Having been given a ‘baptism of fire’ with his first court appearance in the High Court at the age of 19, Jim Brooks discovered a love of law. This year, the Clonakilty-based solicitor marks 50 years in practice
AS a legal baptism of fire, facing a High Court judge at the tender age of 19 would be daunting for any young man or woman making their way into the legal profession.
However, for North Cork-born Jim Brooks, it was all part and parcel of learning the ropes and he faced it with vigour when he started out 50 years ago.
‘I got my practising cert in 1972 and started practice with the late Liam Collins later that year. Previous to that, I was an apprentice with my uncle Eugene Finn in Mitchelstown, who was a very active solicitor in the litigation business and that’s where I learned my trade – I’ve spent the last 50 years in litigation,’ Jim told The Southern Star.
It was only six months into his tenure with Eugene that Jim suddenly found himself before the High Court in Washington Street in Cork, still a teenager.
‘It was a very serious case involving a man fatally injured in a road traffic collision, and it was in fact my first introduction to a courthouse. My uncle Eugene, unfortunately, had got a heart attack and he handed the papers over to me and asked me to prepare them for the barristers.’
The dad-of-four, who is married to Breda, said you couldn’t imagine the worry and trauma that he went through as he faced his first court case.
‘We won the case and there was cheering in the aisles – what a victory!’
Jim has learned down through the years that the most important artillery in one’s arsenal is when to know to compromise and that no case is black or white.
Having qualified and got his parchment in 1972, Jim came to Clonakilty to work with Liam Collins and he spent a lot of that time in the courts of District 18. Remarkably, Jim didn’t even have a car when he started work and often found himself hitching throughout West Cork.
‘I didn’t own a car and would have to hitch a lift to Skibbereen or Bandon, but thankfully that only lasted for six to eight months until I bought my car.’
But he has never been late for court and that has instilled confidence in his clients.
‘You will always know the strength of your own case but the real trick is to know the strength of the other solicitor’s case,’ he said.
Having treaded the courts of West Cork for the past 50 years, Jim said that the ‘trial by ambush’ is now no more – due to disclosure.
‘Everything is now on the table and you can sit down and make an assessment on how strong the case is, but the basics of taking the oath and cross examination has remained the same and hasn’t changed for centuries.’
Jim admits he loves the ‘cut and thrust’ of the legal profession and said it’s like a constant poker game, something which he loves to play.
‘You are dealt your cards and you have got to know how far you can go with your hand without losing everything. I would have handled thousands of cases down through the years and still the art of compromise is the most important thing.’
He also has worked with many judges during his career and he said some were ‘kindly’ judges while others were ‘not so kindly.’
Two of Jim’s children – Lorna and Sharon – followed him into the legal profession, with Lorna a partner in Collins Brooks & Associates, and Sharon working as a barrister. One son, James, works with West Cork Distillers, while his youngest – Ian – is writing books and hoping to get published.
Lorna said her dad has based his career and work around some fundamentals: you word is your bond, always stick up for the underdog, and you’re only as good as your last case.
‘He has a massive work ethic and even after 50 years he still works with unwavering enthusiasm. However, his forte has always been to navigate difficult situations for clients with sound practical advice,’ said Lorna.
‘It would be remiss of me not to mention the office staff, particularly secretarial staff past and present that have worked alongside him and provided invaluable administrative support.’
Clonakilty native Conrad Murphy, who rejoined the firm in 2018, having served his apprentice there, was made a partner with Collins Brooks & Associates last July, joining both Lorna and Roni Collins.
Meanwhile, Jim said he will continue to work as a consultant from his home office, such is his love of the legal profession.
‘It’s probably too late to retire now,’ he smiles.