Lawyer of the Month: Sinéad Corcoran

Lawyer of the Month: Sinéad Corcoran

Sinéad Corcoran

As a colleague once observed to her, Sinéad Corcoran is rather more than just a lawyer. “I think by that he meant the skill set that I’ve brought to the organisation — and it’s what any good lawyer brings to their client,” she says. “You’re much more than simply a lawyer because beyond that you are also a key strategic adviser to the management team.”

In this case, the organisation is Bon Secours Health System CLG (BSHS), Ireland’s largest independent hospital group, with a network of five modern JCI (Joint Commission International)-accredited acute hospitals in Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Tralee and a Care Village in Cork, of which Sinéad is chief legal, corporate and external affairs officer.

With more than 3,500 personnel, it’s a large undertaking and her responsibilities are extensive. In 2021 she extended her role beyond legal responsibilities and now oversees several of BSHS’s non-legal functions, including corporate and external affairs and capital projects.

She has advised the company for several years, first as their outside counsel with RDJ LLP and since 2020 as part of BSHS, in projects that have included the development of a New Limerick Hospital in Ballysimon, leading the team advising on the merger with Bon Secours Mercy Health in the US in 2019, and guiding BSHS through the acquisition of Barrington’s Hospital in 2017.

Sinéad admits that she has a very intense approach to her career: “It was a privilege to join the healthcare sector when I did, but also an exceptionally challenging period after the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, one that it’s already becoming difficult for us to recollect.

“I suppose I was in right place at the right time because I was able to contribute value to my organisation and indeed the Private Hospitals Association,” of which she is the company secretary.

“I was right at the coalface, directly engaging with the Health Service Executive, the Department of Health and the many significant people who were involved in dealing with the crisis and who were appearing on television every day.”

Above all, she adds: “I felt that I was able to do something positive at what was a critical time for our organisation and the country.”

And it was perhaps a uniquely collaborative time for many of those involved. “It certainly allowed me to draw on my experience as a relationship builder,” she reflects. “I’m able to connect with people and to understand the power of harnessing relationships in terms of getting things done so was able to forge effective working relationships with many key stakeholders and saw how the private and public partners came together to formulate the whole, collective healthcare response.”

As chief legal officer, Sinéad’s is a challenging environment on many levels. Organisations have become increasingly complex as they make efforts to deliver services in ways that are both more effective and efficient, and in-house counsel increasingly perform a variety of functions for their corporate clients, including executive and management roles, in addition to being the principal legal adviser.

Sinéad, though, relishes the fact that her role comprises multiple facets. She explains: “Yes, I’m a practicing lawyer and have been for more than 20 years and that’s something I’m passionate about.

“ But it doesn’t encompass everything that I do and I’m very much enjoying expanding the non-legal aspects of my role — which are growing all the time — and bringing my own perspective and input to those because there’s no aspect of the business, no challenge or situation about which a lawyer can’t form an insightful and productive view.”

She adds: “In my experience, gained from many years in private practice, lawyers should enthusiastically embrace this expanding role and not allow themselves to be pigeonholed and while I had become a strategic partner to my clients, even when I worked outside the organisation, what really appeals to me is being at the very centre of things, making decisions at board level and seeing projects through from their genesis to completion.

“Given the breadth of the role, I can involve myself right across the business while focusing on where I can deliver the most impact and value for the organisation, so I’m working side-by-side with the Group CEO in devising the strategy for our organisation which involves a 2025 plan that’s underpinned by a €300m investment in facilities, equipment and technologies including the development of the new 150-bed hospital in Limerick.”

This is a high-octane environment in which Sinéad clearly thrives, and she has been intensely career-focused since attaining first place in year when she graduated as BCL at University College Cork. In addition to her work, she is also a director of Good Shepherd Cork, which supports women and children who are vulnerable to homelessness.

But while work has dominated the agenda, especially in recent demanding years, she does “like decompressing with a nice walk in the countryside and some foreign travel” as well as watching tennis and snooker — which perhaps isn’t so surprising as it entails both a strategic and tactical approach. “There’s a maths to it, thinking five shots ahead which I totally understand and you can get really engrossed in a good game.”

So, what is her philosophy, post-Covid and amid a distressing European war and the cost-of-living crisis? “As we go forward in the workplace people have different expectations — especially younger people. And one of these is seeking a sense of authenticity.

“After all the recent traumas people are increasingly asking, in career terms, if they are really enjoying what they do, whether they like the people they are doing it with and ultimately if they are getting a sense of personal satisfaction.

“And while it’s crucial to take work seriously I would counsel younger people coming into the legal profession not to take themselves too seriously — because life’s too short and the past couple of years have underlined that. When we were in lockdown, talking on Zoom rather than face-to-face, the power of a smile was — and is — very important, as is the sense of being a part of a team.

“You can only achieve so much as an individual,” she says. “The legal profession can fuel a move into specialisms and foster a sense of individualism, but the big results come from being team orientated and working and collaborating with others – plus the ability to thank others and share the credit for a successful outcome.”

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