Looking Beyond The Legal Lens: Life As A Reputation And Privacy Lawyer At Schillings

John Curtin 26 May 2022

Associate John Curtin explains how working with non-legal experts, such as investigators, cyber specialists and ex-military strategists is a bonus as a reputation and privacy lawyer.

Most people qualify as a lawyer with a decent idea about the area they want to specialise in, and a view on which law firm they’d ideally like to work for. But this is not always the case. By the time I qualified as a commercial litigation solicitor at a top firm in Ireland, I hadn’t ever made a conscious decision about the future direction of my career.  I was somewhat disillusioned with typical law firms – be it the culture of presenteeism, the old-school office environment or feeling like a cog in a system. It just didn’t excite me.

As a trainee, I had completed a six-month secondment to a major retailer and worked daily with the PR team on multiple projects. That interested me. So much so, that I was considering a move into PR. When, out of the blue, I came across an advert for a ‘defamation, privacy and reputation management solicitor’ at Schillings, I started to rethink my plan. The advert made law sound exciting. The hook? As a solicitor you’d have the opportunity to work with investigators, cyber-security specialists and senior people from the military, police and government. This was an entirely different way of solving problems – and an approach which really appealed. Was it possible to wake up every Monday morning excited to go to work?

Having now worked at Schillings for three and a half years, I can confirm that the answer to this is a  resounding yes. I find amongst friends who are solicitors that this is a rarity. I put it down to both the atypical culture here at Schillings which fosters collaborative thinking above all else, and working in a multidisciplinary firm as part of the largest team of privacy and reputation lawyers in the world. 

As cliched as it is to say, no two days are the same. In the last month alone, I’ve advised clients on (i) steps to take to minimise the risk of a bad leaver leaking confidential information, (ii) how best to respond to a pre-publication enquiry from a newspaper of record seeking to publish multiple false and defamatory allegations about them (iii) the likely reasons why they are having banking problems and what steps they should take to solve them and (iv) issuing proceedings in respect of a broadcast by a major broadcaster which infringed their rights. 

But that advice is not given through a legal lens alone. Of course, robust legal engagement may often be the best step, but at other times, whilst it is an important tool to have in your arsenal, it may be replaced by or supplemented with the non-legal expertise that we have in-house. The people I work with may all have different professional backgrounds and varying skill-sets but we all share one common purpose – to find creative solutions to solve our clients’ problems, be they high net-worth individuals and the businesses they own, A-list celebrities or multinational corporations.

My first lesson was one I’ll never forget – being taught in practical terms the difference between a strategy and tactics by a former-Major General in the British Army, and one of our partners, Tim Robinson. Put simply, strategy is about what to do, and why to do it, but tactics are concerned with how to do it.

Can many solicitors truly admit to knowing the difference? Since then, I’ve enjoyed applying both, whilst fighting against breaches of our clients’ privacy, protecting their security or mitigating attacks on their reputation. Life at Schillings certainly isn’t for the faint hearted, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.