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Leaders of the pack
(L to R): Aoife Raftery and Yvanne Kennedy

21 May 2024 / law society Print

Leaders of the pack

Applications for the 2024/25 Women in Leadership Programme are now open. Its aim is to support women’s personal and professional growth and help them advance their careers to a senior level. Mary Hallissey meets a mentor and mentee who are reaping the benefits

Solicitor and mentee Yvanne Kennedy says that the Law Society’s Women in Leadership programme has been very successful in moving her towards her career goals: “I have colleagues being mentored, and I’ve encouraged others to sign up because I’ve had a positive experience,” she says.

Kildare native Yvanne went to school in Dublin and then to UCD law, followed by a master’s in human rights and criminal justice at Queen’s.

She qualified in early 2020 and has remained at Mason Hayes & Curran, where she trained and now works on the public, regulatory, and investigations team. With the support of the team, she has also completed UCD’s Professional Diploma in Professional Regulation.

“The clients and the people that I’m working with have kept me there,” she said, “as well the interesting, high-quality work the firm engages in. The firm is interested in me professionally and personally and wants to see good things for me.”

Weather eye

Her goal in signing up for the Women in Leadership programme was to keep a weather-eye on the next stage and progression of her career.

“While the mentoring has been a fantastic addition for me, and a gloss on top of things, I’m lucky that there’s huge support in my firm generally for progression,” Yvanne says.

She can see herself becoming a Law Society mentor in time to come, due to her very positive experience with the programme. She is now in her second round on the programme and is very happy that it’s now open to early-career solicitors, given that she qualified just over four years ago.

“It was a great benefit for me coming into this only two-and-a-half years qualified. I think it has a place at all stages of your career,” she says, citing her strengthened feelings of readiness and resilience.

“It’s a brilliant opportunity, to have the chance to just talk about yourself and what’s going on, even if there isn’t a set goal or a very specific aim. Each time, I come out feeling refreshed and energised.”

Carefully matched

For solicitor Aoife Raftery, who is mentoring Yvanne, the time commitment has been negligible, but the personal and professional benefits of participation are immense.

Aoife believes the reason the programme is so successful is because it’s run so effectively.

“Yvanne and I weren’t paired randomly– we were very carefully matched according to our interests and our backgrounds. Very quickly we found congruence on values, and we developed trust very, very quickly – pretty much immediately.”

Aoife praises the excellent Law Society training provided for all mentors – including in communication models, active listening, and collaborative goal setting: “I drew on that immediately and it was excellent to get trained in the tools. I kept going back to them,” she says.

The Women in Leadership training took under three hours to complete. “The time commitment for solicitors is minimal compared to the rewards that you get from doing this,” Aoife adds. “I always feel very supported – there is excellent back-up.”

She describes the existing set of mentors as exceptionally talented, with several holding some of the most senior legal leadership roles in the State.

“To have access to that wealth of knowledge for me was outstanding. There was such a sense of community and collaboration, and that assisted me so much in a practical way in my own leadership development and my own professional development. I would recommend to any solicitor to be a mentor on the programme.”

The experience has also been hugely rewarding, Raftery adds: “Overall, it’s really improved my leadership performance, because it gives the opportunity to take the initiative, to see around corners, and to come up with solutions across diverse circumstances,” she adds.

Leadership reflection

For a mentor, the programme is a useful leadership reflection tool, she says. “A big part of the process as a mentor is sharing experiences – my own career path and the obstacles I faced, and how I overcame those.

“As a mentor, it triggers a lot of self-reflection, so I started to question my own knowledge and my own experiences and assumptions.”

Aoife dealt with weighty matters as a young solicitor and moved into senior leadership roles early on. She got excellent work experience as a legal administrator in Early & Baldwin Solicitors, Fairview, Dublin 3, before sitting her FE1 exams. “Tom Baldwin taught me so much and really believed in me,” she recalls.

A subsequent stint at Seán Costello Solicitors, in Dublin 7, saw Aoife ‘thrown in at the deep end’: “When you get very large responsibility at a young age, you crave it going forward,” she remarks.

“But it also sets you up for the challenges, because every career comes with challenges you must face. The challenges have their benefits. I’m happy to say that I’ve learned more from my testing moments. The mentoring programme at the Law Society gives you such an excellent opportunity to share those experiences.”

