicial appointees. I’m not a part of the system but I believe the system of judicial appointments is biased towards barrister candidates over solicitor candidates. I think the statistics, the evidence, shows that over time. And I think that bias could become entrenched, even deeper, because  I’ve concern as to what extent the lay members, which is a slightly dismissive term, will have the capacity to really challenge the judges in the room. A judge says: “What we really need is this type of skill set for the job.” Who is going to be able to say: “No, you don’t, you need something else?”

When I put it to him that the solicitors’ profession is arguably more facilitatory of socio-economic diversity than the bar because it is less precarious for new entrants, he readily agrees

Murphy himself comes from what he describes as a solid middle-class background. He attended Terenure College in Dublin before going on to study arts in UCD. His father died when he was 18, a loss that influenced his later career decision to become a solicitor and not a barrister.

The long way round to the law

KM: I thoroughly enjoyed college. I was involved in everything, politics, journalism, debating, sport – I played soccer for UCD and the freshers team toured in America in those days. I thoroughly enjoyed everything that was going on in college including, actually, the English and philosophy that I was studying. But the question was what next? A BA. Teaching? It didn’t really appeal. I could have done a postgrad but again, that was like postponing the decision. 

In my final year, particularly, I drifted into debating. I’d always attended the L&H (Literary & Historical society) but I began to get involved and found most of the people doing it were law students or were going on to do law. People forget Adrian Hardiman did history. He was a few years ahead of me. Frank [Clarke] did maths, I think, and economics. I think it’s a very enriching thing for the profession to have people coming in other than from a law background. So I kind of drifted into it. 

Because I always enjoyed getting up on my feet and pontificating and hearing the sound of my own voice, people said: “Haven’t you all the characteristics to be a barrister?” But I looked into it and realised that economically… effectively, my mother was a widow. We were living on her pension and no other income. So I really couldn’t afford what’s jokingly called the five years of banana sandwiches, whereas if I joined a law firm as an apprentice, as we called it in those days, I was going to get paid – a small amount, but at least it was something. That was a real factor. I’ve never regretted that decision.

“Lawyers can and do feel their legal fees are perfectly justified. Unfortunately, almost nobody outside of the legal profession thinks that.”

Having had no legal background himself, Murphy’s children have taken up their father’s mantle. His son is a recently qualified solicitor working as a litigation practitioner in Matheson and he has a daughter doing her final FE1 exams in Blackhall Place.

“Those larger firms are paying €42,000 to €45,000 to trainees on day one who literally know nothing about practice,” he says.

FC: Returning to the Civil Law Review, it’s probably not surprising that the one issue the review group couldn’t agree on was how to cut legal costs in litigation. 

A majority of the 16-strong committee favoured the drawing up of guidelines for costs levels (the judges and lawyers), while the minority group (civil servants from different government departments) favoured the introduction of a table setting out the maximum costs recoverable in litigation to be fixed by a new litigation costs committee. Unsurprisingly, Murphy comes down on the side of the majority. He notes that the state is often a defendant in civil law cases, particularly personal injury litigation and is therefore – like lawyers – an interested party when it comes to costs.

KM: Ultimately [fixed costs] favours the deep pockets; insurance companies, state corporations, big corporations. There are elements in justice – not all the time – of little guys against big guys, and a system of suppressing the recoverable costs of the successful candidate favours the big guy. The big guy can pour money into a case. They can outgun and outmuscle the other side.

FC: You don’t think there’s room for nuance.

KM: I’m not saying that. I’m remembering the so-called Woolf reforms in Wales, which were designed to control costs. Counter-intuitively, they didn’t actually control costs with those reforms. They front-loaded a lot of the legal work. The objective seems to be to take the work out of the courts, everything in principle. Most cases settle. So therefore, the earlier they settle, the quicker and the less cost incurred. So, there were systems you were going to use to incur judicial case management, all that sort of stuff to try and bring the point of settlement earlier, crystallise the issues, get them properly addressed. 

But there is a human factor here as well, there’s a presumption that both parties in a contentious matter equally want to have it settled at the same time. That often isn’t the case and I practised litigation for years. There are people who want the case to go on. Somebody wants it over, somebody else doesn’t want it over, and you have to strike that balance. And so there are complexities here obviously. 

