AJS South Africa

Women in Law

The Women of Livingston Leandy

When sitting down with Subashnee Moodley (managing director and chair of Livingston Leandy (LLI)) and Anisa Govender (director and head of the Shipping and Maritime Law department), one truly understands the meaning of what it is to have character.

Not developed by chance, but from sheer determination, passion, and effort.

It was Helen Keller that said –

Character cannot be developed on ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

It was also Francis Drake that was quoted as saying –

Great things have small beginnings.

In this case, it is hard to know which quote applies more.

Both Subashnee and Anisa are women of strong, immense character. Characters that were the result of humble, small beginnings.

And yet, both women have a bright light that shines from within them. That light is passion for what they do and a determination to push both themselves and the women around them forward and upward.

The Women in Law series, at its core, is recognising the achievements of women who are doing remarkable things in the legal profession. At the recent WOZA Awards, Anisa won the award for Best in Maritime, Shipping & Environmental Law and Livingston Leandy (as a firm), jointly won the award for Best South African Law Firm with Six Female Lawyers or More (in the transformation category).

And whilst these are amazing achievements, the awards are not the things that struck us the most about these women.

It is their characters. Who they are. And that is what has left an indelible mark.

They may have started from small, humble beginnings but wonderful things have already been accomplished by these incredible women.

Something we wager will continue long into the future.

The humble lawyers

Looking back on the beginning of her career, Anisa can reflect openly about the trials she faced and how it helped her become who she is today –

Looking back, I am now able to reframe the past. I realise that every step I took was a learning curve and a steppingstone to where I am now.

It was only at the age of around 17 that I lived in a “block house”. Prior to that, my family and I lived in a wood and iron house. Our bathroom was outside. You could say that finances were a real problem. We really struggled as a family, and I didn’t think I would be able to study, let alone study law. It was only due to the support of my father and his determination to see me succeed that I eventually went to university. People look at me now, a director of a law firm, and assume that I have a “privileged position”. In a way, it has been difficult to relate where I am now to where I came from, because they are worlds apart.

Ultimately, looking back on one’s past means taking a dual view. Some of it was difficult but those are also the things that shape you into the person you are today. And I can now say that I am grateful for every difficult situation I faced. Because those situations showed me both what I wanted to be and also what I did not want to be.

A humble beginning does not mean you are doomed to remain where you are. No matter where you hail from, with enough hope, with enough determination and with enough passion for what you do, you can accomplish anything. And that is clear from Anisa’s journey.

For Subashnee, studying was always going to be a part of her life. She knew from a very young age that she wanted to be a lawyer – she could already imagine herself doing it. But she didn’t know how it was going to happen. Like Anisa, Subashnee came from very humble beginnings.

But she knew that she wanted more out of life –

Going to university meant standing in long queues for NSFAS funding as my parents could only afford fees for one year of studies. During my time at university, I relied solely on public transport and lift clubs.

At university, I felt like I was on the back foot. Suddenly I was with hundreds of other students who all had computers, laptops, and their own cars. And all I had was an old second-hand typewriter. I immediately felt like I was a few steps behind everyone else. How could I compete?

But I had no choice. I had to make it happen. And this is where hope is important. Because despite all the prejudices and inequalities around you, and irrespective of where you come from, you can turn your life around.

I was so determined to change the course of my life that everything else faded into the background. This has, in turn, changed the road for my own children and for future generations.

Hope together with an immense hunger to make things happen have been key for both Subashnee and Anisa to push themselves forward. And this is very evident in both of their careers thus far.

Subashnee not only interned at the Constitutional Court under Justice Madala straight out of university but she also went on to become a director at LLI early in her career, moving swiftly on to sit on the executive committee and finally in 2017 accepting her appointment as managing director – the first female managing director of the firm in 134 years.

The significance of Subashnee’s appointment is close to the hearts of everyone at LLI. As a law firm that is 134 years old, change is something that doesn’t happen all too often. Change from within is rare.

Transforming a firm that has established beliefs, values, and ways of doing things and moulding it into something new and truly inclusive is a completely different ballgame.

LLI is extremely proud of its transformation process and the way the firm has remained innovative and relevant.

Part of the change at the firm means embracing a balanced lifestyle where professionals with families are both supported and encouraged.