Others’ success

“Contributing to somebody else’s success is very gratifying,” Aoife adds. “The Law Society has done a huge amount of work in tackling that idea of the emotional labour involved in legal work,” she says.

“The mentoring programme is an excellent way of being that change agent and contributing to another solicitor’s growth, which is hugely rewarding. The time commitment that’s involved is not taxing,” she stresses.

“That has led to greater self-awareness and self-esteem, and it has led to a lot more self-efficacy and better decision-making in my role. So, it’s been excellent.

“As well, it gives you an opportunity to really build on and hone very important professional developmental skills, such as interpersonal and communication skills, emotional intelligence, and time-management skills. It’s heightened my levels of ‘generativity’ as well,” says Aoife.

By ‘generativity’, she means concern for the younger generation coming up and the knowledge that one can have an impact on somebody else’s professional career in a positive fashion. “It’s about having concern that they are fulfilling their own career goals, but in a very meaningful, positive, and optimistic way,” she adds.

Unique process

What prompted Aoife to embark on mentoring? “I was considering it for some time but, first, I wanted to have enough experience to put myself forward. It came with a great sense of pride and accomplishment when I was chosen as a mentor.

“It really has made me realise the impact of mentoring on somebody’s professional career and on their life. It has triggered in me an awareness that mentoring is a very important process, and I will certainly be taking that responsibility more seriously in the future. Mentoring is a unique process – it’s not like coaching or counselling. There’s no set rubric or list of activities, so you get a chance to be creative.

“As solicitors, I think we all recognise that we have such high standards, we’re very driven and very ambitious, and I think that we need to give ourselves a break, too, and support each other.”

Even lawyers in contentious workstreams can support each other, she believes.

Clarifying thoughts

Her mentee Yvanne adds that, though she has already enjoyed a huge amount of support in her workplace, she has benefitted enormously from the Women in Leadership Programme.

“I could only imagine what it could do for someone who maybe has less support, for whatever reason,” she notes.

The mentor is not making decisions for the mentee but aims to start a process of clarifying their thoughts, mentor Aoife muses: “We work in a challenging profession and that’s why it’s so important that we support each other. One way of being that supportive person is through this programme.”

“I’m so interested in leadership,” she reflects. “It’s something that is so important, because good leaders shape everything, and we need them everywhere.”

Leadership means self-reflection and self-awareness of one’s impact on others. Emotional intelligence and empathy are critical skills for leaders, she adds, and from them, everything good flows in terms of decision-making and delivery of results. Bad leadership is always found out eventually, she notes.

In a fast-paced world, solicitors have many demands made upon them, but to be that change agent making a positive impact on somebody else’s professional life is a huge opportunity.

She would encourage any solicitor to become a mentor: “Do it for the profession, for society, and for yourself,” she urges.



Working for Revenue, Aoife Raftery is a senior prosecutor on the criminal prosecution team.

“My main area of interest is corporate indictable workstreams. I also spear-up the proceeds-of-crime function, advise in relation to OECD Global Forum Peer Reviews, and represent Revenue internationally as its IP prosecution contact point for Ireland.”

Last December, she was invited by the EU Intellectual Property Office to speak in Shanghai. She gave a presentation to a large group of Chinese prosecutors about the IP enforcement regime in Ireland, an expertise that she links back to a diploma in IP taken at the Law Society, which opened many doors.

“It really opened my eyes to the importance of our profession and how well-respected Ireland is abroad in terms of the rule of law,” she noted.

Aoife is currently undertaking doctoral studies in authentic leadership at the University of Limerick and feels she is putting that learning into practice in a meaningful and important way as a mentor.

“Authentic leadership involves no pretence or trickery,” Aoife explains, “and without those distractions, trust develops quickly. Playing a ‘role’ as a leader is not healthy. The authentic leader understands that they can’t play a role, and concerns about team and organisational wellbeing are a massive component for the authentic leader,” she said.

Applications for the 2024/25 Law Society Women in Leadership mentoring programme are now open (until 14 June). Applications are invited from both mentors and mentees on a countrywide basis and from all areas of practice. The programme is presented in collaboration with Law Society Skillnet, which is responsible for mentor and mentee training activities. To find out more and apply, visit www.lawsociety.ie/womeninleadership.

Mary Hallissey is a journalist at the Law Society Gazette.

Mary Hallissey
Mary Hallissey is a journalist at Gazette.ie