Breaking barriers and making history

Anusha Singh Wednesday 07th June 2023 06:52 EDT

The Law Society of England and Wales is an autonomous governing organisation for solicitors in England and Wales, the operations of which are driven by the collective interests and needs of its members. Recently, Lubna Shuja made history when she became the first Asian, first Muslim, and seventh female president of the organisation. It has now been 100 years since the first woman qualified as a solicitor in England and Wales.

The 178th person to take the President’s chair, Lubna became a member of the Law Society in 2013 and has been representing the interests of law practitioners since then. She qualified as a solicitor in 1992 and has held the fort as the sole practitioner at Legal Swan Solicitor, a law firm she set up in 2007.  She specialises in professional discipline and regulation, and she adeptly navigates the intricacies of this field. She’s an expert in handling matters related to family law, conveyancing, personal injury claims, wills, probate, and litigation.

Asian Voice reached out to Lubna and chronicled her journey, experiences, future plans, and achievements.

AV: Your appointment as the President of the Law Society was historic. How does your appointment, according to you, affect women and South Asians in the field of law?

As the first Asian, Muslim, and seventh female president of the Law Society, the historical significance of my appointment indicates that although the legal sector has traditionally lacked diversity and inclusion, we are seeing real progress in the sector. However, there is still more to do before we achieve parity in the field. It is for this reason that promoting diversity, social mobility, and social inclusion is a priority for my presidency.

There is no doubt that women, South Asians, and people from underrepresented backgrounds are reshaping the legal space. We are influencing the way the law develops and providing important insight into the solicitor profession. I hope my presidency illuminates the important role that women and South Asian solicitors play in the legal sector and pushes the profession to continue improving diversity.

I also hope that my presidency ultimately encourages women and South Asians to join the profession and tackle any barriers they may face when practising law.


AV: What are some problems you have faced personally and have seen the diaspora, especially the women, face in the law profession over the years? What can be done to tackle the problems that still exist?

Despite the number of inspiring people in law, it has been challenging to find a role model who shares my background and lived experiences. The lack of Asian and Muslim female mentors has been alarming since I began practising law and continues to be a problem for many newly qualified and junior solicitors in the diaspora.

To provide practitioners in the diaspora with role models who can guide their legal journeys, it is critical that we work on improving diversity, social mobility, and social inclusion in the profession. We must better understand the barriers that firms and businesses face when trying to reach and promote diverse candidates. Identifying the challenges facing those seeking to enter and progress through the sector is also important. I have prioritised these efforts in the Law Society’s work and continue to encourage the promotion of diversity and inclusion in the field.

By improving diversity, we can ensure that the next generation of Asian and Muslim female solicitors have role models to choose from.


AV: With your election, what were some of the aims you set for yourself to achieve in your presidency and what steps have you taken to tick them off in the past six months?

As president of the Law Society, it is my job to support solicitors uphold the rule of law, and promote access to justice for all. Since my appointment, I have focused on strengthening the justice system so that it provides a level playing field for everyone, regardless of their background or means. As the UK’s justice system nears the verge of collapse, I have pushed the government to invest in the system to improve court infrastructure, mitigate case delays, and fund legal aid for society’s most vulnerable.

I have also committed my presidency to promote the profession internationally, such as opening India’s legal services sector to UK firms – which was achieved in my presidential term. Protecting the mental well-being of solicitors is very important to me, and the Law Society has provided helpful guidance, networks, webinars, and research to support practitioners and create a healthy, supportive workplace culture.


AV: Immigration and housing issues have been discussed much in the past two weeks. What is your outlook, as a solicitor, on these matters? What are some major problems in the country that need to be addressed?

The cost-of-living crisis and rising interest rates have meant that more families are struggling with their housing costs. This has increased evictions and exacerbated the homelessness crisis in the UK. Access to housing legal aid is vital. It can make the difference between people keeping or losing their homes. The Law Society has called on the government to increase funding for housing legal aid so that society’s most vulnerable can access legal help to stay in their homes.

Immigration has also been a hot topic for solicitors, as the government’s Illegal Migration Bill entails a clear and serious breach of international law. The rule of law is the idea that governments must respect and obey domestic and international laws. The rule of law and justice are at the heart of Britain’s identity and this immigration policy betrays British values by undermining the global rules-based order and damaging the UK’s standing in the international community.


AV: What advice would you give to the young aspiring lawyers in the South Asian community, who want to follow in your footsteps?

My advice to aspiring lawyers in the South Asian community would be to dream big and pursue a legal career that best suits you. Find role models who resonate with you and reach out to them for guidance and mentorship. Do not be discouraged if you feel like you do not immediately fit in. The profession has made strides to improve its inclusivity and there is an urgent movement to support those who are traditionally underrepresented in law. Although there is still much to be done to achieve true parity, I have seen real progress in diversity in the sector during my time as a solicitor. Support one another – only then can we create a profession where everyone feels valued, respected, and safe.

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