NI Blog: Interview with the NIYSA’s Julie-Anne McCaffrey

Julie-Anne McCaffrey
Julie-Anne McCaffrey

Irish Legal News speaks to Julie-Anne McCaffrey, chair of the Northern Ireland Young Solicitors Association (NIYSA), in the wake of the European Young Bar Association conference in Belfast.

Why do we need the Northern Ireland Young Solicitors Association?

The Northern Ireland Young Solicitors’ Association (“the NIYSA”) was set up in 1984 to help bridge the generation gap with the Law Society of Northern Ireland. Over 30 years later and the NIYSA continue to represent the younger solicitors within the profession in order to facilitate interaction between young lawyers locally and in other jurisdictions and to provide education principally through its lecture series. The NIYSA are a member association of the European Young Bar Association (“the EYBA”), an organisation that represents over 200,000 lawyers across Europe. Through the EYBA, the NIYSA have a wide network of contacts right across Europe which offers a forum for discussion of issues affecting young lawyers.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as NIYSA chair?

I was elected as Chair of the NIYSA at the end of January therefore I am still finding my feet! However, the biggest challenge that I have faced to date is to engage our members based outside of Belfast. As a Fermanagh native, this is something that I am keen to work on throughout this year. The NIYSA represent every solicitor in Northern Ireland aged 36 or under, not only those based in Belfast. The NIYSA recently launched a new Facebook page and we are continuing to work on our other social media platforms including our website, twitter and Linkedin. Hopefully, through these efforts and upcoming events, we will be able to engage our members across Northern Ireland.

What role did you and the NIYSA play in bringing the EYBA conference to Belfast?

In 2015, as then Vice-Chair of the NIYSA, I pitched to host the EYBA Conference at a General Meeting of the EYBA in London in September. Having successfully won the support of the membership of the EYBA, the NIYSA commenced work promptly to organise the conference in Belfast. We received the support of the Law Society of Northern Ireland, Bar of Northern Ireland and Herbert Smith Freehills almost immediately with these organisations recognising the importance of such a significant event being held in Northern Ireland.

Since September, the NIYSA have worked tirelessly to organise an event that would not only be of interest to our local members but to our European visitors. The NIYSA committee organised all aspects of the event including booking the venues, speakers and social activities. As the current Chair of the NIYSA, I had the assistance of my committee including Timothy Rankin (Cleaver Fulton Rankin), Peter McGettrick (Flynn & McGettrick), Rachael Gamble (Cleaver Fulton Rankin), Emma O’Donnell (Allen & Overy), David Cairns (McEvoy & Co), Lauren Jones (HHD Solicitors) Seamus O’Neill (JMK Solicitors), Elaine Keenan (Worthingtons), Ciara Ferguson (JMK Solicitors), Chris Kinney (McCallion Keown). I also had the support of the Executive Committee of the EYBA, who provided valuable assistance leading up to the event.

We could not have held the event without the support of the local legal community and our other sponsors including Brightwater Recruitment, Cleaver Fulton Rankin and Fordham Law School.

How did you get Jerry Buting on board and why?

The weekend after I was elected Chair of the NIYSA, I was thinking about how the NIYSA could make our conference programme more attractive to a wider audience. I decided to contact Jerry Buting given the phenomenal amount of publicity he was receiving following the “Making a Murderer” Netflix documentary series and his outstanding career as a lawyer for over 35 years. To be honest, I was surprised that Jerry responded! His response was not only positive about the event but he had availability in his diary and had family ties to County Antrim - in my view, it was meant to be!

The theme of our conference was “The Law of Attraction” and we organised a session on “Attracting Justice for Clients”. I knew that Jerry would be a wonderful addition to this segment of the conference because in the documentary, he not only showed his virtues as an advocate but his clear compassion for his client and search for justice. I was delighted when Jerry attended the conference along with his wife, Kathleen Stilling, who is an extremely well recognised criminal defense attorney in her own right and former Circuit Court Judge.

What’s next for the NIYSA?

Aside from our educational lecture series, and social calendar including an upcoming lawyers vs accountants table quiz sponsored by Brightwater Recruitment, plans are already in place for the annual Young Leaders NI Conference which is scheduled to take place in Belfast on Friday 27 May 2016. The Young Leaders NI is a group formed by the Junior Chamber International Belfast, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, the Chartered Accountants Ireland Ulster Society Young Professional Group and the NIYSA. The keynote speaker at this event is Baroness Mone of Mayfair, Michelle Mone OBE and we are looking forward to once again presenting the Herbert Smith Freehills Young Leader of the Year Award.

Keep an eye on our website for more details about upcoming events.

  • Julie-Anne McCaffrey is chair of the Northern Ireland Young Solicitors Association.
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