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Rupa Lakha: Lessons learned from a global pandemic

Entrepreneurs 07-05-2020

Partner at Charles Russell Speechlys, Rupa Lakha, speaks to Nima Suchak on how the current climate has highlighted how to work smarter, prioritise wellbeing and be adaptable in the pursuit of success

“The importance of promoting wellbeing and health has been on the agenda for years. But there has always been a bit of a dilemma—how do businesses enable that without compromising the health of the business? And yet, here we are.”

I’m speaking to Rupa Lakha, Partner at law firm Charles Russell Speechlys LLP, as she takes her daily walk around the leafy London suburb she lives in. Like most of the country, the City lawyer is working from home in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are hostages to this pandemic, working from home, and it is clear that ultimately, wellbeing and health trumps everything,” she says. “The world has reacted to this virus to say that, without even knowing the ultimate price tag – although we know it will be a debt that will need to be repaid by future generations, we will undertake these unprecedented measures because we’ve decided that when faced with the ultimatum, we would rather pay financially than lose our wellbeing or the wellbeing of our loved ones. This is a huge lesson.”

“I think a future challenge when life seeks to return to ‘normal’ will be to balance continued wellbeing – have that daily exercise, eat a family meal – whilst enabling our businesses and the economy to thrive. We will need to continue to work differently and we will need to work smarter. Trying to address this will be very difficult as everyone readjusts to whatever life looks like at that stage, but if we can achieve that, it would be the most rewarding thing.”

A Partner at Charles Russell Speechlys LLP, Rupa advises on a variety of construction projects—hotels, commercial offices, large residential schemes, and other forms of infrastructure. She is involved in the firm’s training programme for trainee solicitors, and also leads on the India Desk.

Driven by mental stimulation, law was a natural choice for Rupa. “I’ve always loved problem solving,” she says. “I really enjoyed debating when I was at school – my father said that I loved to argue! So I’m known to love to argue good points, and occasionally bad points,” she laughs.

“There was a natural inclination towards law because I wanted something that was mentally challenging…where I could work under pressure, because that is what I do well.”

While Rupa always knew she wanted to be a lawyer, her passion for English Literature created the perfect stepping stone.

“I always say do what you’re good at and what you love. At school I would never be seen without a copy of Jane Eyre—I carried it around like a Bible. Analytical skills, use of language, being articulate and mental stimulation…all skills of a good lawyer, I found in English Literature. I therefore read English Literature and Language at university, doing what excited me, and then did the law conversion course.

“I found, to my relief, that when actually studying law, I enjoyed it. And yet, the academic study of the subject is completely different to the day-to-day practice of being a lawyer. My 20-something-year-old self at law school could never have imagined a typical day as a City Lawyer! What I hoped for however, was a career rather than a job which is intellectually stimulating, where I’m challenged, and get to work with people. My career thus far has definitely ticked these boxes and more. I never wanted to be someone to just drift along. My dad used to tell me to slow down, to calm down. Yet, it’s not within me. So I guess that put me in good stead for having chosen this career.”

Rupa started her training contract in 2002 with Speechly Bircham, which merged with Charles Russell in November 2014, to become Charles Russell Speechlys LLP. “The firm and I have both evolved massively over the years. Neither of us are who we were in 2002. I have grown older and wiser; my personal growth and the growth of the firm have been organically intertwined. We’ve had a connected journey. It has been wonderful that I’ve managed to achieve that growth without having to go elsewhere.”

Commended for her work and expertise, Rupa has been ranked in The Legal 500 ‘Next Generation Lawyers’, and was recently recognised as a future leader in ‘Who’s Who Legal 2020’ and named in the ‘most highly regarded’ category.

Rupa leads on the development of the firm’s dedicated India Desk which coordinates its offering for British Asian and Indian clients.

“We are an International firm. A mid-sized City Law firm that deals with traditional City law firm activities but adds to that a leading capability in Private Wealth. Whilst we understand our clients’ businesses, we understand our clients as people. This combination, I think, has a major part to play in the growing success of the firm.

“The India Desk is very exciting and, as a second generation British Asian, it has a special significance for me. The India Desk is a slight misnomer as it covers a span of activity both domestically in the UK and abroad in India.

“India – well, however you look at it – as an emerging superpower, the increased collaboration with the Indian legal market, trade relations post Brexit – the progression of the India Desk in this environment presents a hugely interesting (yet challenging) opportunity.

“But even in the UK- we advise a number of successful British Asians whose personal and business needs require complex legal advice relating to both domestic and international matters that may not have been the case a generation ago. Times have changed; clients require access to an advisor to address these issues and the India Desk effectively acts as a gateway to the services of the rest of the firm so that those needs can be met.”

I ask Rupa how she has managed to achieve her goals, personally and professionally.

“I like to be me. If you want to do something well and stick to it long term, you can’t fake it. Being a Partner in a City law firm is a very demanding job and you have to give it your all. Pretending to be something that you’re not is not sustainable. I love the fact that I can bring my whole self to work. I’ve been dancing and performing since I was three, and still teach a weekly dance fitness class. I’m able to share that freely at work without fear that I will be criticised for not being dedicated enough. In fact, I have in the lockdown done a virtual fitness class for my team! That is not something I had anticipated being on the agenda!”

“My dad was a self-made businessman. He worked seven days a week until the day he passed away. His vision, his humility, his drive and his generosity have been inspirational for me, and are fully embedded to my core. It is these principles that I strive to further daily – as a lawyer, a mother, and as a friend.

“I saw a sign outside a bar which said ‘push yourself outside your comfort zone because you’ll find it’s not crowded there’ and it really resonated with me. My success – or my progress – has always been defined by goals I’ve set in my mind. But the last few weeks have really made me review the mindset that one needs to have when striving for those goals. I’ve always believed that having focus on your goals is what will get you there; keep going, keep doing and you will get there. Whilst I do not deter from this now, I would only qualify it to say that when doing so, make sure you do not confuse inflexibility for focus. Inflexibility is only going to hamper you rather than assist you. If you think that having continual focus without taking cognisance of what is going on around you and adapting to that, you won’t get to where you need to be. The current climate proves that you need to be flexible to keep going. And you will get to that success.”

Photographs by Kam Parmar

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