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‘The essence of law is to help’

When Malisa Howard set up her firm, she did so in a way that guaranteed time in the week for volunteering activities. Doing such community work, she says, offers greater purpose and perspective for legal-business owners.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 01 April 2021 SME Law
Malisa Howard
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Like many boutique law firm owners, Malisa Howard elected to open her own shop so she could create a better balance between work and life in ways that made sense to her. Nearly five years on, Ms Howard – an avid surfer on Sydney’s Northern Beaches – is running the ever-growing Jaide Law, a practice that primarily focuses on commercial, corporate and property transactions, “and everything in between”.

However, catering to her own needs isn’t all that drives her. Giving back to those less fortunate, she says, is also a non-negotiable aspect of her vocational path.

Speaking recently on The Boutique Lawyer Show, Ms Howard explained that when she started Jaide Law (which, in French, means I help), she wanted to carve out regular time to volunteer – something, she noted, which was ingrained in her at a young age by her mother, who herself was “very big on charitable work”.


“I also realised that, as a lawyer, I have skills and I wanted to utilise those skills to help with causes that I’m passionate about,” she reflected.

Ms Howard identified two causes she was keen to roll up her sleeves for: environmental preservation and protection, and victims of sexual servitude and slavery. Eventually, she started volunteering one day a week with Anti-Slavery Australia – committing herself on an ongoing basis rather than providing ad-hoc work, “because I really wanted to immerse myself in the process”. Her firm also provides services to various charities, including ones focused on environmental matters.

When asked how she manages to undertake such regular community work, on top of managing and growing a still-young business, Ms Howard said that doing such volunteering work is “grounding, and gives you perspective”.

“Dealing with people who have encountered and overcome such hardship, including separation from their families and exploitation, it really puts things in perspective. I’d find that I’d spend the rest of my week focusing on commercial transactions and getting stressed about those things, and then I’d go to the charity and it would be a complete reset. Whilst some of the things that you encounter can be difficult, it motivates you,” she explained.  

She has also found, she added, that there are flow-on professional benefits to doing such work: “Through my charity work, I’ve met and dealt with judges, politicians, industry leaders, international organisations, and countless other amazing individuals.”

“I’m not there looking for opportunities for my own firm – quite the opposite. But it’s an invaluable experience. Helping can give someone a huge amount of purpose,” she mused.

Volunteering commitments, Ms Howard surmised, make her a better lawyer – although ensuring there is time in the day such extracurriculars can sometimes be tricky, she acknowledged.

“A lot of lawyers are really busy and think they don’t have the time. They’re overworked, can hardly find the time for physical exercise and the other things that make them happy. But the benefit I had was that I made myself make the time, and then when it got to the stage where I felt like perhaps I didn’t have enough time, it was already built into my routine. I’d found a way to make it work and could keep it there,” she recounted.

“You do need to actually plan for it. You need to know that [on your chosen days to volunteer] that you’re going to be unavailable for the most part. I’m very lucky that the charity I work for understands that, every now and then, I have to take a call or respond to an email, and there’s no problem with that. But it’s about forward-planning – I structure my week around having that day theoretically blocked off.”

Ms Howard also offered advice for fellow firm owners who might be interested in rolling up their sleeves too, but are concerned about adding to their already-voluminous loads.

“Think about what causes you want to help with. Think about how you want to help with those causes. And think about how to execute it,” she outlined.

“Doing it on an ongoing basis has been good for me, because it’s very easy to just get swept away with the business and then, all of a sudden, two months have passed and you haven’t done anything again. If you can plan something regularly, whether it’s an hour a month or weekly, do what works for you. It doesn’t have to fit a certain mold.”

Lawyers must remember, Ms Howard espoused, that “the essence of the law is to help”, given that they “have an amazing skill set and a unique ability to help others. A lot of lawyers, in my experience, do want to give back. It’s just that they might not know how to, or might not feel that they have the time to be able to”.

“With my charity work, it’s not like I’m driving towards a set destination. I’m just here for the journey and I’m open to where it could take me. I think that, in itself, is exciting,” she concluded.

To listen to the full conversation with Malisa Howard, click below: