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Business Observer Thursday, Mar. 31, 2022 3 months ago

Balancing act: Young lawyer wants to change the industry's workaholic culture

Attorney Anisha Patel, president-elect of the Florida Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division, discusses the plan for her leadership term. One goal? Help young attorneys become more entrepreneurial.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

Anisha Patel, an associate at Hill Ward Henderson who specializes in commercial litigation, was recently elected president of the Florida Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division (YLD). The 35-year-old immigrant from London boasts an impressive legal resume for someone her age, having been with Hill Ward Henderson for more than seven years and graduating from law school not once, but twice. 

Patel is technically president-elect designate, meaning her term as president won’t begin until June 2024. But she’s already established an ambitious slate of goals to pursue, including improving young attorneys’ work-life balance and financial literacy, which she believes will help reduce burnout and increase retention for law firms. Patel has also been a champion of mental health improvement for her peers, leading the YLD’s #StigmaFreeYLD campaign.

Patel recently spoke to the Business Observer about a wide range of topics, including the challenges of going from the British to American legal system. Edited excerpts: 

‘Being in the unique position of having to do law school twice, I understand the struggles that people face in entering the profession, finding their first opportunity and trying to balance it all.’ Anisha Patel, Florida Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division

Q: Why did you go to law school twice?

A: I was born and raised in London. I did an undergraduate degree in law and then a postgraduate degree in law. I was called to the bar in 2009. At that time, on a post-graduation trip to Florida with some girlfriends, I met my husband, who lives [in Tampa]. We had a long-distance relationship for just shy of two years. In 2010, we got married, and I moved over here to join him. I enrolled at Stetson University College of Law in 2012 and was done in two and half years.

Q: What’s different about the legal profession in the U.K.?

A: In terms of the actual study of the law, it's not that different, because the American legal system is based on British common law. But the one thing that always stuck out to me both as a law student, and even now, is the U.K. doesn’t have a constitution. So I had never really studied constitutional law until I moved here. During my first class at Stetson, we were studying constitutional law, and our professor would throw out a few softball questions everybody knew the answer to, but I just sat there and had no idea what on Earth was going on.

And of course, it’s a lot more ceremonial in London. We have the wigs and the graduation gowns that you wear to court, and so it looks a little bit like Harry Potter.

Q: What prompted you to seek the YLD presidency?

A: When I first moved here, I didn't know anybody in the profession; I didn't have a mentor; I didn't have any resources to tap into. Being in the unique position of having to do law school twice, I understand the struggles people face in entering the profession, finding their first opportunity and trying to balance it all. I hope to use my personal experience to make the profession better for the younger lawyers that follow behind me. I joined the YLD Board of Governors in 2017 … and it has been one of the most fulfilling parts of my career. To have the opportunity to run for the [presidency] and get elected by my peers is very important to me.

Q: Why have you chosen to focus your presidency on quality-of-life issues, such as mentoring, retention and work-life balance?

A: I think the Young Lawyers Division does a great job at providing the skills and tools lawyers need to succeed. But there have been numerous reports and studies addressing the attrition rate within our profession. Many find it’s female and other diverse lawyers who are leaving the profession. One of the recurring reasons experienced female lawyers leave the profession is a lack of business development opportunities, and pay disparities. That shouldn't be an issue in today’s world. I certainly don't want it to be an issue for either my generation of young lawyers or the ones who will follow.

Q: What about financial literacy? What can be done to better equip young lawyers with the business savvy to be entrepreneurial and start their own firms?

A: Starting your own law firm is a whole different set of financial literacy in the sense you have issues such as trust accounting, your obligations to your client and your obligations under the rules of professional conduct. Those are all things young lawyers need to understand, and we can do a lot to help with that. It's going to be really important.

(This story has been updated to clarify that Anisha Patel is president-elect designate of the Young Lawyers Division and that her term as president will begin in June 2024.)

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