Real transformation

Traditionally, women are seen as caretakers of a family. Education and careers are not always top priority, especially when finances are tough. But both Subashnee and Anisa not only wanted more for their lives but expected more for themselves.

And this idea of wanting more and pushing themselves forward has reaped rewards at LLI, a firm that has moved away from outdated traditions and has embraced inclusion. Real inclusion – not just filling a quota of women or people of colour on their board.

Instead, everyone at LLI holds their positions due to their capabilities and accomplishments. Every single person has earned their seat at the table. And Subashnee holds immense pride in this. Because this is where real transformation can be seen.

No compromises

Having to compromise between family life and a career is no longer a decision anyone needs to make. Especially at LLI.

For both Subashnee and Anisa compromising between their roles of wife and mother versus legal professional was not an option. As Subashnee points out –

It is possible to have it all. It is possible to have a very fulfilling professional life but at the same time have a quality family life. You can be a wife, mother and legal professional. There is no need to choose between those roles. They can all exist in harmony.”

Everyone within the team at LLI feels the same way –

  • They all enjoy the same approach to work and the same desire for a real work life balance;
  • They all have a shared desire to be more than just a job title;
  • They all have wholeheartedly embraced a nurturing, caring approach to the practise of law; and
  • They all understand the importance of both physical and mental well-being.

This approach to practising law comes from the very top – it is truly entrenched within LLI’s culture.

Representation of women

While LLI is at the forefront of real transformation, with a female managing director at the helm – both women recognise that there is still a lot of work to be done where the representation of women is concerned. Generally.

Women need to be encouraged to go for the senior positions. Women need to be empowered to sit on boards and be involved in the discussions where key decisions are being made. But, having said that, and despite the gender inequalities and prejudices faced by women on a daily basis, it is up to women themselves to change this narrative.

As aptly put by Anisa –

Women need to be the authors of their own change.

Women need to stand up and take responsibility for their own fates. They need to lean in and put themselves forward, put themselves out there, put themselves in the positions they want to be in. No matter how difficult the road may be to get there. Because the fight for equality comes down to women.

As echoed by both Subashnee and Anisa –

Don’t stand still waiting for things to change. Change the world around you instead.

Education is key in this respect. Educating women on what is actually possible and what is out there. There are opportunities for women in law. Specialist areas of practise as an example – something Anisa has intimate knowledge of (practising in Shipping and Maritime Law).

Setting yourself apart is key. Taking a chance on something different, something specialist that makes you stand out. Anisa advises all women within the legal profession to discover who they want to be as a legal professional, not simply settling for the status quo.

As members of the 30% Club (the Mission of which is to have “at least 30% representation of all women on all boards and C-suites globally”), empowering women is very close to Subashnee and Anisa’s hearts. However, they both recognise that whilst empowering women is critical in any environment, it is just as important to ensure that you have a team that is diverse and inclusive in every respect.

Their biggest lesson so far

For Subashnee it has been about discovering the importance of authenticity –

Be exactly who you are. Be true to yourself. Don’t change who you are to fit into a mould. There is only one of you. And you are different to every other person you come across. There is no point in trying to fit in. Just be your authentic self.

Whilst Anisa echoes Subashnee’s advice, she adds –

Don’t fall prey to imposter syndrome. Don’t compare yourself to others thinking that you are not good enough. Instead recognise that everyone goes through difficulties. It is how you pull yourself out of those difficulties that defines your character. And when you do that, you will never doubt yourself again.

Both ladies also left us with these pearls of wisdom –

  • Remember to enjoy balance within your life.
  • Remember what you are capable of.
  • Empowerment is up to you – take the reins and empower yourself. If you are not invited to sit at a particular table, create your own!
  • As with “the old boys club”, women also have a unique sisterhood that celebrates and supports each other. And therein lies true strength.
  • Being a woman is not something that should hold you back. Being a women should be seen as a superpower.

AJS is immensely proud to not only be providers of legal tech solutions to, but also be true business partners of Livingston Leandy. A firm with strong yet genuine women (and indeed, male champions of change).

Women that remember their humble beginnings but also look ahead with grace and an unwavering determination to succeed.

Women that are proud to be women.

Women that are proud to be women in law

– Written by Alicia Koch on behalf of AJS

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