Aged just 36, Pavani Reddy is one of few female Asians to manage an international law firm in London. Pavani was born in Andhra Pradesh and at the age of 23 she came to England and became the first and only female managing partner of Zaiwalla & Co Solicitors in 2005.
We caught up with the expert in arbitration to ask her what it is like handling multi-million pound disputes in the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
Tell us about your journey?
I came to England and re-qualified as a solicitor and started my practice with Zaiwalla Solicitors as a trainee and that’s where my journey began. It was all a bit of a challenge, not just culturally and socially but how the law was practiced here, it was all new to me.
The court system here is organised which made it easier to specialise. I decided to go into international arbitration, which is a very big international working field.
What made you want to become a lawyer?
I was first studying to become a company secretary. As a person, I always wanted to be involved in Social Services. My passion was always to become a lawyer, although it is not the preferred career in India. Law was considered a career for people who were not intelligent. It was considered as a not high-end field, but things have changed now. At the time, that is where my passion was and still is.
How did you find it being in a male-dominated career?
Personally, I didn’t face many obstacles. In the beginning, clients would first think that because I am a woman that I would be too ‘naïve’ to handle their cases, but once they saw my work product, they wouldn’t question me.
Thanks to my business partner, Sarosh Zaiwalla, he has been the key mentor in my life. He was the one who gave me my career break. He believes in the one man, one client principle. He did not find much difference in a man or women in the profession. To all the women out there, if they find the right guidance and mentor they will excel as well.
You are one of the first few female Asians to manage an international law firm in London how does that make you feel?
I feel very privileged. The journey has not been easy. It makes me even more motivated to keep up. Makes me feel really proud and only wants me to achieve more in life.
What has been the highlight of your career?
I have dealt with a lot of international cases but the one I handled on my own has been the biggest highlight. I defended the Arbitration involving a £170M claim against Tamil Nadu Electricity Board brought by a power generating company with an American stake holding. It was a challenge because the government was involved and public money but I handled it on my own and we won the arbitration.
I really liked the case and so thankful that the trust was passed onto me. I have also won three London arbitrations for Indian clients’ worth over $10M each. Some of the high profile cases that I has handled were: The ‘Billionaire Divorce’ case of Imerman v Tchenguiz, the Shah v HSBC case which changed the law on the way banks can report suspicions of money laundering and the Haswani v Jivraj case which changed the law on discrimination of arbitrators.
It depends on your experience every case has its own issue and expertise that are required. Your past track record helps as well. If you know you can handle difficult cases, then you will be given that responsibility.
How is it juggling motherhood with your career as an international lawyer?
Sometimes it is hard but I am lucky that I have a very supportive family. My son is 8 years old and is really interested in law. Who knows he might be a lawyer when he grows up. He is keen to ask me what cases I have been doing that day. It is difficult to explain to him, so I simplify it for him as much as I can and so he thinks it’s an easy job.
What advice would you give to him?
I do not want him to force him into a career. Wherever his heart and mind is is all that matters. That is what my parents said to me and I abide by that.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I really want to expand the firm. Our international work is only known amongst big firms. We want to build a firm with good work and good quality service with the same Indian footprint. That’s what we really want to brand into.
What is the best job thing about your job?
It’s the diversity that the firm represents. It’s very multicultural. One day you have clients from Russia and then in the next room you have people from the Middle East and Dubai. It is truly multicultural and its really fascinating walking from one meeting room to another and finding different cultures. We have different departments- Iranian lawyers, Russians, Indians, Canadians, South Africans etc. It is very diverse and that’s what we really want to build- The first multicultural law firm in the city of London.
Would you ever want to start you own firm?
As I am the partner for this firm, I consider this as my own company. My heart and soul is in the firm and I really want to expand the firm.
The plan at the moment is to expand globally. We used to have an office in china but now we have plans to open firms across the world.
Would you like to see more women in law?
Yes of course. There are a lot of opportunities out there so anyone from any multicultural background without any hindrance, we would want to consider them.
What’s the best advice you have ever been given?
Take it easy and when it comes to work just wok diligently and honestly. All your hard work will pay off. That is my philosophy. Whatever you are doing, do it with good mind and heart.
Pavani was awarded the Gold Award for Woman of the Year (Asian Achievers Awards, October 2010) and the Glory of India Award for her outstanding performance in the legal field in January 2012.