Posted on Wednesday 16 January 2019 by Ulster Business

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Catriona Gibson, managing partner at Arthur Cox

When Catriona Gibson left to practice commercial law in London, it was supposed to be just a short stint.

But coming back 16 years later, Catriona returned to an entirely different Northern Ireland from the one which she had left behind.

Since then, she’s risen from partner in Arthur Cox’s litigation team in 2006, to becoming the first female managing partner in her field.

Originally from Newcastle, Co Down, the Queen’s University graduate left her native Northern Ireland to work in London.

“Looking at what was happening in the province, and the state of the economy, there wasn’t that level of commercial activity,” she told Ulster Business.

She began working for Lovells, now Hogan Lovells and specialised in litigation.

That’s across a broad range of commercial law work, from commercial litigation, banking litigation, contractual disputes, and resolution.

Catriona’s decision to return home to Northern Ireland to work came as a result of visits to her holiday home here.

“We were looking forward to coming home for a holiday, and thought, why don’t we move here?

“It was a totally different environment to when I left.

“I came back in 2006 and have been with Arthur Cox since then. It was the natural destination (for me) and I identified with the brand – very strong, and a heavyweight.”

She joined as partner in the litigation team in 2006, and says at the time felt that the firm “was on cusp of something even better”.

“I became managing partner in February 2016. I really thoroughly enjoy the role. Taking on the title from Alan Taylor, who did an amazing job at growing Arthur Cox – profiling it in Northern Ireland and beyond. I’m continuing to build on that.”

In her time with the firm – which has around 100 staff – it’s undergone year-on-year growth, even through a tougher post-recession climate.

“(There has been) continued growth, and continued development of the client base.”

And she says that her career progression, to the most senior role in her profession, was driven by being immersed in the business and the commercial landscape here.

“It’s particularly enjoyable – you have a lot more exposure to commerce, to other leaders in business and are fully integrated to business community.”

While she says taking over at the helm of Arthur Cox was a natural progression, she’s broken the mould along the way, too – becoming the only female law firm managing partner here.

“I was probably taken aback. It was such a break with tradition,” she says.

“(At Arthur Cox) it didn’t seem like a big step as it’s so egalitarian, but outside it did seem to be. It’s important to know that anyone can make it.”

Regarding her own style, Catriona says you “must be seen to be the leader”.

“… and have to have a clear strategic vision and be able to show that – judgement and integrity, so you can bring people along with you.”

As for the future, and plans for growth, Catriona says: “You never want to stand still. There is always room for growth and development. I think as clients change you have to be able to react.

“In the last 10 years, you can see different waves of the economy, a changing shift to work.

“We have grown year-on-year – understanding and working with the businesses, national and international, and staying close to the needs of our clients.”

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