Breaking the glass ceiling

Pavani Reddy, managing partner with the London-based international law firm Zaiwalla & Co Solicitors, talks to BusinessToday about the challenges of being an Asian female lawyer in a predominantly male-dominated and white profession

How did you break into what many consider to be an old boys’ network?

A: It wasn’t easy, I can tell you that much. But the feeling of happiness and achievement you feel once you have succeeded is amazing. I did it the traditional way; through hard work, determination and perseverance. You have to be passionate about the task you take on and you must know the industry you are operating in, inside and out. The legal environment has changed since the time when I had started out in law, now more and more women are freely pursuing a career in law and related fields. It should only get better from here. I also want to reach out to all the women out there and tell them that nothing is unachievable if you set your heart and mind to it.

What are the challenges of being a woman at a senior level within a law firm?

Thankfully, I haven’t encountered too many obstacles, so far. I guess I have had the usual challenges that come with being in a predominantly male dominated environment; namely people not taking you seriously or undermining what you say. Also, at times, people automatically assume that you must not be at a senior level within the firm. I would say though that Sarosh Zaiwalla, the founder of Zaiwalla & Co Solicitors, has been a guiding force and my mentor, and I have learnt so much from him.

Describe a time when you encountered sexism in your career and tell us how you handled it?

I was openly discouraged from pursuing a career in law and was told that it was ‘male territory’. It helped that I had the full support of my parents, which made the whole process smoother, and I was able to deal with any of the low points that happened.

What attracted you to the legal field?

I always had great energy and ability go deep down to the route of problem rather than making an opinion from outside. When I was studying, I always liked to read about contract act and case laws etc which caused me to think that law is my profession.

I was attracted to the legal profession because I am passionate about standing up for what is right and for promoting equality in society.

What kind of support did you get from superiors?

I have been very fortunate in that. I have had great guidance from Sarosh Zaiwalla. He has helped me a lot to master the intricacies of my profession. I very much admire his work ethic, dedication and knowledge of the legal industry. I feel that the support I have received from my peers has greatly helped me to progress and have success in my career.

Currently I head the litigation team at Zaiwalla & Co Solicitors, handling multi-million pound disputes in the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. Recently, I have won many cases for Indian clients worth over US$10mn each. 

What obstacles have you encountered?

I cannot say that I have been through many struggles, but yes, it did require a lot of hard work and dedication to achieve what I have achieved. It can sometimes be a challenge to handle multi-million pound arbitration and litigation matters for clients, including some Fortune 500 companies, but if you remain focused and you thoroughly research your case matter, you can overcome and succeed.

How do you maintain your work-life balance?

I can’t take credit for having any particular secret or winning formula. I simply do the same things that millions of women around the world do to juggle their work and home life. I feel women are very strong and focused when it comes to achieving tasks. I believe women can multi-task well because they know where their priorities lie. I have to say that I have also been blessed with a very loving and supportive family, who make things easier for me.

What has been your proudest moment as a lawyer?

I have several highlights. No two days are ever the same in my profession, and each case is special to me for different reasons.

One of the most recent cases that I am particularly proud of, which received a lot of coverage, was our representation of the Iranian private bank, Bank Mellat. We won the case after successfully challenging the sanctions imposed on the bank by the

European Council as part of the sanctions regime against Iran.

Tell us about Zaiwalla & Co in detail.

Zaiwalla & Co Solicitors has over 30 years’ experience in international commercial arbitration and litigation with a very successful track record, built up with more than 1,000 cases. We have a strong rapport with our clients, who range from international business houses, both private and state owned, to high net-worth individuals.

We provide a bespoke service to each of our clients because we understand that no two cases are the same.

Breaking the glass ceiling
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