Just A Minute: Deirdre Burke



Deirdre Burke
Deirdre Burke

This week Deirdre Burke of DM Burke Solicitors, a specialist family and child law solicitor in Co Wicklow, speaks to Irish Legal News for our regular Just A Minute feature.

ILN: What has been your best experience as a lawyer?

Without a doubt this was being the lead solicitor in a High Court case in 2015 which created a new International Tort.

I have regularly represented victims of childhood sexual abuse in the courts, and this was a particular case, where we asked the High Court to make a leap with the law.

We sought and were granted a Declaration that the particular relationship and control which an abuser exerts over a child, from the first point of contact, throughout the abuse, and beyond, is in itself a Civil Wrong. We called this new Tort a “Continuum of Oppression”.

This was ground-breaking for victims of abuse, and was a huge acknowledgement of the massive hurt caused to victims, outside of the individual and collective assaults.

The fact that this was new International as well as Irish Law made this an incredible achievement and proud moment for the whole legal team, and huge vindication for our client.

The case was Walsh v Byrne, a decision of Mr Justice Michael White.

ILN: What has been your worst experience as a lawyer?

One of my worst experiences as a lawyer was the suicide of a family law client in the midst of a particularly conflicted separation case.

Whilst no lawyer can ever take personal responsibility for their clients, I practice family law as my main area for a reason, and that is because I seek to help people. I found it particularly difficult to hear of his death.

ILN: Why did you choose the law?

I possibly watched to much LA Law as a teenager and aspired to be one of those courtroom geniuses!

In reality I can’t quite say that I always wanted to do Law from the time I was a child, it just seemed to be the right choice for me when I was doing my Leaving Certificate.

It is only in the practice of Law, and particularly in the areas I work, that I have found my real passion and interests in Social Justice, Human Rights and in supporting and helping people.

I suppose I fell into Law in many ways by accident, because I was academically inclined, but it has transpired that we fit very well. I have been accepted to complete a Masters in Human Rights in UCD, starting this year and I sense that new pathways in my career will then emerge.

ILN: Who or what has been the greatest professional influence in your life?

On a national scale, I would have to say Mary Robinson, for her absolute passion and conviction in the law as a vehicle to do justice, but not just to do justice but to serve people in the process.

On a closer scale, when I first started work, I had the privilege of working with solicitor Frank Murphy in Wicklow Law Centre, and his passion in helping the voiceless has without a doubt influenced the path of my chosen career.

ILN: What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in the law?

Firstly, anyone can choose a career in law, it doesn’t have to be the family business. Secondly, unless you have an absolute passion already for one particular area, sample them all or as many as possible. Thirdly, choose your master/apprenticeship wisely and source somewhere that will nurture your progress in a genuine way. And be prepared to work hard, law is not a 9-5 job!

ILN: What would you want to be if you were not a lawyer?

I would probably be heading up some sort of NGO or charity which advocates for children’s rights and lobbies for change.

ILN: How do you relax after work?

I like walking, and have done sections of the Camino several times. I also dive into fiction books, preferably fantasy or crime. Yoga, meditation, and simply spending time with the family.

I’m also an avid Leinster fan and try to make as many matches as possible during the season.

ILN: What is your favourite holiday destination and why?

Anywhere with sunshine, to relax and read books. For walking I adore the Peak District, and the Wicklow Hills. Paris for a long weekend, because I just love the whole atmosphere of the city and the food. I have the Northern Lights on my bucket list to reach soon, and also Route 66 with my husband next year hopefully to celebrate a significant birthday for him!