But in terms of the cost of litigation, I remember Gerry Hickey in my old firm, the late Gerry Hickey used to say, the only good file to have is one that is closed in your filing cabinet marked fees paid.  The earlier you get the case over with and paid, the better. But I do think that there are issues to do with, I’ve often said that legal fees are a very tricky issue and I tend to almost try to avoid dealing with them as a PR issue because you’d almost never win. 

Because, as I say, lawyers can and do feel their legal fees are perfectly justified. Unfortunately, almost nobody outside of the legal profession thinks that so you’re dealing with that. But there are issues which aren’t to do with just the self-interest of lawyers here, I truly believe there are issues of justice here, and how the justice system is funded affects the outcomes.

It was interesting that an independent review, the Haran and Miller review 15 years ago, concluded that fixed scales of costs would affect equality of arms and access to justice. But you could say from a different perspective: “Who cares, we are only about protecting the taxpayer.” But I say there’s more than protecting the taxpayer involved.

The Celtic tiger on steroids

FC: I want to ask you about something else. I have to strike a note of caution because of court proceedings but one very memorable disaster episode in the Law Society’s history, and yours, was the whole discovery of rogue solicitors, including Dublin practitioner Thomas Byrne who was jailed for 12 years for fraud offences. He was not the only one in the spotlight of course. There was another multi-million theft case. 

KM: I suppose I can tell you the story now. I think I’m correct in saying it was October 2007, it’s well known, it’s reported that the Law Society received a tip-off from someone. I was sitting opposite Brian Dobson on the Six One news studio when that broke so I just paid tribute to the fact that a woman solicitor reported to the Law Society what she had seen in the office she worked in. We moved in very quickly. A lot of the disciplinary issues that got the solicitor struck off related to things which were found. Most of it had taken place in the previous year, maybe in the previous six months, it wouldn’t have been going on for a very long time, a lot of it was based on property. This was Celtic Tiger stuff, you know, Celtic Tiger on steroids really. It was fine when the property market was growing, classic ponzi kind of thing. When the market turned, suddenly he couldn’t pay. That’s when you get into the whole forging documents, selling multiple mortgages on the same property. It’s all short-term stuff. It couldn’t be sustained for long. The solicitor walked into the Law Society and spoke to us. The Law Society was literally moving within 24 hours.

I was getting feedback as I would in something significant like this, I would always be told immediately by the regulation department, not because I’d have a role in decision-making, just for information purposes. I was heading off to the International Bar Association conference in Singapore but they kept in touch. I knew they were applying for a freezing order the following week on an ex-parte basis.

Ireland being what it is, there were rumours. I was getting calls from journalists. That phone, you’ve rung it yourself, less so now but in my early years, that was my openness and my understanding of what journalists needed and I tried to facilitate them and be proper at the same time. 

But I knew this was something I couldn’t talk about. This was pending before the court, it would be in open court the following Monday but I couldn’t possibly talk. 

And the names, always the names. One prominent solicitor’s name was being used who I knew was nothing to do with it. This is the hysteria of the time. If you start saying “it’s not x, it’s not y”, you’re engaging with it. 

I had Cliff Taylor, who was editor of The Sunday Business Post at the time calling me. I was at an IILACE dinner, at which I was a speaker. During the course of the dinner, I think I got three calls from Cliff. He said “is it x” and he mentioned the correct name. I was a bit alarmed and I just said “I’m not saying anything. If you publish that you do so at your own risk. I’m not confirming or denying anything”. I held the line.

In the end, The Sunday Business Post went to print and did not use the name, The Sunday Independent did.

It wasn’t just journalists. Lawyers were ringing Murphy too looking to shake down a name, without joy, he says.

FC: And when the Thomas Byrne story broke, did you think there was going to be a wave of dodgy solicitors emerging?

KM: Do you remember Questions and Answers? I remember being on Questions and Answers around the time when that broke. Dermot Ahern was on it, he may have been justice minister at the time. And the big question was what else is there? Is this the tip of the iceberg? We didn’t really have any evidence of any others so I said: “Look, all we know for sure is these two names in the public and they’re subject to process and so on, no conclusion can be reached in relation to it. And Dermot was saying: “If there are two like this, there’ll be more.” It turned out there weren’t.

“Representing the legal profession, I’ve never exaggerated. Your credibility is the most important thing. There are times when it’s a bad situation.”

FC: There were some smaller cases.

KM: The metaphor I used was that the two were like the Twin Towers. Anything after that was a two-storey house.

