Its almost as if we are all influenced by similar things and circumstances that lead us to pursue a career in law. One such woman is Maneesha, an Australian lawyer, business owner and human rights advocate.
In this question and answer interview, get to know more about her journey and what keeps her going while trying to achieve her goals.
1. Tell us more about yourself. (Background, age, what you do now)By way of background, I’m a Fijian-Indian-Australian, currently 33 years young andthe Founder and Director of Lexology Lawyers in Brisbane, Australia. To define meanother way, just imagine a not very tall but not very quiet dynamo who equal partscharms her clients and terrifies her opposition.2. How did you go about deciding to pursue a career in law?It’s probably a cliché, trite answer, but when I was in Grade 4, my mother handed meher copy of “To Kill A Mockingbird”. In a country where the rights of an entire classof people were attempted to be taken away, where women were largely discriminatedagainst and where corruption was a sad reality, the idea that one person can trulymake a difference was one that resounded strongly with me. Thus began a lifelonglove affair with the law and being a “crusader of justice”. (I should add that I wasprobably the only Sixth Grader to own a power suit in all of Fiji, because you have the dress the part of course!).3. As an entrepreneur, how did you come up with your business idea? And kindly tellus more about the nature and work done by your business.As someone who has worked in top, mid and small firms, I quickly came to realisethat my way of both doing business and ‘lawyering’ are vastly different to that of BigLaw, or traditional law firms. More and more, clients are less impressed by the dark,serious, oak panelled firms of old, and the practitioners that go with those. Lawyersare essentially service providers, and they need to engage their clients on a morepersonal level. They have to be relatable, and that’s what my firm does – providesmore accessible, easy to understand and high quality legal advice with a reasonablefee structure. Our clients are part of the Lexology Family, and they stay because wetreat them as more than billable units.My firm is a general practice that assists clients with criminal, civil, family anddomestic violence, family law and traffic law issues. We are very active in thecommunity, providing pro-bono legal services by volunteering at community legalcentres, with a specific interest in providing assistance to women.4. What are some of the challenges of being a lawyer and a business owner?Personally, the challenge for me was balancing the administrative side of the businesswith legal practice. As business owner, you simply can’t avoid the day-to-day runningof the business, which is vastly different to lawyering! From marketing, tonetworking, to compliance and ensuring trust accounts are immaculate; there are a lotof “business” demands on a lawyer who owns their own firm. In short, conflictingpriorities.Walking the line between the two is like walking a tightrope in Jimmy Choos (surelysuch a travesty has never occurred, but you get my point.) It can get tricky, because
owning the business can interfere with the business of law, but as with anything, youlearn to juggle both areas as you go along and prioritise one aspect over the other asthe day demands.Having just been through (the horror of) the end of financial year, reporting, auditing,finding pesky receipts, all make it difficult to manage the workload, because at theend of the day, the Principal is responsible for everything to do with the firm, so youhave to check everything. I think the entire process would have been a million timesmore difficult where it not for my second degree in Business. I definitely recommendsome sort of business foundation course before embarking on a journey as a businessowner, because most lawyers would agree that they make for poor business owners.5. In your country, what would you say are some of the barriers across both thebusiness and legal sectors for women?I think one of the most significant barriers is the perspective that women make badbusiness owners and worse lawyers, that they are too emotional, or not aggressiveenough, or not capable enough to do well in these areas, and even if you are, you’ll beleaving to have a few dozen kids anyway.This stops people from hiring/promoting lawyers, and taking them seriously in thebusiness arena. It’s as if society expects us to break out in hysterics during complexcourt cases or during a board meeting (spoiler alert – it never happens.)Further, women are expected to juggle multiple roles (wife/mother/domestic help) aswell as their businesses and careers, while being paid less than their malecounterparts. This juggling act itself, together with a lack of adequate compensationcan be a barrier to women.6. How do you cope with the pressures to succeed as a female lawyer/ woman in law?In one way, there is no pressure from the outside population. The vast majority of thewhite, male population in law in Australia tend to dismiss the brown female who isstill considered short in heels. People assume you’re not going to succeed. (Funnilyenough, I have had many an opponent underestimate me to their detriment – they justassume you’re not a threat.) I have found that women in law have to work three timesas hard to get half the success that men in the profession achieve, simple because oftheir gender.Because of this, there is also enormous pressure that I place on myself to succeed. Ifind that taking the time to unplug from the pressure to succeed and diving into thesimple things, whether reading a book, taking a walk or a phone call to a friend whomakes you laugh so hard you could pee helps ground me and put things intoperspective. At the back of my mind, I frame it like this, “Yes I’m under a lot ofpressure to succeed, but WHY do I want to succeed.” It always brings me back towhat is important (ref. justice crusader above) and helps me cope with the pressure I may be feeling at the time.
I think it’s about finding what works for you. What’s important is that womenacknowledge the enormous pressure that they are under and take steps to ensure thattheir mental health does not suffer, and also that they recognise that thisacknowledgment does not make them weak.7. How do you see your career (whether as an entrepreneur or a lawyer) evolve in thenext five (5) years?In the next five years, ideally Lexology will be able to open its doors internationally,in Fiji and New Zealand. The goal is to also mentor female lawyers who are new tothe legal workforce and equip them to compete in a male dominated profession.Hopefully in the next five years, the business side is less of a trial by fire, and the ten year business plan is tracking nicely.8. What would you say are some of your personal traits that set you apart as a working woman?This is a tough one, but I would say I’m essentially a dreamer with a side of empathy,determination, work ethic and ambition. I had decided early on in life to risk it all fora dream of a firm that was different, and that would let me be my authentic self whiledoing what I love.9. Please provide us with personal and business social media handles for peoplelooking to contact you.www.lexologylawyers.com.au@lexologylawyers@i_am_meesha_p on Instagram10. In closing, anything you’d like to add?In the words of Emma Watson, “women feel like we need permission… We need tolead and change that.” We need to be fearless, back ourselves and back each other, in law, in business, in life.