We must ‘start thinking beyond’ traditional ideologies

We must ‘start thinking beyond’ traditional ideologies

25 November 2021 By Lauren Croft
Manmeet Kaur Verma

Understanding people’s different identities will be “crucial” in a post-pandemic world, according to one principal solicitor.  

Manmeet Kaur Verma is the principal solicitor of Melbourne-based firm Regal Lawyers and said that particularly after a turbulent 18 months, the legal industry needs to continue to move forward. 

Speaking recently on the Boutique Lawyers Show, Ms Kaur Verma reflected on her journey to opening her own firm and why she values the concept of intersectionality in law, as well as why it forms the basis of her advocacy as a lawyer. 

Ms Kaur Verma started her career as a paralegal at a small firm in Melbourne before establishing Regal Lawyers fairly early on in her career – and said she spotted a gap in the market in how other law firms were delivering legal services.

Advertisement
Advertisement

“When I look back at it, my advice would be not to really think that there’s a typical path that you must follow,” she said. 

“I think you can create your own, and often, when you’re denied opportunities, you tend to create your own opportunities. So, have the courage and be brave enough to do that. I think that’s my experience so far anyway.”

Having worked in slightly larger firms previously, being confined to one area of law or a specific hierarchy culture wasn’t something Ms Kaur Verma wanted from her legal career.

“Because I got this job really early on as a paralegal, I could see what the environment was like within the law firm. And although the law firm was quite small, all of the practice managers and everyone had worked at top-tier firms, so it was the same mentality. 

“At times, I didn’t really agree with the way things were done, just basic stuff like paralegals couldn’t hang out with lawyers. There’s this strict divide. There’s this hierarchy. That’s not the culture we have at our firm. Where we are, everyone’s on the same hierarchy. Someone that works as a paralegal, the same expectations as they are for me. It’s no different. It has to be equal,” she said. 

SPONSORED CONTENT

“If you’re put into property law, that’s all you do. You don’t do commercial law. Or, if you’re in commercial law, you don’t do family law. If you’re in family law, you don’t do litigation. You’re not really allowed to go from one area of law to another area of law. It’s just fixed in one spot, which I found a little bit difficult, especially when you’re so young in your legal career.”

Oftentimes, firms deny the opportunity for younger lawyers to try their hand at different areas of law, Ms Kaur Verma added.

“That was something that I felt as a paralegal even. I was generally just put into one department and said, ‘Well, that’s where you work. You’re not allowed to try other areas of law.’ So that’s one of the things that I felt was difficult,” she explained. 

“But then I worked with a sole trading lawyer; that really opened my eyes because he was doing pretty much everything because he’s working on his own – a little bit of everything. But that really gave me the sense that if I were to form my own firm, then I could choose what I want to practise.”

In terms of intersectionality, Ms Kaur Verma said that it’s one of the more uncommon phrases within the profession – but it shouldn’t be. 

“We’re not taught that at school, and we don’t really learn much about it. But yeah, for those unfamiliar with the term, in a really simplified form, what it means is that we all have several multiple identities, so our gender, our religion, our race, our culture, our socioeconomic status. So, we have multiple identities, but when they intersect at a point, as a result of that, we all have unique experiences, and then, often, our legal system doesn’t address that,” she said. 

“A really basic example is we have a legislation, for example, the Discrimination Act, or whatever that may be, and there may be two or three different people that have experienced discrimination. What we tend to do generally in law is we will look at that legislation, we’ll look at the case, and we’ll automatically in this procedural mindset that we’ve taught at school, that these are the elements, these are the facts, and we just fit them all in, and then you’ve got this standardised outcome.

“But what intersectionality says is we need to look beyond that. We need to say, ‘Well, this person, because of his race, because of his culture, because of the intersection of all of these identities, has made certain choices and, as a result, landed in this particular position’,” Ms Kaur Verma added. 

“And if X is the outcome of that dispute, he’s going to have these consequences because of his identities. It’s not as simple as you give a standard remedy that applies to all. It’s not as simple as that. We’ve got to go beyond that and dig further and try to understand our clients.”

Having this intersectional lens in the legal world is “crucial” in a post-pandemic world, according to Ms Kaur Verma. 

“We can’t go on practising law the way we used to when the profession was first formed and when it used to be associated with these upper-class elite graduates from Ivy League colleges. That’s not where we are now. We really need to embrace that change, and we really need to start thinking beyond those ideologies,” she said. 

“I think the legal profession now, certainly is one that should focus upon peace and dignity and integrity. And most importantly, it’s about social impact. We are in such a privileged position to be able to deliver, and that’s the way we need to think. It’s not about filling our pockets of fame or the prestige of calling oneself a lawyer. It’s really about what impact can you create? Once we have that sort of mindset, I think adopting an intersectional lens will be a lot easier.”

Whilst this mindset may be more difficult for more traditional law firms, Ms Kaur Verma has hope that more and more of the profession will start to adopt an intersectional agenda moving forward. 

“I think it’s difficult when there are generations and generations of lawyers: if you’re doing things the way your father has done; your father’s doing things the way your grandfather’s done. So, I think it is difficult when you’ve got generations and legacies left that, ‘This is the way we practise law’,” she said. 

“There is certainly going to be resistance, but I’m hopeful that we can. And definitely, it’s not really a matter of, ‘Can we bring about this change?’ We can, but it’s just about how quickly can we? I’m hopeful that while I’m still a lawyer, we’ll see this really new trend towards an intersectional agenda in the legal profession.”

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

 

We must ‘start thinking beyond’ traditional ideologies
Intro image
lawyersweekly logo