I put it to Murphy that the Law Society’s compensation fund took a bit of a battering but he says it was nothing compared to the 1990s when they had to pay out around IR£10 million to former clients of Jonathan Brooks and Elio Malocco, the solicitor who was jailed in 1995 for defrauding the Irish Press group.

KM: We were really happy following the Malocco and Brooks cases in 1991- 92. I was a council member at the time. I remember hearing the briefings going on in relation to those. And we really did face a meltdown in the compensation fund. It go to a stage where valid claims were coming and we could only pay by installments. We persuaded, there was a Solicitor’s Amendment Bill going through and Minister Geoghegan-Quinn was minister at the time. With the evidence of the situation we were in, we managed to persuade government and the Oireachtas, there really wasn’t any resistance in the end, to set a cap on the level. I think it was IR£350,000, it’s around €700,000 now. It’s a cap on the amount any one claimant can claim. 

We were getting to a stage where we couldn’t insure the fund. When the cap came in, we could insure the fund again.The fund is now very well funded. There is something like €20 million in it currently and we have insurance of another €50 million or so.

Saipan and the art of media

FC: You were a frequent contributor to the Marian Finnucane show. Were you friends?

KM: Not particularly with Marian. Obviously I went to her funeral. I got, (He refers to a letter in the Law Society Gazette) you’ll see in there there is a letter about me that makes reference to the show. I think it uses the phrase that I kind of grew beyond the role of DG. I’ve always had an interest in media, I’ve always had an interest in current affairs, public affairs. I remember being told one of the reasons I was on so frequently is that I had a wide range of stuff I could deal with. I was relatively well informed about economics, politics, sport. I remember being on film reviews, you know popular culture. I was interested in a wide range of stuff.

But the first time I got on was Easter Sunday of 2000. The first time in the chair in that slot was Ryan Tubridy. And I was on because they were doing a thing about Latin. Terry Dolan was on. Terry was my English professor in UCD in linguistics. Terry was a great character, a very droll individual. I got contacted because I’d been pitching a lot to the media legal stuff, pieces to the news. So I got this call to go on and talk about Latin and law. So I went absolutely. It was Easter Sunday, Ryan Tubridy in the chair. He’d just taken over from Andy O’Mahony.

Mary Banotti, who I used to know in Brussels, we used to have dinner in Brussels, she was on as well. So that was the first time. I was on a few times with Tubridy. And then Tom McGurk took over the slot and Tom and I got on quite well. Tom used to have me on about once every six weeks. All the time.

And then about 2004, Marian took over. I kind of transferred on. I used to do Marian around three times a year on average, sometimes four times, sometimes twice. Over 15 years that’s about 45 appearances. I used to be one of the more regular guests.

Sometimes the producer would say to me, there is someone else in the chair, we want a strong team will you come out? I was seen as someone who could perform and I always enjoyed it. Mostly it had nothing to do with legal issues at all. I remember talking about the war in Iraq. What would I know about the war in Iraq? But I would also poach stuff from the papers.

I also did a lot of Newstalk. Karen Coleman had a programme called The Wide Angle. I was on in the beginning around every three weeks. Newstalk started in May 2002. I’m riffing in anecdotal terms now. A story broke a day or two beforehand and the papers were all over it. And Karen had no capacity to deal with it. There were only three of us in the studio and it was a story that I pointed out, I said: “This isn’t the biggest sports story of the year, this is the biggest news story of the year’. Roy Keane and Saipan. I was able to deal with it because I live for Premiership football. 

FC: What team?

KM: I’m a West Ham supporter. My sins must have been great in a previous life. So I was all over that. I could talk about the psychology and Mick McCarthy and all that. So then I got on a lot. At times I was doing Karen’s programme on a Saturday and Marian’s programme on a Sunday. Even up until quite recently. I now do Bobby Kerr’s programme quite a lot, Down to Business. I do it because I enjoy it, not because I get money out of it. 

I think it’s really right in an important issue like this to get it right from the start. Because if you have to change it afterwards, they’ll be all over you

It’s good for profile as well. I remember what Terry Prone said to me. We’d just been on the programme. Terry came up to me afterwards and said: “You being on this show is really good for your persona,” as she called it, “your media persona but it really benefits the Law Society.” Because if people hear you, and you’re not taking yourself too seriously, I always like a bit of levity, a bit of craic. But the fact they hear you talking reasonably intelligently and persuasively, arguing stuff but not being unreasonable, when you’re going on, in inverted commas, “defending the indefensible”, it helps with that. Representing the legal profession, I’ve never exaggerated. Your credibility is the most important thing. There are times when it’s a bad situation. It’s better to say “it’s a bad situation” than try to take an incredible position.

