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Berni Hosty, Partner, A&L Goodbody

Berni Hosty is a partner with A&L Goodbody, with responsibility for the Trainee Programme. She talks about developing her career with the Firm and also how graduates can build a successful career in law by remembering who you are, not just what they know.

The beginning

It wasn’t always my intention to pursue a career in law. My undergraduate Bachelor’s degree was in Corporate Law in NUI Galway, which comprised of both finance and law. Initially, I saw myself going down the accountancy route but in my final year, I did an internship with Arthur Andersen and while I was there I worked on a major case which the Firm was involved in at the time.
It was very interesting and gave me exposure to law Firms such as McCann Fitzgerald and A&L Goodbody, who were both involved in the process. I did a lot of legal research work, as opposed to working in the tax department, which is what I was initially recruited to do. I really enjoyed working in the legal sphere and decided to pursue that path instead of finance. When I went back to college I applied to Dublin’s top five law firms and was fortunate enough to receive an offer from A&L Goodbody on their Trainee Solicitor Programme and was given the option to defer my start date for up to three years. I finished my undergraduate degree in 2000 and then completed a yearlong postgraduate course in pure law, also at NUI Galway, in 2001. Following that, I did a year-long internship with Barclay’s Private Bank in London, which I really enjoyed. Even though London was a fantastic experience, I knew at that stage that my career path led in the law direction. It was a very good, if demanding, internship and I learnt a lot.
The fact that major law recruiters, such as A&L Goodbody, recruit three years in advance, means that you can travel, study or work in a different area during those three years. This means that when you join the Firm, you are ready to begin your career. I started here in A&L Goodbody in 2002, along with 12 other Trainee Solicitors. The traineeship was excellent, really engaging and immersing and included modules of offsite training, in Blackhall Place for example.

Decisions

During my 12 years to date with the Firm, I have seen many cycles of the market. On joining, the market was undergoing a lot of growth and there were a great deal of opportunities out there. Some of my peers chose to leave the Firm and secure positions elsewhere. However, I was always very happy at A&L Goodbody and could always see a good career here. The only time I had a decision to make in terms of my future at the Firm was relatively soon after I qualified as a Solicitor. I completed a secondment with one of our clients, GE, a multinational company who had their Irish operation based in Shannon. Working as an in-house lawyer with a major international company is a really fascinating experience.
The diverse workload really thought me how to react and find solutions in a different environment. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with GE, although I was still very much part of A&L Goodbody, and I did have the opportunity when the secondment was over to stay with GE and pursue a career with them. It was a significant opportunity, with travel and career advancement and I did think about whether it would be the right choice for me. However after careful consideration and bearing in mind personal and professional considerations, I chose to stay with A&L Goodbody.

Boom & bust

From 2006 I worked as a corporate lawyer with the Firm, through the last years of the boom and through the recession, when the business changed from being predominantly engaged in mergers & acquisitions to a huge spike in the amount of insolvencies, arbitration and construction related litigation we were dealing with. So the business, and the staff, had to change to adapt to the changing economic landscape. I think now, as the market continues to recover, there is more of a balance to the business in terms of the caseloads across the various departments.
I was appointed Partner in 2012, which was a significant achievement and one which I am very proud, then last year I was offered the added responsibility of managing the Trainee Solicitor Programme. It’s not something I actively sought, but once I was offered it, I saw many opportunities with the role which would help shape future generations of talent within the Firm. I have full responsibility and ownership of the programme and that’s very rewarding because it allows me to implement plans and see them through to fruition. It’s rewarding to see ideas and changes take hold, to see people start with the Firm and watch their career develop.
During our campus presentations we reinforce the need for real personality in applicants, but I think throughout the law sector we need to do more to reinforce the diverse range of skills we are seeking.
There are also myths that we need to continue to dispel, one being that building a successful career in law is in some way dependant on having contacts, or a personal network, as opposed to it being competency based. That is definitely not true, I can honestly say it is a merit based industry, you will succeed based on your ability to work hard and support your colleagues. I didn’t have any of these supposed networks when I joined the Firm and I’ve been fortunate enough to build a successful and fulfilling career here.
After 12 years here, do I still enjoy it? Absolutely, I do. It’s a challenging and rewarding place to work, with great people to work with from a diverse range of backgrounds. I still very much enjoy the ‘nuts and bolts’ of being a corporate lawyer and now being involved at Partner level, I get to see the business from a strategic level and that’s very satisfying. I’m confident that this is still the place for me to realise my career ambitions.

Advice

My strongest advice for applicants to A&L Goodbody is to be yourself and remember who you are. If you get called for interview, try and think of something that differentiates you and has made you stand out as you will already very likely have the academic qualifications and results we are seeking. So what we need to see is if you have the right personality for the job and the Firm. It never ceases to amaze me how good candidates can be on paper and then, when they interview with the Firm, they are not what you expect. Over-preparation is a huge problem; candidates come in with pre-rehearsed answers and frequently come across as lacking in the personal traits that we’re looking for. In A&L Goodbody we work in teams, and we’re always looking for someone who is the right ‘fit’, someone who is dependable, personable, can communicate, is resourceful and who won’t let you down. You may have the skills we’re looking for, but are they matched by the ‘fit’ that we’re looking for? We work with clients who are incredibly varied, and we need people who are incredibly varied too. A candidate may well be a good lawyer, but we only have 45 minutes in interview to determine if that candidate is right for the Firm. Remember, it’s not only about being a good lawyer.

Berni Hosty was interviewed for Ireland’s 100 Leading Graduate Employers 2014/15