Wednesday 8th March 2023 marks International Women’s Day, a day dedicated to celebrating women’s achievements, raising awareness about discrimination, and taking action to drive gender parity.
At Setfords, more than 60 per cent of our consultant lawyers are women, a number above the UK average of 52 per cent. We are proud to offer a place for everyone to achieve success in their legal careers, no matter what that may look like for them. Indeed, many of our female lawyers have joined Setfords because of the freedom it gives them to pursue success. One such lawyer is Ifath Nawaz.
Ifath is a Senior Consultant Solicitor at Setfords, specialising in planning. Here, she discusses her career at Setfords and beyond, and why International Women’s Day is an important occasion to celebrate.
Please give a brief outline of your career and personal journey to date
“At the age of 16, I decided I wanted to become a lawyer, but was frequently told that I was the wrong sex, colour and class and would not make it. Regardless, I persevered and took the first training contract I was offered in a London Borough. In the public sector, there is a wide choice of work and experience and if you are up to it, you are given a lot of responsibility from the outset. After completing my training, I went to work for a district council in Cambridgeshire and was the Interim Head of Legal for a short period very early in my career. I worked in local government for twenty years, specialising in planning and public law, and also had my three children during that time. In 2010 I became a consultant lawyer at a small boutique firm, before joining Setfords in 2016 where my career as a consultant really took off.”
Why did you choose to become a consultant?
“Throughout my career I have focused on work outside of my day job, being one of the founding members of the Association of Muslim Lawyers UK in 1993. This allowed me to undertake work regarding the Rule of Law, right to practise one’s beliefs, legal seminars and roadshows, sitting on various panels like the CPS Local Strategic Partnership in London dealing with hate crimes, Commissioner on two public inquiries by Citizens UK relating to asylum seekers and being part of the Government Taskforce in 2005 at Preventing Extremism Together.
In order to undertake this work, I needed my job to allow me the flexibility to do this work and attend meetings and events when required. I also spent 14 years as a school governor trying to give back to the communities we lived in.”
What is the best thing about Setfords for you?
“The freedom to undertake the work that I want to, the flexibility in the work and the friendships I have developed over the years with fellow consultants and staff.”
Why did you want to become a lawyer?
“The old cliché “the need to make a difference” is true in my case and continues to this day!”
What are your goals for the future?
“To continue to work hard and establish a London Commercial Property team whilst at the same time pursuing my other interests which are also increasing.”
What does International Women’s Day mean to you and why do you think it is an important annual event (assuming you do)?
“I have taken part in events to mark this day for a number of years. The role of women in our societies is critical, and yet still we need to utilise this day to celebrate the achievements, to provide role models, both historic and current, for society and the younger generation. When I started out on my journey in the law, I did not have any role models immediately available to me and was frequently told that I would not make it. It was sheer tenacity, passion and drive that got me here and since qualifying I have not forgotten the journey, the challenges, the supporters, the highs and the lows!”
Are there any women who have inspired you in your career?
“Yes, the first was a friend’s mother who was one of the first black women barristers who took our school assembly when I was 16, and set out her difficult journey to becoming a barrister in a male dominated profession (back in the 80s). She was the reason I marched straight into the career office and announced I wanted to become a lawyer!
I am a huge fan of people who have made a difference both historically and current! This starts with Fatima Al Fihri, who established the world’s first university in Morocco using her inheritance in the 9th century. When I studied her life, I was blown away by the vision that she had at the time to establish an institution that taught subjects like history, theology, astronomy and linguistics.
Noor Inayat Khan is also a very powerful role model for me as she was a British resistance agent based in France during the second world war providing vital services, but was captured and tortured but did not divulge any secrets.
Michelle Obama for just being simply who she is, powerful, sassy, independent and recognised for her own efforts.
Sarah Joseph, a journalist and writer who continues to give back to society and is a role model for millions of us as is Michelle Hussain, BBC Broadcaster, who has done away with many of the stereotypes of Muslim women.
Morag Ellis KC, Barrister at Francis Taylor Building for her excellent work in all areas of public law and for being a friend as well as a colleague.
Suzanne Ornsby KC, again at Francis Taylor Building, for her absolute brilliance and sharpness at her work.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Supreme Court Judge USA who was a leading pioneer of women’s rights.
And, I cannot end this without including Natalia Garcia, Sofia Syed, Farah Khan, Misba Shiekh, Ismet Rawat and Kauser – all women members of the Association of Muslim Lawyers Executive Committee who changed the persona of Muslim women in the legal arena – frankly the list is endless and grows day by day!”
Finally, what advice do you have for female lawyers, particularly those who may be considering consultancy?
“Practising law allows you to participate in many areas of life and be clear on the road you want to tread, let no one distract you and ensure you make friends along the route. Remember always what is the legacy you want to be remembered for. Consultancy is the future, without a doubt!”
Ifath deals with a broad range of town and country planning matters acting for developers, private clients and local authorities. Ifath has worked in both local government and the private sector and has led on town centre regeneration work and major developments. Ifath is also a Roll B Parliamentary Agent having worked on the High Speed 2 project for a number of local authorities. Muslim Women Power List 2010 Listed in the top 20 Most Powerful Muslim Women in the UK of the Commission of Human Rights and Equalities Muslim Women Power List 2010 and nominated for CEDAR’s European Muslim Women of Influence List 2010
Is consultancy for me?
If you want to find out more about becoming a consultant with us, get in touch. We are happy to conduct interviews remotely for suitable, UK-qualified candidates with five or more years’ experience. If you’re a good fit, you’ll be joining a team that was created for lawyers to do their best work.
The next step towards a better way of working…