Interview Series: Female Managing Partners / Chairs in Dublin on Their Career Journeys & Lessons Learned
Interview with Siobhra Rush
Lewis Silkin in Dublin
Career Journey & Lessons Learned
“I’ve also learned that even though I’m a leader, it doesn’t mean that I have to have all the answers, or know everything. It’s ok to ask for support and acknowledge what I don’t know.”
1. Where does the story start? Could you please tell us about your background?
I am the sixth of seven children and have five brothers. It was a fairly boisterous house and I was lucky in my position in the family. (I grew up in the 80’s in Tallaght, and people had very little, but by the time I was in my early teens my older brothers and sister had moved to London and spoiled the youngers a little). It also meant that coming to work in what was historically a masculine industry (at the time) wasn’t as difficult for me as it was for others – I did lots of things in life (like higher level maths) because my brother told me I wouldn’t be able for it. It was great resilience training! When I qualified in 2001 I did my career “growing up” in Matheson, where I worked for 11 years, before taking up a more flexible role with Leman, where I was working when I was approached by my old university friend Séan Dempsey, to help Lewis Silkin establish in Dublin.
2. Why did you become a lawyer?
I remember wanting to be one from a fairly early age – I did my one week’s work experience in TY (transition year) in Rowan & Co on Fitzwilliam Square and it always seemed like the path for me. I also grew up arguing over the dinner table with my family which I enjoyed. (They might say too much!). It was still a crooked path – after finishing my degree at UCD I did business studies for one year and then travelled to Australia, so I did qualify later than some of my university peers. That said, I interviewed and started my “apprenticeship” within one week of returning from my travels and never looked back. I trained with a small firm, working mainly in litigation, but also did a good bit of employment law which I really enjoyed. The link between life and employment law means that it is ever changing, and ever relevant. I’ve never regretted my decision, either to specialise in employment law, or the moves I have made in my career. Lewis Silkin is a firm that encourages ideas, diversity, and innovation and it’s so refreshing to lead a firm in Dublin where employment law is foremost at its offering (we also advise on Data/Tech law). We’re not a multi-disciplined firm, so our clients know that they’re getting the best advice from a truly specialist firm (full of employment law nerds!).
3. Can you tell us about the work you do?
We help Lewis Silkin’s clients with whatever they need in the Irish employment law arena. Whether that’s employment law advice on a strategic project coming down the line in a number of international sites, or helping them with more localised tricky HR or employee relations situations. I also advise on collective issues, appear in the civil courts and Workplace Relations Commission, and regularly provide training to clients, based on Irish law and our experience in the area. As the head of Lewis Silkin’s Irish office, I also work a lot with my partners in the UK on internal firm matters, so my work has become much more diverse. For instance I’m leading business planning for Ireland, guiding the team through those plans and working on whatever needs to be done to achieve our objectives. This was a massive change for me when I moved to Lewis Silkin in 2018, but I’ve been really well supported by them and by our team here, and have learned a lot about business management.
4. You are the Managing Partner of Lewis Silkin in Dublin, what have you learned about people from leading an organisation?
We are four months into the COVID-19 pandemic so I’m learning a lot! Overall (and not just since March) I’ve had to learn to be more patient. I’m the type of person who puts my head down and gets on with things, I’ve learned that some people need more support than others, and it’s something that I’ve enjoyed learning. I’m also extremely proud of our Dublin team. We all started to work from home mid-March, and no ball was dropped. It was a very seamless transition into remote work, and everyone has had their individual challenges during this time (two and a half house moves!) but kept spinning their plates, while supporting their colleagues. I’ve also learned that even though I’m a leader, it doesn’t mean that I have to have all the answers, or know everything. It’s ok to ask for support and acknowledge what I don’t know.
5. If your client only remembers one thing after working with you, what do you want it to be?
This can be difficult in the employment law arena. For instance, in a difficult grievance/dismissal situation, both sides can feel like they’ve been stung, even where a resolution has been reached. It can be akin to a marriage break-up!! So, I would like clients to think that in spite of being stuck in a really tricky/problematic situation, or facing a big challenge, they were well looked after by someone who had their back.
6. If you weren’t a lawyer what might you be doing now?
I considered doing applied languages, with a view to going into the Civil Service/diplomacy. I now know that I would never have had the patience for it.
7. Can you tell us what you have learned by being a mentor?
I recently met a lawyer that I worked with for around 6-12 months when she was a junior, and she told me that she’d gone on a wellbeing weekend course, and put my name on a list of three people that had inspired her. I was really pleased, as it was a period of change in my career, and I wasn’t very confident in my mentoring ability at that time. This taught me that every interaction with a more junior colleague is a mentoring engagement, however small -especially outside of any formal mentoring programmes. In Lewis Silkin, lawyers have both a Talent Partner, and a Career Development Partner, so there are lots of opportunities for mentoring (and indeed reverse mentoring too).
8. What advice would you give a graduate starting out in a career in law?
It’s a very different landscape from when I studied and qualified. If anything the world is even more of their oyster – there are so many in-house, practice, and business opportunities for lawyers now. It’s a great qualification and if you can get into the right office/working environment and work hard, you can thrive, and diversify. I would also say not to stay in a job that’s not fulfilling you. Practising law (in whatever capacity) is busy – during the times when I was working crazy hours I would complain about being too busy, but never grew tired of employment law.
9. What is the best piece of life advice you ever got ?
Be human. Lewis Silkin used to have this as its by-line – “A rather more human law firm”. It’s especially important in the employment law context – work is so much a part of people’s lives.
10. Tell me something you have learned about the business world?
It changes A LOT, and very quickly. When I started formally working, some women in firms weren’t allowed to wear trousers (and I’m not that old). If people are adaptable and resilient (in the right way), there are lots of opportunities out there.
11. What do you like to do in your spare time?
I think these are the usual responses – reading, hiking with the family, cycling (to work mainly), and I love to swim* in the sea. Since having children I’ve grown to like cooking (not very well) and enjoy having friends over for dinner or eating out (especially important now that hospitality is really struggling and supporting local business is important to me). Pre-COVID I was spending a lot of time at the side of the GAA pitch watching the children!
*it’s not really swimming, more of a dip 😉.
12. Favourite Place You Have been to / Favourite Holiday?
Argentina in 2005, Ile de Ré with the family, and my (almost) annual trip to San Sebastian with my girlfriends. For family holidays we’ve been to Valentia Island in Kerry for the last two years, and I’m looking forward to going there again this weekend.
13. Favourite Book or film?
I’ve always been a big reader but don’t get enough time for it, as I tend to read at bedtime and am too tired to get really stuck into books. I love hearing about new books and what people are reading. From a fiction perspective the standouts are: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier or I know this much is true by Wally Lamb. As I rule I don’t like non-fiction but am trying to talk myself into reading more business focussed books, and was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed “How to win friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie. It was written in 1937 and most of what’s in there is still relevant today, in terms of business relationships.
14. Is there anywhere on your travel bucket list?
My desire for travel was waning a little bit as I was getting older, but I regularly meet my international colleagues in Ius Laboris, the world’s leading employment law practice, in places that I would not have gone to previously. I was in Toronto last year and loved it. Obviously because of COVID these opportunities are more limited now, but places I would still like to visit would be New Zealand, Japan, Amsterdam and Seville.
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