McCann FitzGerald associates Olivia Wright and Darragh Caldwell offer their top application tips while reflecting on their own career journeys so far, ahead of the firm’s appearance at next week’s Legal Cheek Irish Virtual Law Fair 2021
Ahead of McCann FitzGerald’s appearance at The Irish Virtual Law Fair 2021 on 21 October, the Legal Cheek Careers team sits down with two of the firm’s junior associates, Olivia Wright and Darragh Caldwell, to discuss training, career highs, and life as a lawyer in Dublin.
What first attracted you to a career in commercial law?
Olivia: I think it was the type of matters I thought I would be exposed to. I was never drawn to people oriented areas of law (such as criminal law or family law) and I liked the idea of working on large scale matters, the sort of things you see in the newspaper or you can see when you walk around the city. I wanted to do the kind of law that makes the economy go around.
Darragh: While at university, I didn’t plan to pursue a career in commercial law. I didn’t plan much at all. I studied jurisprudence and human rights law for my masters, without any fixed idea of what I might do thereafter. After my masters, I was fortunate to obtain a role as a legal executive in the litigation and disputes department in McCann FitzGerald. That exposed me to some of the largest and most valuable proceedings that have been before the Irish courts. In litigation, as in other areas of legal practice, size and value often beget complexity, which I liked. In addition, to echo Olivia, it was nice to see things that I was working on in the newspapers.
Darragh: How did you find the application and interview process at McCann FitzGerald? What did this entail, and do you have any advice for students who are considering applying?
The application process was very straightforward and involved filling in one application form with details of my CV and answering a series of questions, like why I wanted to become a trainee in McCann FitzGerald. My sense was that the partners who interviewed me were assessing whether I was someone with whom they, and the wider firm, could work day-to-day. My advice is to know your CV, know a little about what the firm does, be confident, be forthright and let your personality show.
Olivia: You studied, trained and qualified in Australia before moving to Ireland. What prompted the switch and how are you finding life as a lawyer in Dublin?
Like many antipodeans in Ireland, I was drawn here by matters more of the heart than of the mind! My partner is Irish. Life as a lawyer in Ireland has been challenging but very rewarding. I sat the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test in order to requalify and that wasn’t something I had planned on doing when I left Australia, but I was lucky that McCann FitzGerald supported me through that process. In terms of the shift to practising in Ireland, it was reasonably smooth. As common law countries, there is a lot of similarity between Irish and Australian law, and my Australian legal education and training was very applicable here.
Darragh: You completed your graduate traineeship at McCann FitzGerald earlier this year. How was the training and support you received during this period?
In short, second to none. While coming to a large firm like McCann FitzGerald was initially a little daunting, there was enormous value of having so many fellow trainees as a support network, many of whom have become good friends. In terms of formal training, like most trainees at McCann FitzGerald I did a seat in each of the firm’s principal practice areas: corporate, finance, real estate & construction, and litigation & disputes. Each of my seats deepened my understanding of legal practice and has undoubtedly benefitted my development. Every week there were (and are) lectures from in-house and outside speakers on various legal issues, in addition to bespoke workshops provided for trainees by solicitors from across the firm’s practice areas.
You specialise in real estate (Olivia) and litigation/dispute resolution (Darragh). What drew you to these areas?
Olivia: I like the tangibility of real estate, you can see it with your own eyes (even if most of the time, I’m only seeing it on Google maps!). I also find it helpful to understand legal issues when it relates to physical property, looking at maps and working out how a contract works in relation to physical property you can see is very satisfying to me. I also like property law because it’s a good mix of very technical legal issues and fast-paced transactional work.
Darragh: I like a good argument and a strongly worded letter. I like digging into the (often-messy) facts, applying them to the law and constructing an argument. I also like the finality of litigation. For those matters that go to court, there is comfort in knowing that a judge will determine whether the arguments I have played a part in constructing are right or wrong. In litigation, there are often definite winners and losers. I think the competitor in me likes that.
What has been your most memorable career moment to date?
Olivia: When I was a trainee, a senior associate went on annual leave and myself and another trainee had to prepare a court book of all the documentary evidence tendered at trial. Needless to say, we had almost no idea what we were doing. It amounted to a room of folders and the other parties were adding documents up until the last minute. It was very stressful! Months later, when the judgment was handed down, right at the end of the judgment the judge mentioned how well the court book was put together – I printed the page and kept it as a reminder that even when you feel like you might not be getting everything right, you’re probably doing a better job than you think!
Darragh: One Monday morning when I was a trainee, I was asked whether I would like to go to London that evening to accompany a Senior Associate to two days of meetings with lawyers from the US, the UK and Russia. As you might imagine, my role was small — I took notes. Nonetheless, it was exciting and a great learning experience.
What is your favourite thing about working for McCann FitzGerald?
Olivia: There is a lot of support at McCann FitzGerald. I had a lot of help in sitting my exams to requalify and it made a huge difference. The quality of the lawyers is also stellar and you know you’re learning from the best in the business. I also think there is a lot of humility in McCann FitzGerald; I’m quite an active member of our Diversity & Inclusion committee and there is a lot of appetite to work on and improve D&I issues in the firm. It takes a lot of humility to look at your organisation and recognise what it needs to work on when it comes to D&I, but there is a very genuine desire to make the firm as diverse and inclusive as we can.
Darragh: There are no airs and graces. Everyone is down to earth and wants to work as a team. Every team member is valued, whatever role they might be performing. The firm also does Christmas very well. From the annual decorate-your-workspace competition to the black-tie Christmas party to the carol service, I don’t imagine there are many workplaces more festive come the end of December.
What advice would you give to those hoping to secure a graduate traineeship at McCann FitzGerald?
Olivia: Focus on what makes you unique and what you can bring to the table that no one else can. Everyone has an individual story. What about your story makes you an asset? It’s not about legal skills, because that’s what a training contract is for. It’s about your soft skills, your drive, what motivates you — and how those things might make you a valuable member of the firm. Definitely don’t think that because you don’t have what might be considered a typical law background, you shouldn’t apply to McCann FitzGerald — because there’s a place for people of all backgrounds here.
Darragh: As Olivia says, your story, your personality and your set of skills are different to everyone else’s. Back yourself and believe that what you have to offer is valuable. If you have achieved at university (whatever you may have studied), there should be no reason why you cannot achieve at McCann FitzGerald.
If you weren’t lawyers, what would you be, and why?
Olivia: This is going to sound a bit sad, but even if I wasn’t paid to be a lawyer I would still be one. I might just do a slightly more altruistic area of law. I’d volunteer on Greta Thunberg’s legal team — if they’d have me!
Darragh: While I like the idea of being a doctor, I think I would be a journalist or an academic (law or philosophy). Something that involves words and argument!
McCann FitzGerald will be exhibiting at The Legal Cheek Virtual Irish Law Fair on 21 October alongside other leading Irish and international law firms. You can apply to attend the Fair, which is free, now.
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