HOW I BECAME A CORPORATE LAWYER

17th December 2021

The Post: Corporate Lawyer and Director of the Ulster University Legal Innovation Centre

The Post Holder: Jane Hollway

Tenacity and empathy are key attributes needed for Jane Hollway’s role as a corporate lawyer.

Give a brief outline of your career to date.

I am currently a Director of the Legal Innovation Centre, which is a unique, multi-disciplinary research and education unit within Ulster University. It brings together experts from the School of Law and the School of Computing and Intelligent Systems to explore the intersection between law, finance and technology, developing partnerships with industry. I am also Course Director for the new LLM/MSc Corporate Law, Computing and Innovation – a first of its kind course in the UK.

I qualified as a solicitor (with business and law degrees), having trained in the Dublin and Brussels offices of top tier corporate firm, McCann FitzGerald, where I became Partner in its Project Finance Group. Whilst in practice, I lectured part-time in University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin. Moving to Belfast, I joined Arthur Cox as Projects Partner in its Corporate Team. During a career break, I helped set up and manage a boutique Corporate Finance Practice, before ultimately joining the University.

What was your favourite subject at school?

Maths or physics

Did you go on to further/higher education, if so what did you study and where?

Originally from County Galway I studied B.Comm (business) and LLB (law) as joint honours under-graduate degrees at NUI Galway. Galway is steeped in art and culture and I fully embraced student life there. 

My parents placed a high premium on education, and growing up on a farm was the ultimate educator: it taught me about ownership, work-ethic, problem-solving and the joy of teamwork. My father died unexpectedly, and my mother had a shocking accident leaving her paralysed, so my brother and I multi-tasked as farmers and carers throughout school and university life. Our friends came to work on the farm during summer holidays, and the fun factor was high. My eldest brother was on a scholarship in MIT, which helped support the family financially, as well as introducing us to the world of opportunity presented by education. My brothers now own a global engineering firm.

I secured a solicitor’s training contract with a top tier corporate law firm, qualifying as a solicitor with the Law Society of Ireland. Whist in practice, I also studied postgraduate in European law at UCD.

How did you get into your area of work?

I was very fortunate to secure an excellent training contract with a dynamic, forward-thinking law firm, McCann FitzGerald Solicitors in Dublin. That was a game-changer. The legal training, the lawyers and the clients were first class. The investment focus was on harnessing exceptional legal expertise, in a collaborative working environment. I soaked up the opportunity, and practiced in Dublin, Brussels, London and the US, before being made partner. It was an amazing job with a world-class firm, working alongside talented colleagues.

Is this what you always wanted to do?

Absolutely not. Loving maths, I fully intended to become an accountant, but changed my mind abruptly during my first week in university, when I ‘happened upon’ an optional law module.

Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?

I think a good lecturer needs a sound knowledge of the law and its practice.

Are there alternative routes into the job?

You can now take the new solicitor qualification exams (SQEs) from any under-graduate discipline, at any stage of your career path. There is no prescribed trajectory, nor should there be. Many of us may end up working for 60 years.

Knowledge is not finite; other skill sets complement, as opposed to substitute, legal knowledge.

Increasingly, law firms are seeking multi-disciplinary graduates, who understand the client’s need for holistic, technology-based, innovative, business solutions. The courses on offer within the Legal Innovation Centre recognise that need.

What are the main personal skills your job requires?

Resourcefulness, tenacity, agility and empathy.

What does a typical day entail?

Engaging with colleagues on academic content and rolling out applied university initiatives; engaging with students to enrich programmes; engaging with global legal and financial firms on innovations in practice alongside student opportunities; and, more generally, problem-solving.

What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?

Engaging the students (which forces one, kicking and screaming, to think like the next generation) and making sure the curriculum is ‘fit for practice’, in equal measure.

Why is what you do important?

We are educating lawyers for the practice of law in 10, 20 or 30 years time, as opposed to the practice of law 30 years ago – we are future-proofing them for the world of work which has massively evolved.

How has Covid-19 impacted your business/role?

It has accelerated the pace of innovation in the practice of law, and introduced more opportunities for flexible online delivery, with the prospect of introducing international subject matter industry experts into teaching, regardless of geographical location.

What adjustments have you had to make?

Ulster University has been agile in rolling out flexible blended learning, which presented its challenges whilst home-schooling five young boys!

What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?

Lead, not follow. Become ‘the expert’. Actively pursue developing areas of practice; my current tips are LegalTech or ESG.

Be prepared to evolve with your life circumstance, and open your mind to change. All progress takes place outside of the comfort zone. Most importantly, do what you enjoy doing, and you will go far!

If you weren’t doing this, what would you like to do?

I’d have been a news reader (my teachers pronounced this to be the only career for me, and only now do I see why – I love to read aloud and I love to read the news). If that didn’t work out, then maybe a fashion buyer for Brown Thomas!

What is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself on your first day?

Reach for the moon every time; even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

Describe your ideal day off.

I’d like to say a day on Grafton Street navigating the shops, but that hasn’t happened for the past 10 years and is unlikely to within the next 10. So keeping it real, a day at a hockey blitz in the sunshine in Barcelona watching my sons play in a series of fiercely competitive, under-age tournaments, whilst my husband temporarily gets to live his dream job as a hockey coach, and I meander from game to game with like-minded parents.

And finally, what’s the key to any successful job search?

Be who you want to become.

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