FC: Have you had many of those moments, those bad situations?

KM: Not really too bad. The worst I ever had, I was going down in October 2005 with the then president of the Law Society Owen Binchy to meet members of the Kerry Law Society. I got off the plane at Farranfore, nine messages. Never good. “Are you listening to Joe Duffy, have you heard this?” It was the breaking of the Residential Institutions Redress Board payments to solicitors. When that broke I knew really nothing about it. People forget the redress board was, under statute, confidential. Nobody could talk about it, know about it or report it until a few months previously. 

The confidentiality regime lifted. So I had to quickly find anyone who knew about this and find out first of all what had been said, what accusations were being made.

The accusations were that solicitors had been exploiting victims, a bad story by any standards. So I found out as much as I could about it. I agreed in principle, the night before, to do Morning Ireland but I wasn’t going to do any media that night because I wanted to find out more. I was getting calls from people who were doing these cases. We’d talk about these cases, how these cases were run, how issues of costs would arise, how were they being dealt with by the state and so on. 

I remember talking to the members at the hotel in Tralee that night and putting the issue to them kind of cold. Some of them had heard about it. I thought the instincts of the practitioners were really good. They said you have to be open about it. First of all, you can’t run and hide from this. Secondly, you have to make it clear, everything I said was “if this is true” because ultimately these were allegations, these were assertions, these were claims. “If this is true, this does not reflect us. This is not the legal profession. This is not what we are about. These are not our values. If this is true.” Basically, if this is true, it is disgraceful.

I think it’s really right in an important issue like this to get it right from the start. Because if you have to change it afterwards, they’ll be all over you – “You said this, now you’re saying this, which is it?”

So I said that exactly on Morning Ireland, if this is true it is disgraceful. It’s appalling. It’s not who we are. It does not represent our values. If lawyers have been overcharging. I told Cathal MacCoille I had already put in place a process whereby a special team would be set up in the Law Society. We are going to have later today a special phone line so that anyone who believes they have been exploited, they can contact us. This will be investigated absolutely thoroughly and it won’t just be investigated by us, the majority of the complaints division of the Law Society who will oversee this process are not solicitors. There were people like the Director of Consumer Affairs on it, people with public interest concerns. And if it is true, if there is evidence, this will go forward, this will be pursued. One of the processes would be to ensure that any overpayment that is evidenced will be repaid. And sanctions will be taken.

I think I ended up in the studio with Brian Dobson on the Six One and on Prime Time that night, under intense pressure. I think Joe Duffy ran this story for all or part of 14 different successive programmes. This was a big, big thing. It was really damaging in terms of the reflection of the core values and the ethical principles of the profession – people who had been exploited, being exploited again.

But the number of cases in the end when we drilled down, there was a lot of misunderstanding, communication issues and so on. But the number of actual cases of overcharging proved against solicitors was really a very small percentage of the overall.

I made the point a few days later, on Questions and Answers I think, a point that had been missed – I was able to cite somebody in one of the victims’ groups who had said there wouldn’t even be investigations and the compensation system if it wasn’t for solicitors; solicitors identifying the wrongs that have been done to people here, and pursuing them, and ultimately through the courts and ultimately getting the state, people like James MacGuill and others, Tony Hanahoe and people like that lobbying the state to establish a compensation system. There wouldn’t have been one without solicitors. And therefore, this has to be seen in context here. This was a very small minority, reprehensible, condemned, and nobody out of pocket at the end.

That was the biggest PR crisis I ever had to deal with at the time. Luckily I don’t suffer from stress too much but it would have been stressful if I did.

But we took the line, we’re going to do all the media.

A hard act…

FC: Do you know who your successor is going to be? Is that process in train?

KM: No. It’s early in the process still and obviously, I am not involved in the selection process. I have some influence. I can talk to people about it in terms of what I think are the qualities needed. 

FC: What’s the plan then for retirement?

KM: I’m not sure. As I say to people, it’s not a career decision, it’s a life decision, family-made. Time is now precious. I’m fortunate enough that I can afford to retire. I will do stuff now that I want to do, that I see value in.

