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Alumni Spotlight: Alice Murphy, Charity Lawyer at Mason Hayes & Curran

24 Jan 2019

Alice Murphy is a graduate of our BCL (Law and French) programme and a member of the Charity Law & Not-for-Profit team at Mason Hayes & Curran.

Alice Murphy graduated with first-class honours from UCC’s BCL (Law and French) programme in 2005 and holds an LLM from the prestigious College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium. She began her legal career at US law firm White & Case in Brussels, has been in private practice for 10 years, and now works in the Charity Law & Not-for-Profit team at Mason Hayes & Curran, one of Ireland’s leading law firms.


1. As a graduate of our BCL Law and French programme and someone who studied European Law, why have you chosen to work in the field of charity law?

I am passionate about the Charity sector in Ireland and have been very fortunate to forge a rewarding legal career in this sector. Looking back, charities were always present in my life, as both my parents were involved in local charities.

Of course, starting in UCC as a fresh-faced 18 year old, I wasn’t sure where life would take me, but with the benefit of the Law and French programme in UCC I was eligible to apply to the bilingual LLM in the College of Europe. There, I built on the legal skills nurtured in UCC. Having completed the LLM I moved on to a legal internship at White & Case in Brussels.

Although I loved Brussels, and the EU work in White & Case, I returned to Ireland in 2007 in order to complete my apprenticeship and qualify as a Solicitor. When I qualified in 2011 I worked in EU law and also in Corporate law. There I capitalised on the tuition I had received in UCC and began to specialise in Governance, which brought me into contact with the Charity sector for the first time. This began as a bit of a niche, but it slowly expanded as I began to deal with an increasing number of charities.

In Spring 2015, I joined Mason Hayes & Curran, the largest and leading specialists in Charity law in Ireland, as a Charity solicitor. The Charities Act 2009 had just been commenced so it was a hugely interesting time to be advising Irish charities.


2. It sounds like the soft skills you picked up at UCC stood to you nearly as much as the degree?

Academic achievement is tangible. My degree created opportunities that might not have otherwise presented themselves, but those soft skills prepared me in an intangible way for life after graduation.

The faculty at UCC definitely created an environment that was conducive to success. Professor Irene Lynch-Fannon is a fantastic lecturer from that point of view. We learned a great deal about an array of specialisms, which meant that I could deploy my knowledge across a number of legal fields when I started working.

The lecturers in UCC also opened my eyes to lecturing, which led me to tutor and lecture at the Law Society of Ireland as well as holding a guest lecturing spot in Social Entrepreneurship at UCD, which I very much enjoy.

Speaking of things “picked up” at UCC, I have to make reference to the incredible and lifelong friendships developed during my UCC days. I’m not sure that we fully appreciated the halcyon days while we were living them, but we certainly look back on them fondly now.


3. Are you involved with any charities yourself, apart from providing legal advice to them?

Yes, I do try to become involved with charities outside of work. I was a member of the Board of Directors of Mental Health Ireland, a wonderful charity, until 2017 and, through Mason Hayes & Curran’s active CSR programme I have also been involved with Young Social Innovators and SUAS, both of which operate in the field of youth and education. I am also a member of the Focus Ireland Women’s Philanthropy Circle.


 4. Regulation of the charity sector has brought greater engagement with the State – which can be a challenge for small organisations – is this where you and your colleagues at Mason Hayes & Curran step in?

My colleagues and I in the Charity Law & Not-for-Profit team work with a very wide variety of charities, from the largest in the country to the smallest new start-up charities.

The regime of regulation brought about by the Charities Act has brought charities of all shapes and sizes into direct engagement with the Charities Regulator, and this has been a positive change for the sector. We have certainly assisted a lot of clients in engaging with the Regulator for the first time, but overall our work is hugely diverse.

On a day to day basis you will find my colleagues and I advising on anything from a merger of two charities to a regulatory investigation, from the formation of a charitable trust to providing governance training to charity boards, and from the restructure of a charity to dealing with the move of UK-based charities over to Ireland as a result of Brexit.


5. As a society, we rely on charities to step in where there might be little State support available, but at the same time, we can be uncomfortable funding the administrative costs associated with the delivery of charitable services. It’s a paradoxical position to hold and a challenge that must face your clients?

It is a paradox, and one that our charities are keenly aware of. I think it’s important to recognise charitable organisations as expert groups that have a desire to address particular challenges facing society and that provide essential services that historically wouldn’t otherwise have been available to all members of society.

This is particularly the case for religious charities, which established many of the country’s schools, health and social care facilities, at a time when the State was not providing these facilities. I think overall our clients rise to the challenge and strive to deliver best-in-class services on tight budgets.


6. Given the direction of travel, what does the future look like for the charity sector in Ireland?

Regulation has now been embraced by the sector. It has brought good governance, improved financial management, and best practice fundraising standards to the fore, and that can only be a positive thing.

For charities wishing to thrive well into the 21st century, I think these three items (Governance, Finances and Fundraising – the so-called “Triple Lock”) will become standard and accepted practice. There’s no doubt that Ireland’s charities are badly needed, despite the recent upturn in our country’s economic fortunes.


7. What has been the proudest moment of your career to date?

While I’m proud of the role I play in maintaining MHC’s position as the pre-eminent advisor to the charities sector in Ireland, I’m cognisant that my charity clients make such a difference to society in Ireland and that my main role is facilitative, ensuring charities get the legal assistance they need to deliver their services to the most vulnerable in society.

Given our focus on good governance within the Charity Law & Not-for-Profit team at Mason Hayes & Curran, I was delighted to see three of my charity clients recognised for excellence in governance at the Good Governance Awards 2018. The highlight of my year was assisting the World Meeting of Families to bring Pope Francis to Ireland in August.


8. What are your plans for the future?

I’m afraid I’m a Cork woman gone rogue, so I can’t see myself leaving Dublin anytime soon! I’m committed to my charity clients and am excited about continuing the work we do for them. Our firm is constantly evolving to meet the needs of our clients. Today, there are around 450 people working with Mason Hayes & Curran, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how we evolve in accordance with the changes that are occurring around us.


Professor Irene Lynch Fannon recalls Alice's time at UCC and takes pride in her success

It is great to have so many accomplished alumni working in so many different sectors in Ireland and abroad. I remember Alice very well as a Law and French student as I lectured and tutored her.

The BCL (Law and French) can be very demanding as it is effectively a two-subject moderatorship which entails considerable work on the part of the students. But since its inception, it has gone from strength to strength and boasts amazing graduates such as Alice.

We value their continued friendship and we also value the fact that many of our alumna remember UCC Law so fondly. As Alice says this is not only for the academic experience but for all of the other benefits, including inspiring professors and lecturers, wonderful friendships and opportunities such as studying in the prestigious College of Europe in Bruges which we encourage and help them to pursue. We are so proud of their successes.

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