Monday, 16 February 2015

Rosanna Chopra




Rosanna Chopra has enlightened me as to how little I know about women’s rights around the world. As a life-long feminist (and a proud mother of a teen feminist, who was the one who introduced me to Emma Watson’s He for She campaign) I really thought I knew better.

Meeting in Dubai over an outstandingly delicious meal in Emirates Towers, (the unlikely lamb and pomegranate dish is manna from heaven!) the subject of Dubai’s women in business came up as Rosanna and I discussed our backgrounds. On hearing that she had spent 4 years in Formula One before switching to law, I commented that her history of being a driven woman (excuse the pun) in a man’s world must have been a useful warm-up lap for working in Dubai. She is very quick to put me straight, speaking enthusiastically about how many more opportunities she has working in a Dubai law firm, compared to the UK.

“The story of women in the law is a particularly interesting one over here. Most people back home in the UK are well aware of how the Dubai legal market has exploded over the last decade and particularly since the establishment of the DIFC [Dubai International Financial Centre, where business and financial transactions and litigation are governed by international, rather than Arabic law]. But the story of Dubai’s women in law doesn’t make headlines as often. Many, like you, assume that women are under a disadvantage doing business here, so it could be a risky career decision to move here. But the opposite is true! Look at the experience of the big law firms: international firms operating in the area have realized that gender is generally not an issue, and have tried to attract as many qualified women as they can.  Clifford Chance, which is the longest running international law firm in the Middle East employs nearly 75% expatriate lawyers in Dubai.  More than half of the office is women, including 17% of their partners.  Norton Rose says that the firm’s female to male ratio in the Middle East is similar to its worldwide ratio of about 55:45.  

“Female lawyers are generally well respected in most circumstances throughout the Middle East legal market.  Sure there remain stigmas, and dealing with Arab business men and Arabic lawyers provides a unique set of challenges, not least because of their faith and their forefathers – but a good brain, an ability to express yourself or articulate your argument well and real reliability will see the playing field level; it will level irrespective of other potential pigeon holes the (legal) community often feel comfortable using.  This could mean (rapid) acceleration in your career that matches your potential as much as your post-qualified experience. There are times when clients may not be used to working with a woman, but it usually only takes some time for them to accept their female representation. 

“The situation for female lawyers in the Middle East has of course been helped by a number of successful lawyers who have made a name for themselves especially the local female lawyers who have been making significant strides.  For example Dubai’s first female assistant prosecutors were sworn in November 2012. There is ongoing proof positive that the UAE is progressing, despite the glass ceiling for female lawyers worldwide.  This is demonstrated by the overwhelming number of female Emiratis seen in the courts on a daily basis, the numbers of female lawyers qualifying out of University in the UAE year on year, the UAE now has female public prosecutors and female judges, and progress will continue, of this there is no doubt – it is the nature of the country and the nature of the people who contribute to its ongoing development.”


Rosanna explained to me precisely how equality for women has been entrenched in Dubai life, in ways that could provide some good models for the West. I won’t give away here the detail of how the Dubai authorities have achieved this, as Rosanna’s thoughts on the matter are about to be published in The Lawyer’s opinion pages. I will of course point you in the direction of her piece once it has published. Suffice to say I was embarrassed about the assumptions I myself had made about her experience and challenges in the Middle East.

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The big surprise of the week was surely former Archbishop Carey stepping in to save Free Speech from the Woolf’s jaws.  Astounding!  In a speech at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf actually said out loud that in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks satirical cartoonists should “exercise self-restraint, particularly in sensitive areas where religion is involved”, so as not to offend Muslims.  The former Archbishop countered that while respect for others was important, “that does not mean we should temper our [satire]”.  And he reminded the Law Lord (astonishing he had to!) that democracy and free speech go to the very heart of our rule of law, and that the freedom to satirise any pillars of authority is, and should remain, vital to that.  
We have Frances Gibb to thank for bringing us the story.  And, surprisingly, Lord Carey to thank as an unlikely defender of Free Speech.  Way to go Arch Bish! 

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Two of Kysen's three Clares (yes I know we sound like an order of nuns - well that's
Kysen for you!) are planning a rare Day Out in Oxford this week. @ClareTpr is a Pinsent alumni and Partner David Isaac who runs the firm's art committee is Chair of Oxford's Museum of Modern Art. Catching up before Christmas at a Pinsents-hosted exhibition of court artist Isobel Williams, David mentioned the excitingly curated Love Is Enough exhibition at MOMA, juxtaposing William Morris and Andy Warhol to highlight the similarities of these two artists working a century apart. I'm a massive fan of both, but each occupy completely different and unconnected places in my mind map. I can't wait to see the exhibition and look at these two familiars with a new appreciation. Innovative curation is an art in itself, don't you think?

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