I’m certainly not going to do anything that involves 230 staff, €45 million turnover, 24/7 full-on politics, the way this is. But something part-time maybe. 

Maybe some law firm thinks that I’ve a role as a consultant or some non-executive directorship or something like that. But I’m not in any way concerned about that. I’ll see what interests me when the time comes.

A lot of the fun has gone out of the job. It isn’t just the international travel though I sense myself talking about that an awful lot at the moment. It’s about sitting down with people in this room. I enjoy the personal stuff, the interaction of going to bar association meetings and meeting the colleagues there, having a parchment ceremony for the newly qualified solicitors, having guests in for dinner in the President’s suite. All that kind of stuff. It’s gone. And it ain’t coming back anytime soon. Certainly not in the next six months.

FC: Do you see yourself doing any writing?

KM: People have talked to me about memoirs. I have a sort of unique perspective, a 40-year perspective, 26 years as DG, 12 years as a council member before that and two years on the members’ committee. I’ve a unique perspective nobody else has in terms of changes to the legal profession.

There’s a lot of stuff I’ve been involved in, not solely to do with the Law Society, the Working Group on a Courts Commission that ultimately led to the setting up of the Courts Service. That was chaired by my great heroine, Ms Justice Susan Denham. I have the highest regard for her, always have had, seeing her skills at play around the table. We used to have these meetings down in the judges’ library in the Four Courts every Monday morning at 10 o’clock. To see the way that took shape, the taking of evidence, the arguments. There were lots of senior judicial figures and former attorneys general at the table and in many ways I was the lowest on the totem pole, and she would always say: “Ken, what do you think of that?” Just to get everybody involved. 

FC: Just a minute ago, you were talking about transparency in your role and how you decided to embrace it. Obviously, there’s been controversy with the judges in the Supreme Court, which in that instance chose transparency. Do you think it may have backfired for them though in that scenario?

KM: I deliberately chose not to do media on that but I’ll talk to you about it. 

I got a call about 8.30pm on the Monday night to say that a report was about to be issued, which was the Chief Justice’s publication of the letters. That was on the nine o’clock news and they asked, would I do Claire Byrne the following day. I thought about it and I said no.  First of all, I wanted to see what Clarke said and secondly, I know Frank Clarke personally. I’ve known him for 40 years. He was a few years ahead of me. He used to come back as and old boy to the L&H. I know his wife well. I also know Seamus Woulfe very well. We’ve had a lot of dealings with him. We went to New York this time last year. This is a tie I bought in Washington DC on a trip where both of them were together. We were travelling over for the promotion of Ireland for law, that kind of thing. 

I remember saying to the Law Society council that the media will drill down and ask the question – whose side are you on? It was suggested that we could say that the independence of the judiciary is very important and I said a five-year-old could say that. You have to say something. There are arguments for and against and you’re just going to get consumed by it. It’s not our issue ultimately. The tectonic plates of the judiciary and the political system rubbing together, you don’t want to get caught in the middle of them. 

I did talk to some journalists off the record so my thoughts would have found printed someplace. I thought it was poorly handled all round. You could say Justice Woulfe’s handling of it leaves something to be desired and I’m not sure the Supreme Court covered themselves in glory either. And the pitch to transparency, the publication of those letters. You know, on one interpretation, it looked like an effort to escalate and force a resignation. I thought it was surprising and unlikely to do that. For anyone looking at it.  I used to brief Frank Clarke. You’d say normally with Frank Clarke, he’s a great capacity to look around corners.

There are people who feel this has not rebounded well for the judiciary or at least the Supreme Court. It’s a real mess and then, of course, we get into the issues of the appointment and whether that was done in the most perfect fashion possible. It clearly wasn’t. It’s all a mess and it’s all regrettable. 

“He basically said in a very mellifluous way that if any solicitor was ever appointed to the High Court, the sky would darken and darkness would envelop the Earth.”

I do have some sympathy with the view that there has been a slightly hysterical reaction to it in terms of the public mood saying everyone who was there should resign. It’s not proportionate. I agreed with Justice Denham’s view that while there were clearly mistakes made, to require resignation and career-ending would be disproportionate. But I don’t think it’s been handled very well since. But I’m not taking sides. 

FC: That aside, the fact of the appointing of the attorney general. Any case that touches upon legislation of the past few years, they’ll have to stand aside from. 

