‘You can't break the system until you recognise what the system is’

‘You can't break the system until you recognise what the system is’

24 November 2021 By Lauren Croft
Sheetal Deo

Recognising the legal system for what it is will be paramount as law firms move forward with increasing diversity targets, according to this principal solicitor.

Canadian-born Sheetal Deo is the founder and principal solicitor of Shakti Legal Solutions – which is nominated in the innovator of the year category at the upcoming Lawyers Weekly Women in Law Awards. She’s also the founder and lead facilitator for The Diversity Collective, an adjunct lecturer at the College of Law, and the state director in Queensland for Out For Australia.

Ms Deo started her career in private practice with a lust for making money but has since become passionate about social impact work and diversity within the profession, which she spoke about recently on The Boutique Lawyer Show.

“I’m forever at a loss to understand why, when we talk about access to justice, we either say the corporations need to have a pro bono program, or we need more funding for CLCs. There’s almost a missing middle when it comes to practitioners in what they could be doing,” she said.

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“Shakti Legal Solutions is my fill in the gap in that space because we work on a pay-what-you-can scale for clients and we work the legal; I think it’s the access to justice report that the Law Council does put out recommendations, and without actually knowing it, a lot of Shakti implements those recommendations because it makes sense, like work with other firms, work with like-minded organisations.”

In terms of her journey within the legal community, Ms Deo said that she’s now able to better recognise what she hopes to gain from the profession and her earlier career moves led her on a path to advocate for more diversity within it.

“You can’t break the system until you recognise what the system is. So, I was a true and true product of the system because I bought into what everyone said the legal profession ought to look like and the steps you need to take in order for that to happen. I had a mental breakdown when I didn’t get a clerkship from the top tiers. I did what I thought I needed to do was get the job, get paid, whatever, and start working your way up,” she said.

“I had a great mentor, and then working with the Queensland Law Society, you really get to see what the legal profession looks like. And this is why the diversity piece became so important to me because I’m in a safe enough space to talk about it.

“And you see the diversity of the legal profession coming through in the next generation, and then I see the statistics of the conferences and who our senior counsellors are, and it’s just not representative. And then you look again at the communities we’re serving, and again, it’s not representative.” 

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As a member of the LGBTQI+ community and a woman of Indian heritage, Ms Deo has used her social media platform to further advocate for diversity in the profession.

“I’ve really grown to understand the power of platforms. So, I leverage whatever platform I’m given access to, and at this stage, I don’t care how I’m getting that platform. And don’t take that out of the context. I want to show that there’s something valuable that people with diverse experiences can contribute that other people with similar experiences will not be able to,” she said.

“That’s the value of diversity, and it consistently baffles me how we still have discussions around why diversity is important, but that’s where we are with the legal profession, and that’s OK. The biggest thing we learn in diversity inclusion work is you have to meet people where they are in their respective journeys. And if that’s where the legal profession is, great, but I’d love to see the profession go beyond that.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Sheetal Deo, click below:

‘You can't break the system until you recognise what the system is’
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