Celebrating two years in her own law firm in uMhlanga, attorney Shamla Pather is not leaving her legacy to chance, but rather crafting one which aligns perfectly with her life values. Her mantra? Pay it forward!
Shamla Pather is a highly respected law practitioner specialising in commercial litigation, with a niche commercial client base. In addition to this, she has created a sterling reputation as being one of the leading family lawyers. She has an unusual, even unexpected approach to what she does and, skilled as she is, her primary driving force is her back-story. It’s that which has driven her actions, business ethics and keeps her focused.
Shamla was the only daughter – youngest of four – and grew up in a humble home with little money: “Still,” she smiles, “I was spoilt, because as lacking in formal education and impoverished as my parents were, they did everything to make our world better. They valued education, and the ability to stand on your own feet.”
Shamla considered herself an average scholar, but a brilliant university student: “For me to attend university required enormous sacrifices by my family. That alone was fiercely motivating. For a young Indian girl who, realistically, should have been getting married not studying law, the option of failing did not exist. For me to study, my brother had to give up his studies, which he did without question.”
Shamla worked extremely hard, supported wholeheartedly by her family: “For those four years, my sole job was to study, my mom’s was to take care of me, ensure I was mentally and physically equipped to succeed. The memory of my mom’s caring ways during those years will never leave me; that, together with my dad’s ‘I’ll always make a plan’ attitude, shaped who I am, and how I approach every aspect of life. My then boyfriend, now husband, taught me I could be anything I wanted, and motivated me to work hard and achieve my goals. He still does this today.”
Stepping out into the world – particularly that of law – Shamla found herself unprepared: “This profession is a real character build, and if you are not resilient enough, career breaking. From the very outset, it was tough. I was considered nothing and nobody, and my self-confidence was entirely eroded. I was repeatedly told I wasn’t good enough, until I believed it. It was a form of abuse.” Shamla has been in the industry for 24 years now, and she’s determined a large part of her legacy will be to assist young, hard-working professionals to believe in themselves and their ability to climb the ladder, despite personal and professional impediments. She realised the manipulation and sacrifices she had had to endure, made her stronger.
Shamla is quick to add that the journey wasn’t all negative. She worked for a number of stellar legal firms like Garlicke & Bousfield Inc, and Shepstone & Wylie, companies which not only valued her, but showed it: “These are big, well-oiled machines with good business practices and ethics, and they taught me an enormous amount. Not only did I build solid, respectful, and sincere relationships with them, but lasting ones. I defy anyone who says the big companies haven’t transformed – they have, and gender equality is firmly on their radar. I am proud to say I can call on both these firms for personal and professional assistance with ease and without any reciprocation required.”
Along the way, Shamla found a mentor in an unusual quarter – Jacky Julyan, then a Durban advocate: “She was a formidable woman who allowed me to see my faults, but constantly pointed out my strengths. She took me under her wing, built me up, showed me how to escape toxic business relationships, and told me what an amazing lawyer I was. She was unselfish in her teaching and often stood up for me without hesitation. When you have a strong female role model like that, you know you can fly!”
And she did.
Today, two years into her own practice, Shamla smiles, “I broke from all relationships which were bad for me, and I’ve risen like the Phoenix. I understood it doesn’t matter what people think of you, it only matters what you think of yourself. I have learnt so many lessons along the way, identified abusive business and legal practices, and made sure I’m not that person.”
She opened Shamla Pather Attorneys to cries of ‘What took you so long? You should have done it years ago. We knew you could do it’. The person shouting the loudest was husband and medical doctor, Dan Govender, who had always believed in her ability to open her own practice. She smiles, “He’s always seen something in me that I didn’t see. He made personal and financial sacrifices for me to grow and create my working space. Throughout our 24-year marriage, he has been, and remains, my best friend.
“I may be a small firm in the scheme of things, but I’m a brand that’s recognised both locally and abroad. I’ve made sure I work super hard, inspire and encourage others, and never take unfair advantage of my staff. I’m not an activist for feminism, I’m an activist for treating everyone as human beings. I will not help you because you’re a woman in need – I do it because you’re a human being in need.”
Shamla always asks her staff to read Robin Sharma’s book, Leading Without A Title. “He urges everyone that no matter what you do in life, master it. Street sweeper, cleaner, sister, brother, friend, you name it, be the best you possibly can, and one day, someone will identify you, and you’ll grow.” One of Shamla’s great joys is identifying that person, and helping them on their way up.
She says, “I’ve never forgotten where I came from, or the people who held me up and put me on this path. I can’t give back to my parents, so I give back in their name.” Shamla does pro bono work and contributes to innumerable charities, not just financially, but by rolling up her sleeves and providing meals for 80 elderly people every month. She also gives talks to probono.com on topics such as gender issues, empowerment, abuse, raising your children, the scourge of badly handled social media, labour issues. “My greatest compliment was paid to me by my 19-year-old daughter Jayde who said, ‘Mummy, I want my children raised the way you raised me, as I will know that they will be OK’,” says Shamla.
“I believe strongly in fairness and justice, about integrity, being true to myself, about looking in the mirror and liking the person I am. I want to help and inspire young professionals to be masters of their destiny, to know it’s about what’s inside you, not what you wear. I want to help uplift them.”
That’s why, for Shamla, it’s vital to Pay it Forward.
FOR MORE INFO:
- Umhlanga: 202, 2 Richefond Circle, Ridgeside Office Park, Umhlanga Rocks; 031 003 8971; 082 777 4650
- New Zimbali Office: Suite F04B, Zimbali Wedge Retail Centre, Ballito (opening April 2021)
- firstname.lastname@example.org; www.lawspa.co.za