Barrister, Mediator & International Arbitrator

•  Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in (or a customer of) the legal business?

I was a reluctant lawyer! My first passion was philosophy. I converted to law when my grant for my PhD studies was cut by the local authority after a couple of years (no wonder since the topic was “What is ‘I’: the sources of and influences on the Self Concept?”!) and my family pushed me into a vocational law course. I’m glad they did that! Sometimes, one’s family can know what’s best for you.

•  What do you do for a living right now?

I act for clients in court, mediations and arbitrations as well as sit as arbitrator. I am also an academic teaching law and arbitration.

•  What has been your greatest triumph and your greatest success in the legal services field and what did you learn from each?

In many ways, triumphs and successes in law go hand-in-hand: winning the unwinnable case is usually the highlight of one’s career. For me, the successes have involved my work tangential to my everyday role as lawyer. Through the law, I discovered the plight of most women in the law, even though, it was not admittedly my direct experience. They are, however, still treated as second class citizens. More women with better grades are graduating from law schools around the world than men, but they are not being treated in the same manner as men. What astounded me was that in the institution that I expected would or should be the bastion for equality was one of the worst: the legal profession.

•  Do you think the legal industry is headed in the right direction, the wrong direction – or which direction?

There are so many areas which need ‘fixing’ in the legal profession. One that is dear to my heart is equality of opportunity and equality of treatment for female lawyers. I think the whole society will benefit if we can get this right, industry by industry, starting, at least with the legal profession.

•  Who – or what – inspires you – and why?

Good, ordinary people doing extraordinary things and random acts of kindness.

•  What advice would you give to the younger generation contemplating law as a career?

Remember, a career in the law is not a sprint, but rather is a marathon. Take your time to do it right and always to act ethically. Persevere, persevere, persevere.

•  How ready for change do you think the legal industry is?

Not at all. There needs to be a structural and psychological shift to which lawyers in particular seem to be averse. At the moment some are emus with their heads stuck in the sand. They need to sit up and take stock and look actively for ways of improving the role of more junior lawyers (male and female, ethnic minorities etc) coming up through the ranks. Only a strong pipeline of talent can ensure the continuing success of a profession.

•  Is more – or different – leadership required? In what ways?

Different leadership is required. Male, white senior lawyers need to show the way to becoming champions of change and leading the revolution against unconscious biases. Successful female lawyers need to pull up younger ones by mentoring them and sponsoring them so as to allow them to succeed.

•  How deep do you think will be the inroads of technology in the industry?

Technology will impact the legal profession in a significant way. Technology is another revolution that lawyers are struggling with right now. Many lawyers, for instance, are still wedded to paper when the rest of the world has moved into an advanced digital arena. Courts are beginning to introduce the paperless trial and lawyers are being pushed to adapt.

•  In ten years, do you see an industry much as it is – or do you see new players, new technology and an altered state?

Very much an altered state with augmented realities, virtual meeting and hearings, instantaneous translations in meetings and hearings and artificial intelligence assistants. These aspects, for instance, are already edging into the work of the legal profession. In ten years’ time, the legal profession will be dealing with automation of the kind that the manufacturing industries around the world have become quite used to. Of course, this will mean social upheaval which law firms need to start thinking about now.

•  Are consultants and lawyers looking increasingly similar? Should the distinction continue?

It depends entirely on the service they are professing to provide. One can be simultaneously a legal consultant and a lawyer: that is what I am as a barrister. But a technical (say engineering) consultant should not be providing legal advice – even if the ‘legal’ advice involves elements of engineering. There are obvious reasons for this. Bringing a case or giving advice (especially in the business context) requires the analysis, assessment and application of legal principle to the facts of the situation. The provision of legal advice, for instance, is a highly complex skill which rightly is one attained after years of learning and practice in the law. How it is taught, how practitioners are trained and how they ultimately conduct themselves should remain the preserve of bespoke bodies who best understand that. Those who wish to provide legal advice should, therefore, also be regulated by these bodies. A consultant who provides legal advice can do so if he or she is subject to regulation by one of these bodies. Such a consultant is likely also to be a lawyer!

•  What are your thoughts on the increasing availability of data to guide client-side procurement of legal services?

Everyone needs to be able to assess who to engage for a particular service. Assessment can only occur if there is data available directed towards enabling a reasoned decision. Law is no different. The more difficult thing to work out is the nature of the data that would most help clients – charge out rates are pre-historic and only encourage gouging, cases won can be of ambiguous assistance, profit made may reflect many negative aspects (such as over-charging). The nature of cases conducted and the environment promoted by the leaders of the law firm as well as how lawyers are treated such as with maternity/paternity leave, flexible working etc) and the breadth of lawyers/partners involvement in the community might in the future be the indicators that astute clients look for. After all, who would want to be associated with an organization that treats its employees like slaves, over works them, underpays them and then at the slightest request for accommodation to fit circumstances or needs, gets rid of them?

•  Lawyers have typically regulated to keep non-lawyer investors out but that’s a two-edged sword these days. What are your thoughts?

I think that law and investment or investment in law will grow in many different ways and directions in the future. Some firms have successfully floated on the Stock Exchange and some of these have been law firms which work largely in areas of the law that impact more directly the mum-and-dad type of litigant, such as class actions for negligence. Also, third party litigation and arbitration funding has taken off in jurisdictions such as London, Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong. This type of investor involvement is crucial for continuing and broader access to justice.  Furthermore, non-traditional businesses are now being approved to conduct legal work, such as PwC which now provides legal services as well as accounting services.

