AAL: How did you start in the legal industry?
PR: Whilst doing my Bachelors in Delhi, I worked part-time in a big law firm named Orr Dignam & Company and then at a U.S. firm. I quickly developed a real interest in Law and made the decision to move to the UK after finishing my degree.
The legal system in the UK is highly organised and systematic, with a greater emphasis on specialisation – whereas in India lawyers tend to be more general practitioners, though this is now changing. When I moved to England I started working with Zaiwalla & Co and completed my exams to requalify as an English Solicitor. I have been there ever since.
AAL: What were your main motivations to enter the world of law?
PR: Law as a profession is an endless road and I have always been passionate about pushing the limits of learning. Standing up for what I believe in and combatting Injustice in society is also why I became a solicitor. Since I was young I always wanted to try and bring equality to all in our society.
AAL: What it was like becoming the first Asian female managing partner of a city law firm – did you feel any extra pressure to succeed, being a trailblazer in that regard?
PR: I feel very blessed to have gotten to where I am today. The way to break through the glass ceiling is to simply work hard, be diligent, know your industry inside and out, and always be positive in your outlook. I am constantly learning new things about my profession, so in that way, it is always a learning curve for me.
At first, I felt a slight pressure in terms of the stature of the high-level clients that I was dealing with, but I overcame my inhibitions through working hard and developing my legal experience which gave me the confidence to deal with anything, whether a small or large case and client. I am also very fortunate to have the support and ongoing encouragement of our Senior Partner, Mr Sarosh Zaiwalla, who mentored me at every stage of my career. Mr Zaiwalla was the first ever lawyer from India who had set up a law firm in the City of London, establishing the firm in 1980.
It is important to be professional but also to be yourself – that fosters good relationships with your team and clients and ultimately makes you stand out.
I take it as a privilege to be considered a trailblazer, and hope that it might encourage others to join the profession. I now really enjoy mentoring those who are considering law as a career.
AAL: Do you feel the sector is progressing in terms of equality?
PR: It may sound a bit of a cliché, but the best way to overcome any kind of discrimination is to work hard, persevere, know your profession inside and out, and most importantly, never give up. If you are totally focused on your goal it is much easier to cut through any negativity, like water off a ducks back.
The legal environment has changed since I started out in the profession. There are many more female lawyers now, at least in the UK. The issue is how are they managing the legal career along with a family, and whether flexible working, like working from home, is realistic for demanding legal cases. Of the high number of female lawyers, how many are making partner? And how many are dropping out of the profession because it is the only way to have a family?
AAL: What significant steps need to be taken to improve that progress?
PR: I think it boils down to having more support networks in place for women, where they can get guidance and advice from other women who have overcome various obstacles. It is also up to each individual law firm to instigate a code of practice where all of their employees are properly trained in issues relating to equality and inclusivity.
AAL: What personal challenges do you foresee in the future and where do you see your career going from here?
PR: I try to keep a positive outlook for the future. Hopefully there will not be any major personal challenges to face, but if there are I know I can deal with them.
AAL: What’s been the case you are most proud of?
PR: Zaiwalla & Co is known for handling extremely difficult cases, with some of them being featured in UKs top 10 cases over the past three years. It is difficult to choose just one case as each is special for different reasons. If I had to give an answer, I would say the cases I’m most proud of would be Hashwani VS Jivraj and Bank Mellat VS HM Treasury, which were recognised in the UK as two of the most groundbreaking legal cases in the Supreme Court due to the international impact of the judgments we won for our clients – with regards to employment discrimination law in the appointment of arbitrators and the legality of international sanctions law respectfully.
AAL: Any final advice for young women or anyone from an ethnic minority background looking to enter the legal sphere?
PR: Pursuing Law as a profession is like walking along an unending road which is very demanding of your time and energy. It helps if you have a genuine interest in Law, alongside the clients and sector you work in. Having this passion will give you the energy to keep up with all the hard work and dedication required on a day-to-day basis. I have never allowed my thoughts on gender and ethnicity to dwell for too long in relation to forging my career path. As long as you have a clear focus and are willing to invest time and energy, anything can be achieved.