Greece has had a tumultuous decade but I am glad I took the risk and came
Q&A: Ruth Gallagher works in shipping litigation in Athens
Ruth Gallagher is so glad she went to Greece
Working Abroad Q&A: Each week, Irish Times Abroad meets an Irish person working in an interesting job overseas. This week, Trinity College Dublin law graduate Ruth Gallagher on working in shipping litigation in Athens
Where are you from and where did you study?
I am from Dublin and I studied law at Trinity College Dublin with a year studying in Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. I then studied my LLM at the London School of Economics.
I left Ireland in 2010 after my undergraduate degree at Trinity to study in London for my Master’s. While studying there, I applied for training contracts with international law firms based in London and was lucky enough to receive a training contract with Reed Smith, an international firm, where I am still working.
Reed Smith is a renowned shipping law firm, amongst other areas of law. During my training contract, I did a six-month rotation in our shipping litigation group in our Athens office. Luckily, this coincided with the infamous six-month Greek summer so it was a great experience both personally and professionally.
What do you do there?
I qualified as an English solicitor in 2015 and came to work in the company’s Athens office in our shipping litigation group from London after that. I work primarily for Greek shipowners and their insurers, advising on English law aspects of contractual shipping disputes as well as co-ordinating and advising them in English arbitration, English High Court litigation and security enforcement issues.
What is your working day like?
My working day varies, from drafting client advices or court/arbitration applications and submissions to meeting clients to discuss strategy on their cases and dispute resolution options. I also help with the development of more junior trainee lawyers during their rotations in the shipping group.
What are the challenges?
Every case is different, the law is constantly evolving and you need to be able to provide clear and simple commercial advice on complex legal issues. Finding the balance between communicating the legal aspects of your clients’ business whilst still keeping their overall commercial vision and goals in mind takes constant practice.
What languages do you speak?
English and very bad Greek! The Greeks are very lovely about the whole thing and tell me I speak “poli kala” (very well), but I think they are just shocked that a foreigner has come to Greece and is trying to learn it at all, so even horrible Greek sounds decent.
How is it in Greece at the moment?
Greece has had a tumultuous decade. I left Ireland just after the crash in 2010, as I wasn’t confident that the law firms there would or could offer me the kind of career progression or development I was looking for. Thankfully, Ireland has come through the other side of the recession, but Greece has yet to do the same. The first summer I arrived was the summer that capital controls were introduced to Greece. Queues at ATM machines became the norm and there was a clear sense of distress, distrust of the government and uncertainty about the future.
Young Greeks left the country in droves as young people did in Ireland. Greece’s brain drain is starting to have an effect on its recovery. But all is not lost, or gloomy. In the past 12 to 15 months, there is a new spark in Athens. Greece is slowly working through its debt and businesses and young innovative and creative entrepreneurs are starting to build again in Greece.
Do you think working abroad has offered you greater opportunities?
My whole professional career has been working abroad. I have never actually worked in Ireland in a professional career capacity as an adult. The opportunities, for me, have been quite immense. I have had the opportunity to work and live in two amazing cities, be exposed to different cultures, ways of thinking and doing business, reaped the benefit of learning from more senior people with international experiences and different views. Working abroad has taught me to be more independent, flexible, adaptable and above all, adventurous!.
What has working in Athens taught you?
Working in Athens has taught me that you cannot always get what you want. You have to be creative, find workarounds, adapt to the pace and style of the Greek culture, learn to see things from their point of view and disagree politely when you dont! I have also learned that, on a more familial level, Greek and Irish cultures are very similar. There is the same strong emphasis on family, religion, humour, and strength of relationships here as at home. Despite the language barrier, I feel very at home with Greek people. They are definitely the Irish of the south of Europe.
Are there any other Irish people in your business/social circles in Athens?
The Irish Embassy organises some wonderful events with Irish citizens living in Athens. The President of Ireland visited Greece in March this year and all Irish citizens were invited to a reception celebrating the ties between Greek and Irish culture with him, which was such a fantastic opportunity that you wouldn’t have as easily in Ireland itself. There are the usual St Patrick festivities as well which is a great opportunity to hang out with the Irish Diaspora, but overall, my social circle in Athens tends to be Greek with a smattering of English ex-pats too.
What about life in Athens outside work?
Six months of sunshine - what else is there to say? Athens is such a vibrant city full of great bars, museums and restaurants. You are only an hour away from some of the closest Greek Islands and Athens itself has a fantastic coastline with great beaches to explore. It is a really fun and busy city to live in with lots to discover.
Where do you see your future?
If you had told me four years ago I would have been living in Greece for the next three years, I would have laughed out loud. So if anything, I have learned that anything can happen if the right opportunity presents itself. It has been a wonderful experience so far and I am so glad I took the risk and came. Greece will have a special place in my heart because of it.
If you work in an interesting career overseas and would like to share your experience, email firstname.lastname@example.org.