Just A Minute: Rossa McMahon



Rossa McMahon
Rossa McMahon

This week, solicitor Rossa McMahon of PG McMahon Solicitors in Co Limerick, recent winner in the Munster Solicitor of the Year category at the AIB Irish Law Awards, speaks to Irish Legal News for our regular Just A Minute feature.

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

The feeling that I have done a good job for a client, whatever the outcome. Eight years ago, I moved from corporate law to general practice, and one of the greatest feelings of accomplishment I had in those days was obtaining a barring order for an elderly man whose son was violent and abusive. It didn’t solve the problem he had, but it gave him security. More recently, I have acted for a number of solicitors in various parts of the country, both in professional and personal cases, and I must admit that the fact that a colleague would choose me to be their own solicitor was a source of pride.

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

The law is full of ups and downs. Thankfully I have not had any particularly bad experiences yet, but some learning experiences stick in the memory. When I was new to District Court work, I once entered a plea on behalf of a client to a criminal charge and delivered an impassioned outline of the client’s circumstances in an attempt to lessen the damage. This was all on the basis of the client’s own instructions to me, but I made the mistake of not double-checking the details. Most of what I had to say turned out not to be true, particularly in relation to the client’s criminal record. I won’t forget the sinking feeling when this became obvious and the late Judge Mary O’Halloran turned to me with eyebrows raised. She knew what had happened and was very reasonable and understanding. She even smiled when she saw my face, which was ashen. Reputation is everything for a solicitor and that includes our reputation with members of An Garda Síochána and the judiciary. I was very anxious that neither the gardaí nor a judge would think I had set out to mislead them.

ILN: Why did you choose the law?

My late father Garry was a solicitor and set up the practice I now work in. When I was in school I always said I wanted to be a solicitor, though that changed when I was approaching the leaving cert and I made serious efforts to explore the possibility of becoming an Egyptologist, an architect or a journalist. But these were not easy career paths and I decided that law would be a good background degree for many jobs, including journalism if I could ever find my way into it.

As I progressed through my degree and masters in University College Cork, my interest in the law grew and I gladly came to the realisation that I wanted to be a solicitor in my own right, not just by default.

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

I trained and worked in Mason Hayes & Curran and went on to A&L Goodbody for a few years before deciding to come home to Newcastle West in Limerick. Both firms and the many excellent solicitors working in them have had a significant influence on me professionally, but by far the greatest professional influence has been my father. This is somewhat unusual because we never worked together – he died a week after I moved to A&L Goodbody and two years before I came to PG McMahon, the firm he founded. But as the years go on I see the profound influence his ethos and professional attitude had on me growing up. I still pick up files that he worked on and find myself nodding in agreement with things he said and advice he gave. He acted in so many personal injury actions arising out of road traffic accidents that I even understood why he never let me leave the house without warning me about being careful on the road. He was obsessed with getting the best result you can for a client and giving them the advice they needed, even if it was unpalatable or unwelcome. And he always believed in helping the underdog.

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

It’s a good career and a good training, but it is more than just a job. Never forget that your job is to serve people.

ILN: How do you think the Irish legal profession will change in the next five years?

The profession hasn’t changed as much in the last five years as I thought it would. I expected more amalgamation and mergers, but that has not happened on any large scale. The regulatory changes being introduced will not necessarily have the benefits for clients that were hoped for, and I cannot see them reducing the cost of litigation. However, I still think amalgamations or other business structures are likely in the medium term.

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

Most of the alternative careers I had in mind when I was in school are as uncertain as the law, so perhaps Egyptology would have been best. However, I have always enjoyed writing so journalism, despite the many challenges it faces at the moment, was probably my preferred fall-back.

ILN: How do you relax outside of work?

There’s not a huge amount of relaxation to be had with four young children around, but there are few things better than going home to them to quickly blast away the worries or stresses of work. When time allows I love reading and running. Words, as much as law, are the family business. My grandfather Bryan MacMahon was a writer as well as a schoolteacher and he instilled a love of stories. Every time I visited him in Listowel as a boy he would start the conversation by asking: “Do you have any story for me?”. And he listened intently to whatever it was. My uncle, Bryan McMahon, is a retired judge and has spoken about the lessons literature has for life and law, saying that lawyers should be acquainted with great literature and should learn from it. I try to read as much Irish and contemporary literature as I can, but I have a stack of new books on the bedside locker and progress is slower than I would like. But I was very pleased earlier this year to be invited to join the organising committee of Éigse Michael Hartnett, an annual poetry and arts festival in Newcastle West. To really clear the head I need a 10 km run – my favourite route is a loop around Ballyferriter on the Dingle Peninsula that includes crossing most of the beach at Béal Bán.

ILN: What is your favourite holiday destination and why?

Croatia. I haven’t been back since the kids were born but it’s a beautiful, fascinating country and I hope to go there again soon. In Ireland, I have been going to the Ceann Sibéal area of the Dingle peninsula since I was a born and still go there as much as I can.