However, as life moved on, the pull of family and her home county was strong. In October 2019, Suzanne fully made the move back to Waterford, having set up her practice the previous March. She now lives with her husband and one-year-old baby in a spacious rural setting, only 20 minutes’ drive from her attractive Henrietta Street office in the city.
Her family are all around, and her sister works as office manager. Suzanne won ‘Munster Sole Principal of the Year’ at the Irish Law Awards and ‘Waterford Businesswoman of the Year’ at the Network Ireland Awards.
The practice now employs 11, following a merger with established Waterford practitioner Morette Kinsella. In the office, there are two other solicitors, including Morette working as a consultant, and three legal executives.
While the pandemic was difficult, Suzanne feels it accelerated the use of technology, which has ultimately made her working life more fluid and flexible.
“It’s a different lifestyle in Waterford. In Dublin, I lived in a one-bedroom apartment, and I don’t think I would have survived COVID,” she reflects.
The timing for the move all fell into place. Suzanne found that working for herself gave her more options when starting a family. Ultimately, childcare availability would have been prohibitive in the capital, she believes. Quality of life is the main draw for provincial practice, she maintains.
Technology has enabled a countrywide spread of clients and lots of interesting work: “It’s more demanding [than being an employee], in that you are now running a business,” she notes.
She also feels that she is serving her local community and making life easier for her clients: “Since coming to Waterford, I’m doing an awful lot of property, conveyancing, and probate – and a lot more family law.
Starting her own practice was an obvious move, given Suzanne’s experience and training in Dublin and a paucity of suitable roles locally. She has now carved out a very satisfying and fulfilling practice.
Cavan’s commercial call
Fergal McManus, who works as a sole practitioner at Mercantile Solicitors in his native Cavan, is clear about the upsides of the step he took to specialise in commercial and company law, using his master’s in that area in a more focused manner.
After training in a mid-sized Dublin firm, Fergal worked for two decades in general practice, but felt the pull to offer specialist legal services to small and medium enterprises in the region.
He recognised that the Cavan-Monaghan-Longford region has a highly entrepreneurial small-firm culture, and Fergal had a hunch that there was a business need there: “In 2018-19, I decided I had grown a little bit tired of general practice, and so I took the plunge to set up my own firm. There’s a huge number of small businesses and indigenous industry here.”
Fergal kept his start-up operation lean and tight, with just two part-time support staff, with the goal of keeping focus on his desired work and turning down general-practice matters.
“I’m getting loads of work, thankfully. There was a gap in the market, which I’m addressing. I’ve kept the business ‘low cost’ and the work is flowing in. There’s an efficiency in being quite specialist,” he observes. “I get to choose who I work for, I get to choose the type of work I do, and I get to control my own diary.”
Fergal relishes this flexibility, though he recognises the tension between taking time off and completing his workload. He would welcome more networking with other sole practitioners in similar niches throughout the country.
“The downside of being on your own is that you’re probably still only getting to see a small enough segment of what’s happening in the company and commercial-law end of the marketplace. Being able to share experience and knowledge with colleagues would be useful,” he suggests.
Running in the right direction
Solicitor Ann McGarry, who runs her own practice at the Old Bank House in Clones, Co Monaghan, feels that, by working for herself, she has got off the treadmill, and on to a path of her own choosing.
“I have taken control of my professional life and feel that I have a much stronger sense of purpose. The business is still in the germination phase, so I am still working out how I want the business to develop, but I am enjoying the process and am optimistic for the future,” she explains.
“As an employed solicitor, I often felt like I was running to stand still. With my own business I am still running – in fact, often sprinting – but I feel like I am moving. I am tailoring the practice to suit my personal skills and interests. In doing so, I am creating a career that I enjoy and feel passionate about.”
Despite opening the practice just as the COVID lockdown kicked in, Ann’s business not only survived, but thrived: “I’m still here and still going,” she laughs.
Ann still tends to burn the midnight oil, but isn’t complaining. She has relished the challenge of running her own business and learning about aspects of practice management that were new to her.
She describes experiencing significant satisfaction in building her practice, while also having a greater sense of presence in her family life and community.
She recalls a recent description of Clones in the national media as “a small town with a huge heart”. She couldn’t agree more and describes feeling blessed by the support she has received from local people, as well as the collegiality of other local solicitors.
“I am much more involved in community life now that I can create a work schedule that accommodates my family, my interests, and career goals. I do some local voluntary work, I am always at the side of the pitch watching my boys’ matches, and I have even started playing some GAA myself. I have been able to take on more Law Society committee work, which keeps me interested in the bigger legal framework and current developments in the profession,” she explains.
Ann’s ambition was always a career in law: “I told people I was going to be a solicitor before I was old enough to spell ‘solicitor’!”
She outlines how she feels very grateful, having no family background in law, to have been given an opportunity to work and learn from some exceptional solicitors over the years.
Her niche before setting up on her own was in personal-injury work. Today, her own practice has a much more varied caseload, which she believes is required for a successful country practice. She admits that the scope of work comes with its challenges but, overall, Ann has found the experience of change “a breath of fresh air”.
Resources for setting up a practice can be found on the ‘Business Hub’ at lawsociety.ie. For more information, contact Justin Purcell (practice support executive) at email@example.com.
Mary Hallissey is a journalist with the Law Society Gazette.
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