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Trusting Your Instincts: An Interview With Fiona Callanan6 March 2019

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Fiona Callanan is an Associate General Counsel at McKinsey in Hong Kong, managing litigation for Asia.

She moved into this role in January 2019, having previously headed up the Litigation and Regulatory Enquiries team for Asia at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “One of the things that I love the most about litigation is the intellectual challenge of it – you never know what is going to be thrown at you when you first take on a matter, yet by the end of it you have become an expert,” she says.

“I feel privileged to be working in such an interesting, varied and demanding role.”

Most of Fiona’s time is spent problem solving and discussing strategies for managing matters with external counsel and internal stakeholders, and ensuring that everybody is happy with the course of action. She enjoys this aspect of her job because it enables her “to see how the analysis of the law against the facts is turned into practical reality.” She feels ‘privileged’ to be working in such an interesting, varied and demanding role.

 “…I may be addicted to the feeling I get when somebody contacts me to say that they think there may be a problem, and I can sense that it means that something big might be starting up!”

Fiona’s day generally starts at six. She walks her children to the school bus, goes to the gym or to yoga (she qualified as a yoga teacher at the end of last year) before heading into the office. She leaves at six so that she can spend time with her children before their bedtime and then often works on, with calls into the night to accommodate the time difference between the US and Asia.

It’s a full-on lifestyle. However, Fiona thrives on the challenge. “ I am ashamed to say that I think I may be addicted to the feeling I get when somebody contacts me to say that they think there may be a problem, and I can sense that it means that something big might be starting up!” she says.

Career-wise, Fiona’s timing could have been better when she took the decision to resign from Freshfields in September 2008 just as Lehmans collapsed. “My husband and I were moving to Singapore where Freshfields didn’t have an office at the time and I was very blasé about getting another job there. Big mistake. It took 18 months for me to find anything else,” she says. However, that cloud had a distinctly silver lining. “When I eventually found a new job it was in-house as the first litigator Barclays in Asia had ever had, just at the time that Asia was starting to take the contentious regulatory issues, that Europe and the US had been dealing with for a number of years, seriously.”

“Often the best decisions arise from honest debate.”

Fiona’s mantra is – trust your instincts. “Put your point of view across in meetings, even if you’re the most junior person there and feel intimidated. Often the best decisions arise from honest debate and the person who may know the most about a matter is the junior person because they are the most involved in the detail. So speak up and trust yourself, she advises.” She thinks women are more likely to doubt themselves than men and urges them to guard against so that they don’t miss out on opportunities.

Fiona has great memories of WFW. “I learned so much. There was a real community. I remember it as being young, entrepreneurial, full of characters, and overall a demanding but fun place to work.” Fiona keeps in touch with former colleagues, some of whom have become good friends. Andrew Savage supervised Fiona during her litigation seat in London. “He was the first person who gave me faith in myself as a lawyer and as a good litigator. I’ll always be grateful to him for that.”

Proud to call Hong Kong her home, Fiona describes it as an ‘intense’ city which “brings out the best and the worst in people.” If you are willing to embrace it, “it’s the kind of place that opens up worlds and opportunities,” she says.

To relax, Fiona writes a blog about her daily life and spends time with her children, though is not sure the latter falls into the ‘relaxing’ category. Her goal for 2019? To do a 10 second handstand without a wall!

Fiona was a lawyer in WFW’s London Litigation team from 2003 to 2007.

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