Just A Minute: Oliva O’Kane



Olivia O'Kane
Olivia O’Kane

This week Olivia O’Kane of Belfast firm Carson McDowell, chair of the Belfast Solicitors Association, speaks to Irish Legal News for our regular Just A Minute feature.

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

Without doubt my best experience was being elected as the Chair of the Belfast Solicitors Association for 2016. As well as being a great personal honour, the role has also enabled me to represent and promote the legal profession here in Belfast, which is something I take great pride in doing.

The highlights of my year as Chair so far has been organizing and hosting Northern Ireland’s first ever Media Law conference at Stormont, which was attended not just by judges and other legal professionals but also by a diverse group of representatives from the media industry, including newspapers, film and animation and music.

It was an incredible event at an incredible venue and one that I will always be proud of.

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

No one experience stands out as being the worst, but I would say the one downside can be the long hours. A lot of my work requires very quick turnarounds, which in many cases means staying late to achieve what is required before the deadline. The worldwide nature of some of the clients I deal with can mean you have to work unsociable hours to suit their schedule. However, whilst this can at times be demanding, the variety of the work and the people that you meet along the way so make it worthwhile.

ILN: Why did you choose the law?

The tradition attached to the legal system has always captivated me. But the allure of working toward honourable principles like justice, equality and fairness was a real driving force. I guess I am an old romantic about the law. But ultimately it is about people. Clients come to a lawyer because they have a problem, and I enjoy trying to find the best solution for them with as little financial and emotional stress as possible.

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

I’ve been lucky enough to have more than one great influence during my career to date. Whilst still at school I met Her Honour Judge Philpott. Judge Philpott drove me from my home in Portstewart to the High Court in Belfast so that I could take part in the Bar National Mock Trial Competition 1997. Judge Philpott, who became the first female judge in Northern Ireland, was a great source of advice and inspiration to me that week. Sadly Judge Philpott recently passed away but I will always remember that week.

Since becoming a solicitor, I’ve met a lot of judges, barristers and solicitors who have offered me guidance and advice throughout my career. I’d also say that my parents, and, in particular, my dad, who has been a successful businessman, has been a great source of support and inspiration.

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

You have to really want a career in law. It is a lot of hard work and demands dedication. You have to be prepared to roll up your sleeves and work hard.

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

Treading the boards with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I spent my childhood performing for the Ulster and National Youth theatres, BBC Radio drama, school plays, and local amateur dramatic companies.

ILN: How do you relax after work?

I find switching off hard. We are increasingly on call for clients 24/7, especially in the media law sector. But going for a run always helps. I love the theatre, classical or contemporary, any live performance.

ILN: What is your favourite holiday destination and why?

I love the sun. But truthfully, my favourite place is home. I have lived in Belfast for over 14 years but Portsewart and the north coast are home. It is so close to Belfast but due to work commitments I rarely get back. When I do – the food, the beaches and the craic with the locals is hard to beat.