Confidence and a game plan: Melissa Fogarty

M&A partner Melissa Fogarty has divided her career between her hometown of Melbourne and the UK, eventually settling in London. She talks about making the most of setbacks and doing the work of building a career.

When I moved from Melbourne to London to settle here permanently, the timing wasn’t great from a career perspective. I was an experienced associate, it was midway through the financial crisis and the law firm recruitment market had dried up. Also, I hadn’t followed a straight path to partnership – I’d flip-flopped once before between Melbourne and London when family circumstances called for me to be closer to home. The odds were against me.
Looking back on that time now, I realize that in some ways it helped me become more focused on achieving the goal of partnership. I became much more determined and more honest with myself and others about my aspirations to become a partner. Sometimes setbacks can prove to be very positive in the long run.

It took all the confidence I could muster to make my way at a new firm. Confidence is something I’ve had to work at along the way. It hasn’t always been easy for me to quiet the little voice saying, “I’m not senior enough” or “It’s not my area of expertise,” which can really affect your ability to build relationships with clients and colleagues. But in truth we all have a huge amount to contribute, no matter how junior or senior we may be. I’ve come to learn that some of our strongest attributes are those that come very naturally – it is easy to underestimate the personal qualities of being authentic, open and honest, and a good listener. Although good preparation is always key.

Finding fantastic mentors has made the biggest difference for me by far. True mentorship isn’t easy to come by; being allocated a mentor as part of a formal mentorship program is obviously a great start, but I’ve found that sometimes it’s harder to build a mentoring relationship from such a standing start. My closest mentors are people I have worked with, whom I clicked with and who took a genuine interest in my career progression. When you pare it all back, mentoring is just another word for building relationships. Don’t underestimate the importance of popping in on someone or going out for a coffee. If you do that with many people, you are much more likely to find a true mentor.

But it really does take two to make a successful mentoring relationship. One particular partner is more than a mentor; he is my sponsor, and we’ve become close friends. But I don’t rely on him to pop in to check up on me. If I need a sounding board or shoulder to cry on I will schedule time with him and prepare for our meeting as I would any other.

The other thing that really stands out for me is initiative. The very best lawyers always seem to be able find that little chunk of time to do something that pushes them forward professionally and helps create business opportunities. It’s not about more face time or working harder. Some of the best initiatives are those that are high-impact but also easy to execute.

My final advice is to enjoy your career and make the most of it. Opportunity abounds in firms that are meritocratic and diverse, but you have to be up for it. And when setbacks take you off course, believe in yourself and you will overcome them.