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Dublin Barrister William Prasifka on What Makes a Successful Lawyer

William Prasifka was born and raised in Dublin. He attended St Conleth’s College in Ballsbridge where he completed his Leaving Certificate. On graduation, William moved to New York to enroll in Columbia University. He majored in history and completed his thesis on the political ideology of Charles Stewart Parnell under Prof. Eric Foner.  On graduating […]

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William Prasifka
William Prasifka

William Prasifka was born and raised in Dublin. He attended St Conleth’s College in Ballsbridge where he completed his Leaving Certificate. On graduation, William moved to New York to enroll in Columbia University. He majored in history and completed his thesis on the political ideology of Charles Stewart Parnell under Prof. Eric Foner. 

On graduating with honours, William moved to the United Kingdom to study law at the University of Cambridge. He particularly enjoyed company law and jurisprudence, and was captain of his college’s cricket team. After completing an internship with a Magic Circle law firm, William returned to Ireland to become a barrister. His practice focuses on commercial and administrative law. 

What do you love most about the industry you are in?

I find the legal world very interesting and engaging. A variety of people from various walks of life ultimately end up before the courts. Since beginning practice, I have represented accountants, banks, architects, publicans as well as multinational companies. It is fascinating getting to know a client’s business in order to adequately represent them. 

I also enjoy standing up in court to vindicate my client’s legal rights. A client’s case is only as good as how it is presented. It’s therefore always a privilege to argue cases in court. 

What does a typical day consist of for you?

I suppose the answer to this depends on whether you mean before or after March of this year. Prior to the present public health emergency, a huge portion of a Dublin-based barrister’s working life would be spent in court. Often a very minor application would necessitate appearing in person before a judge, often with dozens of other barristers simultaneously doing the same thing.

Of course, the Irish legal system has been reformed dramatically in recent months. Now most minor applications can be done via video link with only some cases being given a physical hearing. Most of these involve witnesses. My typical day now involves writing legal opinions, drafting pleadings and attending remote hearings and consultations. 

What keeps you motivated?

I enjoy working with other lawyers and working with my clients. The clients are often experts in their own field and it’s always great to learn from them. Gaining insight and knowledge about my clients is a major part of my job. I find success is largely tied to mastering the details of a case. 

How has your legal practice grown from its early days to now?

In Ireland, barristers act as sole traders with the formation of firms being largely prohibited. This means that all newly qualified barristers start out on their own and have to build up a base of clients from scratch. Most barristers will apprentice for a year or two (a process known as “devilling”) with an established practitioner. I used these years to learn the trade and build up a network of contacts in the legal world. Ultimately my practice grew by word of mouth. I found that many solicitors were willing to give young practitioners a chance. If they achieved a successful result for the client in a minor matter, solicitors would be willing to give that barrister more responsibility. 

What suggestions do you have for someone starting in your industry?

My first suggestion would be to study something else prior to studying law. In the United States, prospective students only attend law school after completing a BA in an entirely unrelated field. I know excellent lawyers who have studied physics, economics and philosophy prior to ever opening a legal textbook. I personally studied history before law and would recommend this path to anyone. 

What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?

Litigation is adversarial in nature with one side winning and the other losing. While its always great to be on the winning side, it is inevitable that a barrister will fight cases that will ultimately be lost. In these situations, it is important to not lose perspective and only worry about things that are fully in your control. 

What trends in your industry excite you?

I think that Brexit could have a huge impact on the practice of law in Ireland. While many commercial actors choose to have their contracts governed by English law, Irish law is quickly catching up. This makes sense as Ireland has a similar legal system to that of England but is located within the European Union. This bodes well for the Irish legal system as a whole, with litigation and arbitration particularly standing to benefit. 

Explain the proudest day of your professional life. 

About two months into starting as a barrister, I had a contested application against a practitioner who was about thirty years my senior. We both went back and forth trying to convince the judge that he should side with our respective clients. After giving it lengthy consideration, the judge ultimately split the difference between us. This still remains the best victory of my career!

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