The ‘Shrink Me/Psychology of a Lawyer’ webinar this morning heard Law Society of Ireland’s recently-appointed (first female) director general Mary Keane in conversation with President I Stephanie Boyce, to discuss their complementary visions for a more diverse and inclusive legal profession.
President Boyce told the webinar that she came from a poor, Caribbean-immigrant, council-estate, single-parent background and was the first in her family to go to university and to enter a profession.
President Boyce, who has just turned 49, became a solicitor in 2002, and has had an expansive career in corporate governance, regulatory frameworks, and professional regulation.
Her first in-house role was as general counsel at the Bar of England and Wales.
In 2020, President Boyce was voted one of the most influential black people in Britain.
She has a Master’s in Public Law from King’s College London.
President Boyce told the webinar that looking back on her career has given her clarity that every detour, twist and delay has got her to where she is now.
“Nothing comes to you before your time,” she said.
Visible role model
President Boyce said that her goal as president is to be visible and to promote equality, diversity and inclusion by being a role model.
“If you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” she said, adding her hope that people of colour will stand a little taller as a result of her election.
“I’ll take the Law Society to places it’s never been!” she said.
President Boyce said she is sustained by faith and prayer, and feels blessed and privileged to be where she is, surrounded by good friends and family support.
“I am an absolute subscriber to positive thinking and the law of attraction. And I believe in myself.
“If I had waited until I thought I was a right fit for this role, I’d probably still be waiting,” she continued.
“You go for that role, you make that application. You only get one chance at this life.
“The last 12 months has absolutely shown us that life is precious, there is no rehearsal, there’s one take. You go for it. You do it.”
President Boyce said that by changing one’s mindset, one can change one’s life.
A true leader has the ability to listen, and to take people with them to share the journey, she said.
Head of the Law School’s Counselling Service, Antoinette Moriarty, who chaired the webinar, added that the purpose of therapy is to establish one’s voice, and one's contribution to society, and then to establish a network that will support that endeavour.
“My parents and grandparents came to the UK from the Caribbean in search of faith, hope and greater opportunities,” President Boyce told the Law School PPC students this morning, describing her “absolute determination” to pursue a career in the law.
When asked about her ambition, she said: “I absolutely had a dream and I wasn’t going to be deterred from that dream, and I wasn’t going to take no for an answer.”
President Boyce said that she speaks freely about her socio-economic background.
“I’m not embarrassed. It is me. That is my badge. By telling my story, it helps others to tell their story."
At the age of seven, she looked up to British politician Margaret Thatcher as a strong character and role model – as a female education minister and a barrister, and subsequently, as the first female prime minister.
President Boyce said she grew up in the 1970s, when there wasn’t much diversity in England.
“I grew up in a household where we were taught not to focus on the colour of our skin, but the content of our character,” she said.
A stint in the US in her teens brought President Boyce into contact with great poverty and led to what she describes as an awakening.
“I realised that through law I could help other people change their lives,” she explained.
Law Society Director General Mary Keane, in contrast, said that she came from a family tradition of teaching and always knew she would go on to third-level education.
“I love law, I love the discipline of it and the way it makes you think," Mary Keane continued, adding that she was empowered by coming from a family of strong female role models.
President Boyce recalled that in her, initially part-time, legal studies, she had been fortunate to have encouraging lecturers.
“That’s why, for me, social mobility is such a big thing, and so close to my heart,” she said.
“It’s about opening up those networks to those of us who wouldn’t have had access to them,” she said.
Her route into a legal career was marked by resilience, determination, and a burning desire to never give up.
An example is the four attempts the now President Boyce made to run for the Law Society office, despite being told that there would never be an ethnic minority person in the role.
“I could not have got to where I am today without networks, and how I established those networks was, I volunteered.
“I went to work with some of the best legal minds that this country has to offer. I got to sit next to them, and through sitting next to them, I got to look at the way they interact,” she explained.
“Be bold in your asking,” President Boyce told the Law School PPC students.
Director General Mary Keane agreed that voluntary work is highly valuable, in terms of learning governance.
She said her voluntary role as chair of the board of governors at the National Gallery of Ireland was a very meaningful and important part of her working life.
“I actually would recommend that people participate in committees, but not necessarily Law Society committees, if there is an opportunity to serve your community.”
“It’s important, in my view, to have different pillars that help you navigate this wonderful life that we are given.
“I prefer to be involved in a committee which has nothing to do with my work,” she continued.
Be true to yourself, and know what is important to you, the director general advised the PPC trainees.
“Don’t go for a job you don’t want,” Mary Keane advised.
“Find what it is that makes you passionate.”
“And never, ever give up,” President Boyce agreed.
“I absolutely believe that every door is open, if you push, if you persevere until something happens."