February 20, 2013

Attorney Profile: Eileen O’Brien

Written By

SKO Insider, August 2012

Eileen O’Brien | eileen.obrien@skofirm.com
Eileen serves as chair to SKO’s Family Law practice and is also a member of the Tort, Trial & Insurance Services practice. She has been with the firm since 1981 andworks from the Lexington office.

1. What event or circumstances led you into your career?

A series of happy coincidences, starting with my acceptance at Transylvania University, which prided itself on the high rate of acceptance to both law school and medical school of its graduates.  The combination of advanced math courses needed for a pre-med degree and an inspiring professor of history who led the pre-law program were the deciding factors.  Shortly after reaching this decision, I was hired to work as a deputy circuit court clerk in the Fayette Circuit Court.  I was the only employee who didn’t object to serving as the courtroom clerk for the judges or to waiting after hours for a jury to return a verdict.  As a result, I had plenty of experience observing a variety of local attorneys at work.

2. Who or what has most influenced your life?

On a personal level – my mother.  She was widowed at age 41 and managed to enter the workforce and to see that all 6 of her children obtained college degrees. I don’t think that we ever truly appreciate the obstacles our parents overcome for us until we are adults, and it still amazes me.

On a professional level – no one more than Les Morris.  I had the opportunity to work in several areas of the firm’s practice until we were large enough to decide that we should assign mentors to the younger attorneys.  I was eventually paired with Les – who, as far as anyone could tell, had never worked with an associate before.  He gradually allowed me to take more and more responsibility in his litigation practice, and I knew that it was a privilege to be earned because he valued nothing more than his integrity and service to his clients.  Learning to try cases with Les was an eye-opener.  I saw how much members of the Bar outside the firm respected and trusted him and I realized that I wanted to strive to be held in that regard.  And over the years, he taught by example how to achieve that.

3.  Describe your greatest professional accomplishment thus far.

I’m tempted to say it was achieving partnership in the Kentucky firm I would have selected as first on my list – but I’m not sure that’s so much a tribute to my ability as it is to the way that the partners in the firm approached the practice. When I graduated in 1981 only a small percentage of my law school class were women, and the same small percentage of women made up the attorneys practicing law in Fayette County.  Nevertheless, the firm was evaluating law school graduates on their academic achievements and how well we “fit” with the firm when clerking.  All of us were given a chance to prove ourselves and that wasn’t necessarily the case everywhere.

4. What do you see is the largest issue facing your practice area(s) in the industry?

Same thing I see in too many areas – what seems to be the growing lack of civility in the Bar.  It may well be the result of a glut of attorneys, forcing many to hang up a shingle with little or no mentoring or experience.  I’ve found that attorneys who are secure in their abilities (whether due to experience or the willingness to work hard enough to figure it out) are the ones who are best able to resist the temptation to be unnecessarily combative or obstructionist in practice.

5. How do you handle stressful situations?

Yoga and exercise – I see more and more physical signs of stress and so these help greatly to alleviate them.

6. Favorite leisure activity or hobby?


7. Any thoughts of wisdom, or a favorite quote?

My favorite quotes are all irreverent (another stress-buster).  But I will steal one that one of my friends includes in all her emails:  “The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” – Michelangelo

8. What is your favorite part of your work?

I’ve always felt that I’ve been fortunate over the years to work with some of my best friends –not often we have work we love doing and friends on the job.

9. If you could take on any new challenge, what would it be and why?

I would love to go back to school and pick up a new area of study and degree.

10. What is a profession outside the legal industry that has always intrigued you and why?

Psychology – although I might argue that it really isn’t so far removed from my practice.