In 2009, Colleen founded CC Solicitors, a specialist employment and partnership firm in Dublin. She leads an experienced partner-led team, providing strategic advice on employment, partnerships and board disputes. Having qualified in the City of London in the UK, in a specialist employment law practice, Colleen then worked as in-house counsel to a trade union. Her experience has since been in working in large corporate practices leading employment law teams, culminating in establishing CC Solicitors.
What attracted you to a career in labour and employment law?
I did a degree in law and in my final year I took employment law as an option. I was really interested in industrial relations, so I ensured the legal practices I applied for to do my training had an employment law department. The type of law firms that had such a department were either large corporate law firms or niche specialist firms that acted for trade unions, so I applied for both and received an excellent training in a firm that specialised in acting for trade unions working on many ground-breaking discrimination cases.
On what types of matters are clients coming to you most frequently?
It is very varied – because we are 100 per cent focused on employment law and because of our extensive network we act for a range of clients. We provide the full service, from providing strategic advice and drafting documentation, to HR training, initiating or defending litigation where we also act as advocate for the client. We can be advising as part of an HR audit putting together contracts, policies and handbooks, to advising on complex internal investigations such as bullying and harassment/disciplinary, partnership and shareholder disputes at board level, to advising on the exit of a senior executive, to progressing or defending injunctions for breach of restrictive covenants and/or termination of employment, advising on discrimination, industrial disputes and engaging in many mediations.
What potential challenges does covid-19 pose to workforces? How are you ensuring that your clients are well equipped to tackle them?
In just a few months the coronavirus pandemic has forced a huge shift in the way workplaces operate. Many businesses are desperate for greater clarity on a wider range of issues than they previously faced – health and safety in the workplace, remote working; trade unions are seeking sound advice to assist their members so they can continue to secure a fair deal in a changing work landscape, while employees and senior executives have to operate under intense pressure and a threat on occasion to their livelihood. We provide sound daily advice to our clients on these issues. We post regular podcasts on these issues which we share with our clients, put on our website and LinkedIn.
You have a highly respected practice. What do you believe makes your firm stand out from others in the field?
The quality of the advice is driven by the fact this is a partner-led practice – the advice our clients receive is always from a highly experienced practitioner. It is our stellar reputation in a small market that mainly attracts our clients through referrals, which result in many long-term relationships.
How has your experience as chair of Innangard Employment Law helped you in your work?
It is an exciting time personally for me to be the incumbent chair of Innangard, the international employment legal network I founded with other employment lawyers. It helps me to maintain an international and informed perspective on employment law beyond my jurisdiction and to expand my network. I enjoy learning from my professional colleagues in my firm, nationally and internationally and strive to deepen my specialism in my profession and to share that knowledge. We hosted a two-day remote conference on “The World of Work – the Great Reset” with fantastic panel discussions.
What do you think will be the greatest challenges facing employment lawyers over the next five years and how will you ensure you are prepared to face them?
There really is so much for employment lawyers to be involved in advising on as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. I chaired a talk on the future of work and the issues we covered ranged from cybersecurity, remote working, the right to disconnect and the impact on business travel. We are busy drafting remote working policies. I think that we will be looking at blended work patterns – remote and in the workplace – that benefit both the employer and employee, which takes account of the adjustments both parties have to make.
You have enjoyed a very illustrious career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?
I really enjoy running my own practice with such accomplished colleagues and I would like to continue to grow the business and expand our offering. At the same time, I have enjoyed some leadership roles in employment law nationally and internationally. I have supported and would like to continue to support more junior colleagues in putting themselves forward for such roles. It is also important that the surge in remote working does not result in a gender split workforce where perhaps more women opt for home working, the outcome of which could impact on career progression. This combined with the gender pay gap means women in Ireland cannot afford to go backwards. I see myself contributing to this debate as a senior female in the profession and ensuring that remote working does not undermine career progression for women.
What advice would you give to young lawyers starting out in this field?
I would first say what an excellent choice! You will never be bored as every day is different and you should embrace all the different aspects that are required of an employment lawyer as an adviser and/or litigator. Advising on a live employment issue requires skill and I would advise they scope out and discuss their strategy with another colleague as this is how they will learn. This will take time but enjoy the journey. Listen to the client and don’t stay on a fixed strategy, be prepared to move and evolve and respond to issues as they play out.
Colleen Cleary is the founder of CC Solicitors, a market leading specialist employment and partnership law firm based in Dublin. Colleen leads a partner led team of specialists that provide commercial-focused advice to a broad range of clients nationally and internationally.
Colleen is also qualified in England and Wales and previously practised in the City of London. Colleen is an experienced litigator and is an accredited advocate with the National Institute for Trial Advocacy with the Law Society of Northern Ireland. Colleen is also an accredited mediator with CEDR. Colleen was previously chair of the Employment Law Association of Ireland. Colleen also has an international approach to her practice and is a founder and the Ireland member of Innangard, a non-exclusive international network of law firms. Colleen attended and spoke at the Australian Innangard member international employment law conference in Sydney in 2020 on “Global Perspectives on Restrictive Covenants and Exit Arrangements”. She annually attends the American Bar Association Labour and Employment Section Conference and chaired a panel in New Orleans 2019 on “Pay Equity around the World – the next chapter of the #me too movement”. She is also a member of the European Employment Lawyers Association, Professional Practices Alliance and the Employment Lawyers Association (ELA) and is also on the ELA standing committee on sexual harassment, which is another area she has trained clients on as well as representing companies and senior executives in related investigations. She is highly experienced in providing strategic advice on internal investigations at a senior level and negotiating exit arrangements on behalf of companies and executives.