•  What’s the one most significant factor that will drive change in your view?

Clients insisting on the change – change that more properly reflects the communities that law firms purportedly serve. An all white, male, legal team is not going to be on the same wavelength for Indian or Chinese clients; a young female Nigerian entrepreneur is not going to have anything in common with an old white male senior partner.  Just as in politics today, how can these lawyers said to ‘represent’ those clients?

•  Are we seeing the demise of the “profession” and the real emergence of the “business” of law?

Yes, to some extent that is true. Successes of law firms are often heralded only in terms of financial prowess. A profession focuses on the provision of services for all under the banner of the rule of law. A business model that focuses on the bottom line alone hinders ‘access to justice’ because those deserving of legal assistance may be shut out if they cannot pay.

•  What do you consider is the greatest challenge facing the industry?

Getting its act together and not getting lost in the proper understanding and realization of its basic purpose. The business model means that hourly and daily charge out rates are getting out of control and lawyers are looking only to the bottom line (chargeable hours) rather than ‘service’. The purpose of a law firm’s existence can be blurred by greed.

•  What do you see as the greatest opportunity for the sector looking forward?

Be the bastion and beacon for good that it can and should be. Lead the way to bring about real change in society.

•  Do you think law can improve its track record on diversity and inclusion? How?

It can and I know it (universally) is trying to do so. There is, however, a long way to go. Diversity and inclusion require changes to take place at every turn, in every environment. They can’t be dealt with in isolation; they require awareness and willingness to change at home, at school, at college, at university, at work, at government levels, in all industries and institutions. It’s a long term goal but everyone needs to pull together. The goal is a worthwhile one because everyone will benefit.

•  Will the current regulatory framework around law help or hinder it in the future

Self-regulation can work if those in the regulating roles are serious about ensuring the integrity of the profession. So, like many areas, its success will depend on the individuals involved in it.

•  Who do you think are the greatest influencers on the industry these days?

Savvy clients with good legal departments. They can bring about change by dictating to the law firms in a way that no one else can. They also provide a much needed reality check on lawyers who may sometimes be accused of wallowing in their ivory towers!

•  If you had to do it all over again, would you? Or what would you do differently?

I would do it again but next time, I would start my own law firm.

•  If a law firm was a startup pitching for investors, would you be an investor?

Possibly – it would depend on how they had structured themselves and which area or areas of the law they were pursuing

Wildcard questions:

•  If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?

I’d be a chat show host like Oprah Winfrey – I’d do it now, if any one asked me!!

•  What would you like to be known for?

My work on unconscious bias and push for equality

•  What would surprise everyone if they knew (they may now).

I’m a Commander in the Naval Reserve!

•  What’s your favorite hobby or activity outside of law?

I love the theatre

•  What’s your favorite sports team?

The All-Blacks for their absolute world dominance in Rugby Union and their athletic and yet elegant play

•  What’s your favorite city?

Rome – for its beauty, its monuments, its history, its food, its wine, its people and its lackadaisical attitude.

•  What’s your favorite food?

Indian and Thai

•  What’s your nickname – and why?

Pooh (as in Winnie-the-Pooh) – it comes from a photograph taken by my father when I was about a year old, sitting on the kitchen table with my head in a bowl of whipped cream that my mother had finished whipping for a cake. Winnie- the- Pooh always had his head in a pot of honey!

Rashda is a commercial & construction/infrastructure lawyer with over 25 years’ experience in the legal profession. She has worked as counsel and arbitrator in a number of international jurisdictions including London, Australia, New York, Paris, Milan, Brazil, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and China and under a variety of institutional and ad hoc rules. She has also held the role of General Counsel for a major global property development and construction company.

She has advised on and conducted major commercial, banking, maritime, insurance, tax, regulatory and construction & infrastructure litigation, arbitration and mediation involving wide ranging issues.

As well as her litigious practice, Rashda has undertaken non-contentious work in drafting, reviewing and settling major project documentation. Her transactional work has included Defence contracts (Class 1 submarines), infrastructure (rail, roads and tunnels), banking and finance  documentation (prospectuses and insurance policies), standard forms such as FIDIC as well as PPP transactional documentation.

Rashda has also been Adjunct Professor of Law at Sydney University Law School, teaching the undergraduate course in international commercial arbitration which she devised and which was the first of its kind in Australia.

Rashda is an active member of a number of significant industry associations, including as current President of ArbitralWomen and a Past President of the Australian Branch of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb). Rashda is Chair of the CIArb Examination Board and has also been responsible for the development of the new CIArb Pathway Courses in Arbitration (Modules 1, 2 and 3).

Rashda is an experienced CEDR accredited mediator and has conducted a large number of mediations concerning a variety of legal issues.  She was recently appointed to the ICSID Panel of Conciliators by the President of the World Bank Group.

Rashda has regularly been recognised for her work, including most recently in:

  • Legal 500 Asia Pacific Rankings 2016 & 2017 (English Bar):
  • Leading Commercial Silk (international arbitration);
  • Leading Construction Silk (international arbitration)
  • Who’s Who Legal Arbitration 2016 & 2017: Leading Lawyer UK BarWho’s Who of Australian Women 2017
  • Australian Women Lawyers as Active Citizens Register 2016