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A day in the life Of...
Zahra Pabani
Zahra Pabani
Partner - Family Law
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A day in the life of ... Sonny Patel
Date:24 OCT 2019
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Partner

What is your position and what do you do on a day-to-day basis?

I am a Partner of the firm and I’m based in Expatriate Law’s new office in Singapore. We advise British expats in respect of English divorce and family law in an international context.
 
With the anchor of our team in London and progressive use of technology we already have many years of experience conducting cases in the English courts for clients all over the world. Our physical presence in Singapore will enable us to develop close working relationships with local lawyers, and provide face to face advice to clients who live in Singapore and across South East Asia.
 
My typical day in Singapore is not so different to a typical working day in London: studying case papers, preparing advice notes and pleadings, client calls and meetings, research and preparing articles, supporting junior members of the team, speaking to third party experts and lawyers in different jurisdictions. However, being 7 hours ahead and working for clients in multiple time zones means that my working day often expands well outside of usual office hours. I am currently working for clients based in London, Kenya, Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore, Brunei and Australia. Working late in Singapore has one pleasant benefit: the view from the 37th Floor as the sun sets and the city lights up.
 

How long have you been in this role and what brought you here?

My training contract and first 8 years PQE were in London. I joined Expatriate Law in 2014 and moved to Dubai to develop and lead our Dubai office. It was a chance to focus entirely on cases with an international dimension. Also, I was attracted by the unusual opportunity of being able to practice English law while living abroad. The new Singapore office is the next phase of the ongoing evolution and expansion of Expatriate Law.
 

Any memorable stories from your career so far?

My first Part III MFPA 1984 case. It was high value, complex and fiercely fought. We were unequivocally successful. The wife was treated appallingly in Dubai. The husband tricked her into signing away her claims in documents which were in Arabic and then made false criminal allegations against her - she was effectively kicked out of the country with nothing. Thanks to Part III, the English courts were able to step in. That case was very much a team effort with Lily Mottahedan and Nigel Dyer QC of 1 Hare Court
 
Testing the scope of Part III following a Singapore order will be an interesting prospect given that the roots of the Singapore legal system lie in English common law. 
 

What is the best and worst part of the day for you?

The best part of any working day is successfully concluding a case and receiving a heartfelt thank you from my clients. The worst part of my day - at the moment - is having to deal politely and constructively with a particular opponent - a litigant in person who is immune to logic and reason.
 

What keeps you motivated?

Every new client who instructs us presents a unique set of facts, circumstances, personal histories and character traits. Every day is interesting and challenging and everything that we do matters. It is an incredible privilege and responsibility when any client places their trust in you to guide them through such a difficult chapter in their lives. 
 

Tea or coffee?

As a northerner, always Yorkshire Tea.
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What would you say to anyone thinking of a career in your field?  

Family law is an endlessly interesting and rewarding specialism, but it can be a stressful. You must work with passion and do your absolute best for your clients, but you must also set boundaries and balance your professional life with family, friends, relaxation and health. To be able to look after your clients well, you have to look after yourself first. 
 
Never compromise your integrity. The label “divorce lawyer” has negative connotations in the wider world, but if the job is done for the right reasons and in the right way, we can be a force for good in the world. Be objective on your client’s behalf at a time when their mind is clouded by emotion. Give holistic advice that looks after their overall best interests, both now and in the future.

 

What song do you listen to the most?

I tend to listen to long form DJ mixes while I work. The right music gets me into the “flow” state of mind, and I can breeze through my written work.
 

Who inspires you within the world of family law?

I have been extremely lucky to have a succession of inspirational mentors, all of whom happen to be female. Linda Hawkes of (what used to be) Fisher Meredith took me under her wing as a junior lawyer and generously shared her years of experience and authoritative insights. Deborah Jeff at Seddons showed me what it means to deliver a first-class service to elite clients and how to identify when it is necessary to take the gloves off and fight. Alexandra Tribe, Managing Partner of Expatriate Law, has inspired me with her compassion, her energy and entrepreneurial vision. I try to synthesise the best lessons from each mentor, while stamping my own personality on how I work.
 

How do you enjoy your time outside of work?

I love to travel. I’ve hiked up a volcano in Bali to watch the sunrise, I’ve cycled in the silent desert surrounding Dubai, I’ve experienced exhilarating downhill mountain biking in Nepal, I’ve travelled the length and breadth of India by train and explored Vietnam by motorbike. Since my son was born this year, life has become more sedate – but a key advantage of living in Singapore is being able to hop over to Bali for long weekends to enjoy the stunning beaches. 
 

What book would you recommend to others?

The book I return to the most is Great Thinkers, a collection of writing by The School of Life Press. It is a distillation of the most important ideas of Eastern and Western Culture across philosophy, political theory, sociology, psychotherapy, art, architecture and literature.   
 

What would be your alternate career?

In an alternate timeline (one where I actually have some creative talent!) I imagine myself as a visionary film director making critically acclaimed films. My favourite directors are Danny Boyle, Denis Villeneuve and Guillermo del Toro
 

If you could change one thing about the family justice system what would it be and why?

Legal aid for family law cases should be reinstated. It’s a disgrace that it was ever taken away. The gap has not been plugged completely with legal services orders and litigation loans are not available if the client lives abroad. Many individuals fall through the cracks and are left to muddle their way through what can be an incredibly complex process, at a time when they are least capable to doing so.
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