In an interview with the Sunday Business Post, Chairman of LK Shields Michael Kavanagh traces his career to date and explores the lessons he has learned along the way.
Michael Kavanagh is chairman of LK Shields and head of the legal firm’s litigation and dispute resolution department. Established in Dublin in 1988, the firm employs 130 people and provides legal services to Irish-owned companies and multinationals.
On leaving school at St Joseph’s College in Galway, and with no clear view on a career path, I chose to study for a BA degree in University College Galway, now NUIG. This allowed me explore my interests in law, English, philosophy, sociology and politics.
By the time I completed my BA, I had decided I wished to qualify as a solicitor. This was despite all advice to the contrary, at a time when apprenticeships or training contracts were extremely scarce. And there was a view that without having family connections in law (I didn’t) you faced an uphill task in securing a training contract.
I secured my LLB at NUIG in 1993 and commenced the exhausting process of seeking to secure a training contact. I was extremely lucky to secure a position with a commercial firm which had been established in 1988 by Laurence K Shields, Edmund Butler and Patricia McGovern. I qualified as a solicitor in the litigation department in 1996, and was appointed a partner in the firm in 1999.
Since then, I have gained significant experience handling complex, high-stakes disputes before the Commercial Court and other divisions of the High Court. I also have considerable experience acting in arbitrations, and have gained particular expertise in acting in complex and sensitive employment matters.
I generally act for large corporates and multinationals. In my role as chairman, I work with the managing partner and the leadership team in overseeing the strategic direction of the firm with a particular emphasis on marketing and business development.
I left university at a time when there were few job opportunities and emigration was rife. My initial goal was to qualify as a solicitor and work in Dublin – the busiest legal market in Ireland.
My goals quickly evolved as I gained more experience, and I realised that I wanted to be part of a successful thriving law firm. Thankfully, LK Shields provided that opportunity.
My goals now are to ensure that the practice continues to afford an opportunity to people to become part of a progressive team offering a service of which we can be proud. It’s all about quality of service.
I think the best bit of advice was from my training solicitor and our former managing partner, Edmund Butler. Ed, who is an excellent litigation solicitor, told me that it was important for solicitors to keep their clients informed. Thankfully, technology has made it easier to keep clients fully informed of all developments and work being carried out on their behalf.
Another piece of advice I received was that this is a long game. By consistently providing practical and strategic solutions, clients will be grateful and will return. Similarly, they will refer others to you. It’s about building trust.
I think that whatever you do, make sure it’s something you enjoy and feel passionately about. Once you set your goal go for it, and do not be dissuaded by naysayers. When jobs were scarce, I consoled myself with the thought that “I only want one job”. The reality is, the more effort and work you put in, the greater the reward and satisfaction.
I tend to try to understand a problem or issue at an early stage, understand what my clients’ goals are, then assess the risk and develop an appropriate practical strategy. I use technology not just to keep abreast of developments in the law, but also to ensure efficient delivery of service.
I think it is critical to surround yourself with passionate and committed team members. This creates an environment where team members strive for excellence and success. It’s also important to maintain open lines of communication. We operate a flat management structure which has served us well and we regularly interact with one another to test ideas and strategies for the benefit of our clients.
I think it is important to be passionate and interactive in what we do, and to be really clear in communicating. We must know what is expected of us, and setting clear and attainable goals is important. It is better to approach things on the basis of “How will we achieve that?” rather than on the basis of “How will you achieve that?”
I have found that the most important driver of business has been the delivery of a top-quality service.
A satisfied client will return, and will refer others to you. In terms of networking effectively, you need to be honest and clear in your communication.
I think it is important not to over-promise, and I also think it’s better to approach networking with understated confidence. Just like in negotiations, people will read your body language and also see through any overstated sales pitch.
Leaving aside my lifelong ambition to be a sports journalist, if I had to choose another career tomorrow it would probably involve coaching sport. I think that sport, especially for young people, is very important for developing individual social skills, teamwork and other attributes.
Given the proliferation of social media, I think that now, more than ever, sport has a huge role to play in the successful development of our young people.
This interview appeared in the Sunday Business Post on 4th June 2017.