Student and Graduate Publishing

PhD Law Student at UCC

Monday, 21 October 2013 09:56

Interview with Leona O'Brien - student at UCC

Why did you decide to study law?
I had previously studied Business at Cork Institute of Technology and I had law modules as part of the course. I knew then that Law was where I wanted to be. I went and worked at a Bank for a few years, and then decided to go back and pursue the Law degree.

Can you tell me a bit about your undergraduate degree?
It was the BCL that I chose to study on the evening course over 4 years. I studied and worked full time for the first two years and then took a career break for my final two years. It was a great advantage for me to have my studies flexible around my work but I was in a position whereby I could hit pause on my work life and dedicate my energies into my study. 
The BCL is similar to most other degree programmes at other universities: it is comprised of both compulsory and elective modules. Compulsory modules include, for example, constitutional law, tort law, equity, property law, contract law, company law, criminal law. I elected to do environmental law and human rights with an international dimension. I was already studying company and commercial law so I chose areas that were vastly different and would give me a completely opposite experience to what I was already engaged in.

Why UCC? How well recognised is UCC Law nationally?
I’m originally from Cork, and UCC is one of the best universities not only in Ireland but internationally too, so it great for me to avail of the resources on my doorstep. The UCC Law department has a broad base of professors and lecturers who are experts in their fields and it runs its own research unit, The Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights (CCJHR) and has just established a Child Law Clinic.  The faculty are very strong across a number of different areas such as constitutional law, corporate, commercial and financial law, criminal justice and environmental law to name a few.

Do went on to study the LLM? What did you specialise in?
Yes, the motivation stemmed from the fact that I wanted to focus more on corporate law. I have a natural affinity for company law due to my business and banking background and I found a natural ease working within Financial and Corporate law.  I wanted to focus my Masters on that specific area. I studied modules like international trade & policy, credit & securities, advanced EC competition law, etc. My thesis was on the Prudential Regulation of the Banking Industry within a Global Environment.

Most people will head straight for Blackhall Place or Kings Inn after their degree and beat the path to the courthouse door, but you chose to go continue on and study a PhD. Why did you stay in the research field?
Becoming a barrister or solicitor was never on my radar. Throughout my studies people would often jest that they would need a good lawyer someday but I knew that I would always stay within research and academia; it is the working environment that I thrive in and I love the fact that my research contributes to the wider debate on the regulation of the financial industry, particularly in light of the recent financial crisis.  I also enjoy the mix of areas that my current research delves in to, it is a slight departure from strictly financial regulation into investigating how semantic technologies can help the financial industry to better comply with regulatory imperatives

You are working at a research centre in UCC now? You started out studying at the university and ended up working there - How did that come about? 

While I was studying my LLM, unknown to me a new research centre for Financial Innovation was being set up. It was a new centre that straddled the areas of business, finance and law. I was really impressed with their vision for the centre and, and the motivation behind their thinking and analysis. I ended up being employed as a research assistant and worked there for two years helping them establish their foothold in such a niche area.  I loved working there, and I have now moved to the Governance, Risk and Compliance Technology Centre for Financial Services (GRCTC).

And because you are a sucker for punishment, you’ve decided to do your PhD!

Crazy, right! I entertained the idea of the PhD right after my LLM, but really wanted to get back out there and get my teeth stuck into something. I have been living in the library for so long I felt I needed a bit of a reality check first. I’m actually glad of the gap because my work has really helped me take stock of the Industry and given me a complete once-over of how things are right now. It has helped me determine the exact core area of research I want to focus on.

Do you mean all the Banking and Legislation changes that are happening in Ireland right now? 

What is happening in Ireland is interesting to watch, certainly, but what many people don’t realise is most if not all of those changes are at a very local level. It is curious to see people up in arms about Europe, the ECB, and the IMF being involved but truth of the matter is we joined the EU (or the EEC as it was known then) back in 1973. Since then we have been subjected to the same regulatory bodies, the same banking measures, and same legal establishments as we are today. And It is not just banks in Ireland that have to make changes, all banks operate and trade in different jurisdictions. They have to face to challenges that this brings.

So the GRCTC, what do they do? 

The GRCTC are an Irish based research centre with a global focus on the international finance community. Since the global financial crisis, the financial industry has had to deal with a rapidly changing landscape.  Many believe that there has been too much regulation introduced in an effort to avert future crises.  This has lead to a huge burden on financial industries in ensuring compliance, in terms of cost, resources, manpower etc.  Our research revolves around the use of semantic technologies in order to help better manage the regulatory imperatives that the financial industry face.  We are an internationally focused centre with a strong emphasis on US financial regulation.

And juggling the studying and working again? How is it going this time?

A bit easier! My work and research overlap, and oftentimes my work will lead me to areas of research and down avenues that I hadn’t investigated before. Working as a researcher also means I only have to switch between one brain. Before I was going from ‘office’ worker to student. Now I get to blend the two. It’s a unique position but I love it.

The Governance, Risk & Compliance Technology Centre for Financial Services at University College Cork is a research centre funded by EI and the IDA.
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Cork City has it all. A cosmopolitan city set on the rugged south coast of Ireland, it has the dual personality of an urban city but within a few minutes’ drive of the countryside.
With a great café and restaurant culture, a thriving nightlife of clubs, concerts and comedy, a passionate support of sports and athletics, and access to some of the best sailing and surf the country has to offer, Cork offers a rich and varied lifestyle. The Arts and Industry sit side by side here, with many of the world’s leading scientific, pharmaceutical and IT companies basing their European hubs in Cork. It is also the principal commercial and banking area in the south of Ireland. County Cork itself is at the forefront a wide range of award winning food produce, many of which are sold in the historic and charming English Market in the city center.


UCC’s main campus is easily accessible to the amenities of the city and only a short walk to the centre itself. A hive of activity and life, the campus both dramatic and charming having been built of a stunning limestone bluff overlooking the lush gardens and famous river Lee. UCC is Ireland’s leading research university attracting the highest peer-reviewed research income per head nationally and is home to a number of major national research institutes and centres. It offers a broad range of undergraduate degrees, and extensive post-graduate and post-doctoral degrees.