Saturday, 29th April 2017
VARIETY IS STRENGTH
VARIETY IS A STRENGTH
KAMAL SHAH, SOLICITOR AND PARTNER AT INTERNATIONAL LAW FIRM STEPHENSON HARWOOD
1. You are an international lawyer working in a major law firm. How has your African birth and your Jain culture influenced your practical approach and success in the legal profession?
I was born in Kenya in an Indian family, and a very cosmopolitan town of Mombasa. My background has provided me with a diversity of cultural influences and therefore an understanding and appreciation of different cultures. My firm is an international firm and both Africa and the Indian subcontinent are target markets and I am closely involved in developing both. My background is of clear benefit in my day to day activities when I am dealing with clients from both jurisdictions in terms of understanding how to interact with both cultures. It also means that I am aware of certain festivals, religious events and important dates which clients always appreciate. For example, we have an annual event at my firm to mark Eid and Diwali for those of our clients who observe these religious events, and they have become somewhat of an annual social event which clients really look forward to.
2. Stephenson Harwood is diverse, not just at the bottom, but also at the top. How does it manage to operate harmoniously in spite of the diversity of partners? Or is it a strength?
Diversity is always a strength in any business but to maximise its benefits, there has to be good communication to harness your employees' best skills and backgrounds. Communication is also key to appreciating cultural and religious sensitivities (for example when pitching to a new client in terms of what to avoid and what to focus on). We do this well at Stephenson Harwood but it takes hard work and constant communication between partners.
3. What is your message to other large law firms about their working and leadership culture, and what they need to do to embrace diversity?
Embrace diversity because it's the right thing to do. It is also important to your clients and we are frequently asked by client to provide information on our diversity including gender, religions and cultures which then become a factor when they select their law firms. Diversity of cultures also opens up new markets for you and it doesn't have to be partner who can do this; very often even a junior member of staff has a good contact who can be developed to become an important client.
4. How can different ethical cultures influence the ethics of lawyers?
Lawyers have their own code of conduct and ethics which they have to follow closely, so there is not much more a culture can add in my view. However, what different cultures do is to infuse each lawyer with nuances in terms of how they practice law and their individual approach to client relationships. For example, the Jain religion always teaches hard work and helping others, which in my book is one of the keys to success in any profession, not just the law. Another important lesson my mother taught me is the principle of "see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil" and I still carry a small keepsake from my childhood with three monkeys symbolising this important teaching. The origins of this are in the Japanese culture , but clearly it has infused other cultures for all the right reasons.
Interview by Dr. Atul Shah, Diverse Ethics.
Article added on 6th October 2010 at 6:03pm
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