Goodbye job applications, hello dream career
Seize control of your career and design the future you deserve with LW career

Go above and beyond, and pay it forward: How to advocate for yourself and others

Lawyers are in a powerful position to use their platform for social change, according to this senior lawyer.

user iconMalavika Santhebennur 21 November 2023 Big Law
expand image

Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre’s (AUSTRAC) Sara Rafiee – who migrated to Australia with her family from Iran at age 15 – is passionate about human rights, women’s rights, minority rights, and social justice issues.

Ahead of the Women in Law Forum 2023, she urged women to use their position in the legal profession to find an issue they are passionate about outside their job, challenge the status quo, and advocate for change.

Her comments preceded the forum, where she and a panel of speakers will discuss how to empower the next generation of women in law, the power of networking and collaboration, and why self-advocacy is vital.


For the past 15 years, she said she has volunteered at non-profit organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to advocate for these causes, particularly in relation to human rights violations in Iran.

“Go above and beyond in your job,” Ms Rafiee told Lawyers Weekly.

“Cold call and email various organisations that you would like to volunteer at or work for. Always put your hand up for opportunities that come your way and create your own opportunities. Get involved in various committees and sub-committees run by groups like the Law Society that align with your passion.”

Ms Rafiee has undertaken many projects with various NGOs and human rights organisations in an effort to “pay it forward”, she said.

Some of this work includes:

  • Undertaking research and drafting submissions for the purpose of preparing a shadow Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). These reports focused on various human rights violations, including discrimination against women and various ethnic and religious minorities.
  • Undertaking research and assisting with publications on the 1980s massacres and involuntary enforced disappearance in the hands of the Islamic Republic regime in Iran.
  • Undertaking research and drafting numerous letters, petitions and submissions for labour rights and minority rights activists.
  • Appearing before the Australian Senate to give evidence on the various arms and avenues open to the Australian government in dealing with human rights abuses by the Islamic Republic regime in Iran.
“I have initiated and led various grassroots campaigns on human rights issues in Iran by drafting template emails and letters imploring both the Australian government and the relevant international human rights organisations to stand up against impunity,” Ms Rafiee said.

In September 2022, she helped co-found an advocacy group in Australia to advocate on behalf of people in Iran.

Her work included drafting numerous letters and petitions, undertaking efforts to arrange for political sponsorship for Iranians at serious risk of execution, and meeting politicians and ministers as part of her advocacy work.

Be your own advocate

As well as advocating for others, Ms Rafiee said she is a firm believer that female lawyers must advocate for themselves to combat challenges like sexism, racism, elitism, and classism and thrive in their profession.

“If you don’t self-advocate, you will get overlooked and not taken seriously,” she warned.

“If you want to succeed and be in the profession long term, you have consistently push yourself harder to climb the ladder and be taken seriously.”

As an immigrant and with English as her second language, Ms Rafiee faced “multifaceted” challenges, particularly at university, where many students were from an Anglo-Saxon background with connections in the legal industry.

“I was viewed as an outsider, and not many students were willing to include me in their tight-knit circles,” Ms Rafiee said.

“I observed similar patterns when entering the legal profession.”

At the beginning of her career, she worked in male-dominated legal industries such as construction, insolvency, and insurance, where she had to overcome sexism, racism, and elitism.

“I overcame these barriers by working twice as hard and being twice as good at my job to stand out from my colleagues and be taken seriously,” she said.

“I also developed a thick skin and became mentally resilient.”

She encouraged other women to do the same, along with challenging the status quo.

“You have to stand up for yourself when you feel like you’re being overlooked or treated unfairly or disrespectfully,” Ms Rafiee insisted.

“You have to be your number one advocate.”

To hear more about Sara Rafiee’s journey to becoming a lawyer and her advocacy work, come along to the Women in Law Forum 2023.

It will be held on Thursday, 23 November, at Crown Melbourne.

Click here to buy tickets and don’t miss out!

For more information, including agenda and speakers, click here.

You need to be a member to post comments. Become a member for free today!