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Successful lawyers need to deal with people from all walks of life and stay persuasive and calm even when things aren't going their way.
Born in Britain, but raised in India, Oishee Dey says her strong belief in justice and law is what drives her to study relentlessly. In true European fashion, Dey moved out at 18, migrated to a different country, all in the pursuit of law.
From studying abroad, pursuing a law degree, learning to be tough, while listening to victims gory tales while handling a case, Dey has seen tough times at the young age of 23.
She narrates her emotional and professional journey, while giving us the real picture of what it’s like to be a female lawyer.
You went abroad to study law at the young age of 18. Why did you choose to study in a different country at such an early age?
I didn’t decide to study abroad until the end of Class XII. Quite a few of my friends were considering studying abroad, and that made me curious about the possibility of studying law abroad.
While doing my research, I realized that some foreign universities were better ranked and that I could practice law in multiple jurisdictions if I studied in the UK. As this broadened my career options, I chose to study abroad.
Was it a tough decision for you to make?
Emotionally, yes. I was apprehensive about being away from family. I was also sad to be missing the Indian university and hostel experience.
However, I knew what I wanted for my career, and that helped me stick to my decision. I had to sacrifice something for my future.
How did you convince your parents to let you study abroad? (Some parents would be apprehensive, was this the same in your case).
I didn’t have to convince my parents, they were supportive from the very beginning. Although they were worried about me being so far away, they were practical about it.
They emphasized that I was only a plane ride away, which would be the case if I moved to any city for my degree, even in India. In all honesty, I was apprehensive about moving, and my parents gave me the strength to take the plunge.
Could you elaborate on your experience studying abroad?
My experience abroad was mostly positive. Since I studied in an English-speaking country, there was no language barrier. Adjusting to a new social setting and method of studying was more difficult and took time.
I was lucky to meet supportive people right at the beginning of my first year through the university’s orientation days and freshers fair. Having friends, particularly other international students going through the same process, helped with settling in.
Do you have any advice for young women who want to study abroad?
The two things that I would stress upon are:
What motivated you to pursue a degree in law?
My initial interest was as a result of media — books and TV shows. It was also a result of analysing which subjects and extracurriculars I liked in school.
I had always enjoyed languages and was the debate captain of my school team. Both of these together made law the obvious choice for me, even though I studied both maths and biology in class 12.
Which area do you specialize in? Why did you choose it?
I specialize in International law. I was first introduced to ‘International Law’ through the Harvard Model United Nations, in which I participated in as a school student.
That inspired me to study law at university, and the passion continued. I was lucky to have short work experiences at Red Cross Geneva and exposure at the British Council Youth Leaders Conference.
For me, these experiences confirmed that this was and is the area I wanted to work in.
The film industry has glamourised and made the role of a lawyer reductive. Many are under the impression that lawyers just memorize the law, yell and argue in court. Could you elaborate further on what a lawyer does?
I would say that there are elements of what TV lawyers do present in a lawyer’s day-to day job. However, it is not as dramatic as shown in the media. Lots of cases settle out of court, and legal teams work hard to ensure that any litigation is free from surprises.
So, no ‘surprise witnesses’ or evidence appear in court in the last minute. The aspect of memorization — is really over-emphasised as well.
In real life, a lawyer’s job is more of researching the law when a new problem arises, and then applying the law to the facts.
Most lawyers would not be able to recite most of the law they use — other than the really commonly applied parts! As for arguing in court-that definitely happens — but no yelling!
Judges are very strict about maintaining professional behaviour.
Does a lawyer have to be tough, with steel nerves, and decisive like they are portrayed, or is it just a fictionalized version of what lawyers are actually like?
From my experience, lawyers do need to be tough and decisive. It’s also useful if you’re not nervous in front of people or suddenly put on the spot. Successful lawyers need to deal with people from all walks of life and stay persuasive and calm even when things aren’t going their way.
The work is quite stressful, and while most people in the legal profession aren’t as dramatic as their fictionalized portrayals — they definitely meet the description of; tough, decisive and quick on their feet.
I will add a caveat, though — this is what ‘lawyers’ are like while working. Socially, we’re a fun-loving bunch and love a laugh.
What is the toughest part of your job?
The toughest part is having clients that you cannot help despite your best efforts. There are often cases where you want to help — particularly in areas of family and criminal law, but the evidence or the law is just not on your side.
In such cases, it is best to tell the client honestly what their chances are. However, this is often emotionally taxing.
Listening to the problems of your clients and learning their situations may affect you, and your perception of the world. Does it make you feel overwhelmed? How do you manage to remain emotionally stable?
Listening to problems and troubling situations is the hardest part of the job. As a lawyer, you can’t let emotion cloud your judgment of the case or let in influence the advice you give your clients.
Having to remain stoic and calm while listening to horrific tales of trauma and grief takes an emotional toll.
When I was working pro bono for a family law clinic, each case left me drained. There is very little that can be done about this, since it is the nature of the job.
People working in the areas of family and criminal law get used to dealing with this simply through facing it every day.
It is also important to have a wind-down routine after a work day — this could be anything: watching a TV show, going for a run or pursuing a hobby.
Doing this after work helps clear my mind and leaves me emotionally more stable for the rest of the day.
Law requires you to do heavy reading and research; do you have time to relax and unwind? How do you obtain the perfect work – life balance?
It is very difficult to maintain a work-life balance. Particularly as a junior lawyer. In all honesty, it is not feasible to have as much of a social life as many in other professions do.
But it is important to take basic steps like taking time off, once an important case has been concluded. I also find it good to have a hobby that is low effort and can be done at home, like painting, reading or listening to music.
Building a routine that incorporates doing something you love everyday helps maintain good mental health, even if you only have 30 minutes a day for your hobby. So don’t neglect it.
Personally, I make sure to do a short home workout (30-40 min) and spend about 30 minutes on recreational activities. Though this is only an hour – it gives me breathing space when work is very demanding.
What are you doing right now? Could you tell us about your job?
I am currently a caseworker at the Ministry of Justice in the United Kingdom. My role involves looking over applications made by defendants in criminal cases and deciding if they should be given free legal advice and representation.
To decide, I look at the legal aspect of their case and investigate their finances.
What are your future goals and plans?
I will be starting a new role in September 2023, as pupil barrister. Since I enjoyed the court advocacy aspect of being a lawyer, I knew that the Bar was the right route for me.
I am therefore looking forward to starting my career at the Bar soon. In the long term, I hope to pass the Indian Bar exam and qualify to practice in India, as I would like to move back home.
Do you have any advice for women who wish to pursue a degree in law, either in India or abroad?
My advice would be to research what works for their long term career and then plan accordingly. Law is a fulfilling career and there are many areas to practice in. In terms of deciding whether to study in India or abroad — neither is better than the other.
The decision should be based on what type of career you want. While law is still a male-dominated industry around the world, determined women can carve a path for themselves.
So go for it! It is very fulfilling!
Image source: Courtesy: Oishee Dey, Rosspetukhov, Studiocasper via Getty Images and Signature, free on Canva Pro
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