KM: It’s funny. We’ve had two political crises 25 years apart and both involved the appointment of the attorney general.

FC: It’s not a good practice is it?

KM: They both involve the appointing of the attorney general, possibly the over-appointing of the attorney general. I think the Labour party said at the time, Dick Spring said that if Harry Whelehan had got just an ordinary High Court position instead of the presidency they wouldn’t have collapsed the government effectively and ended Albert Reynolds’s political career. Equally, I think nobody would have objected to Seamus Woulfe being appointed to the High Court.

FC: It just seemed kind of an overreach? Regardless of the dinner, I suppose the appointment in and of itself would have ruffled a few feathers. 

KM: How this is going to work now [the proposed new appointment scheme] with everyone going through the same funnel, the non-judges and the judges being assessed at the same time – there is always the issue of judges seeking promotion from one court to another. I remember former chief justice Finlay was very opposed to that in that working group in the 1990s, the perception that might exist that a judge would be aware that the state or elements of the state would be reviewing his or her desired promotion. Even subconsciously would that have an effect on individual cases? You’d hope not. 

More to do

As we wrap up, Murphy returns to one of his preferred topics – solicitors on the bench, a lobbying feat he seems particularly proud to have had a hand in. When he became DG in 1995, solicitors were only eligible for appointment to the District Court. “There was almost a class system there. There was a system that barristers had better legal minds than solicitors possibly better other qualities too. It was an Upstairs, Downstairs kind of thing,” he says. Believing reform would boost the morale and prestige of the profession, he wrote an op-ed for The Irish Times arguing that the pool of talent should be widened when it came to making judicial appointments. 

KM: The bill for what would become the Courts Act 1995 was at committee stage. And I suppose, I noticed that there were a lot of solicitors on the committee. John O’Donoghue was the opposition justice spokesman, Charlie Flanagan was the chair and Alan Shatter was there as well. I spoke to all of them, including other non-solicitor members. In the end, Alan Shatter put down an amendment, even though he was a government TD, an amendment contrary to the minister’s view to say that solicitors should be appointed. The proposal at the time was that solicitors should be appointed to the Circuit Court. And they said: “No, to all courts.”

There was pandemonium. I was there in the gallery when it was quite clear, from the people speaking, that the minister didn’t have a majority. There were people threatening to vote it down, including her own backbenchers. The minister got very flustered and the issue got adjourned. 

Charlie Flanagan told me subsequently he got pretty much summoned up to the taoiseach’s office, John Bruton’s office, to meet with, I think, the AG and explain, all these kinds of things – “You’re the chair of the committee, the government can’t be defeated on its own bill,” and so on. The ultimate compromise reached was that the legislation would say Circuit Court only but that a working group would be set up to review the other issues.  The Law Society got three people on to the working group; myself, Geraldine Clarke and Ernest Cantillon and there were three people from the Bar including Garett Cooney.

I remember the first meeting. The name of the game was to prepare and win over the independents on the group, people from the Competition Authority, civil servants, that sort of thing.  Garrett Cooney was asked to outline the position of the Bar. He basically said in a very mellifluous way that if any solicitor was ever appointed to the High Court, the sky would darken and darkness would envelop the Earth. It would be the end of everything, possibly all human life. Certainly it was the end of democracy and liberty and so on. I’m slightly exaggerating. Slightly.

And then I was asked on behalf of the Law Society to outline our position. I was sitting directly opposite Cooney at the other side of the table. I said: “The position of the Law Society is that when this working group has deliberated and made its report and the government has enacted the legislation recommended, we believe it should still be possible for a barrister to become a High Court judge.”

Then we looked at him and the colour was rising on his face and then suddenly the laugh as he realised. For a second he wasn’t sure if I was winding him up.

So we battled that out and came to sort of a compromise that solicitors who have a litigation background would be eligible for appointment. 

The first solicitor appointed to the High Court in 2002 was Justice Michael Peart who retired from the Court of Appeal in 2019. Murphy points to a new portrait of the judge, one of several hanging on the walls of the Council Chamber. Murphy describes Peart as a great character and a friend. The painting shows the judge, standing in his robes, with a slight smile on his face. The contemporary grey-blue hues and bright photographic crispness of the artist’s style stand out in a room of older portraits where muted, dark backgrounds prevail.

There are always more changes to be made. Murphy is still not happy with the overall number of solicitors promoted to the bench. But that will be someone else’s worry now.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.