Interview Series: Female Managing Partners / Chairs in Dublin on Their Career Journeys & Lessons Learned
“….I try to remember is that life is short and that we have to make the best of the opportunities we are presented with while we are here. So making every day count in some way is important – saying yes to a new experience, moving outside your comfort zone and counting your blessings should be regular events in your life.”
CAREER JOURNEY & LESSONS LEARNED
Where does the story start? Could you please tell us about your background?
Although I was born in Dublin and started school there, my family moved to Carlow when I was four so I have always considered myself a country girl. I am the eldest of four children with an age gap of 14 years between my youngest sister and I – so she started school and I started college in the same month. Growing up in a country town we could walk to school, run home at lunchtime, and all our friends lived nearby, so we were blessed in ways we didn’t even appreciate. I was a fairly typical teenager for the late 70s/80s and the photographs don’t translate too well by current standards! My Dad was self employed and I think that is where I got my interest in business and dealing with people.
Why did you become a lawyer?
I was certainly not destined to it from an early age. I didn’t know any solicitors – never mind female ones. I had decided to be a pharmacist (mainly because that was the only guaranteed job in the 1980s) and took all the science subjects for my Leaving Cert. Then in 1983, Ireland had its first abortion referendum and at some stage I started to read the newspapers and found that I was interested in the articles which explained the legal arguments on either side. This got me thinking about becoming a lawyer and on the very last day possible I changed my CAO preference to study law in Trinity. At the time that was the height of folly…but I never looked back. I was the first person in my family to go to college and I think that really made me appreciate the opportunity I had. I loved my time in college and decided to become a solicitor when I graduated. I took up an apprenticeship (as it then was) with A&L Goodbody and have been here ever since as the work and the firm has constantly evolved and kept me interested and challenged throughout all that time.
Can you tell us about the work you do?
I am a commercial litigator and, as anyone who does that work will tell you, that means you have to be fairly versatile. You need to know a little about a lot of areas of law and a lot about some discrete areas. I love the variety of it. My core practice is large scale commercial disputes. Not just running cases in court but also trying to keep clients out of court and finding other ways to resolve issues. I am also a mediator and do a lot of work for parties in mediation as well as acting as an independent mediator for parties I do not represent. A lot of my work is also advisory in nature – clients who have survived a crisis see the value in prevention rather than cure. I also do investigations work which is an increasing part of our practice in the firm, whether that be internal investigations or regulatory investigations.
You are the Chair of A&L Goodbody, what have you learned about people from leading an organisation?
I became Chair of A&L Goodbody in May 2019 and a lot has happened in the meantime. I have been so impressed by how our partners and teams have pulled together in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and how innovative they are. I have learned a lot in recent times about humour, resilience and teamwork from my own great team and the wider firm. My philosophy on leading people is a fairly simple one – l think you have to do yourself what you want and expect others to do. Words are easy – what really makes a good leader is how they act and the example they show. People will feed off each other – so it is important to surround yourself with positive, diverse and talented people. I think we have all learned in recent times the importance of human contact and kindness – whether that is to a neighbour or within a large professional services firm. People are interconnected in every way and good organisations understand that and make sure that everyone is heard and respected.
If your client only remembers one thing after working with you, what do you want it to be?
I think the measure of a client’s experience is whether they would come back for more. Now most clients do not want to be involved in disputes or litigation so they often joke (at least I think they are joking!) that they hope they don’t have to see me again. But what I want them to remember is that when they needed me I was there and had their back, that I wasn’t afraid to challenge them where I felt they needed a different perspective and that I was creative in trying to find a solution in their best interests. Anyone can find problems and go through a process. What makes a client remember you is how you gave them confidence, options and a roadmap to get through what are often their most difficult challenges, both personally and professionally.
If you weren’t a lawyer what might you be doing now?
That depends on whether I needed to make money doing it! I could quite happily spend my time on interior design or making documentaries about interesting people and places.
I know you are a big fan of mentoring and sponsoring people? Can you tell us what you have learned from that ?
I am a big fan of mentoring and sponsoring people and I have benefitted from that experience both as a mentee and a mentor. I am certain that I would not have progressed in my career without the intervention and support of many people who were willing to give me the benefit of their time and their wisdom when I needed it. It was hard to be a working mother in the 1990s when so few women worked full time. If I hadn’t seen other women do this at A&L Goodbody or had the support and sponsorship of male colleagues (and my husband) I don’t think I would have sustained it. But now with two grown up children I am so glad I did. I feel the same obligation for the younger lawyers coming behind me who are trying to combine parenting with a demanding career – and I am delighted that these challenges are a priority issue for our firm. We have bespoke structures and policies for mentoring and sponsorship trying to match people’s needs and experience so that each participant benefits from the other. Reverse mentoring is something I am also now learning from and enjoying. You never stop needing to learn new things. Mentoring can help you understand the impact you have on others; it can allow you to intervene just at the right time to really make a difference to someone. It creates a culture where people are invested in each other and that is my sort of place.
What is the best piece of life advice you ever got?
I am sure I received plenty of good life advice that I ignored entirely but something I try to remember is that life is short and that we have to make the best of the opportunities we are presented with while we are here. So making every day count in some way is important – saying yes to a new experience, moving outside your comfort zone and counting your blessings should be regular events in your life.
Tell me something you have learned about the business world?
I have learned that despite all its apparent complexities, business is really all about people. If you spend time with business people you will learn more about their business world than you will from any spreadsheet or set of accounts.
Is there anywhere on your travel bucket list?
Over half the world! I love to travel (will we ever get back to it?). I have yet to visit South America and would like to travel there. But I am also a creature of habit so Italy and New York will always be on my travel list no matter how often I visit.
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