Last month, the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW recognised the most pre-eminent contributions to the improvement of access to justice in NSW at the 2017 Justice Awards. In a prestigious ceremony held at NSW Parliament House, over 300 attendees celebrated the extraordinary work done by individuals and organisations across the state to help make the law more accessible, particularly to those from socially or economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
One of the youngest honourees this year was Joy Jadeja, a solicitor at Westside Legal who was nominated for the Law Society President’s Award in recognition of her work through the Law Society Pro Bono Scheme.
Joy, one of four nominees for the coveted award, was recognised for her exceptional litigation skill, professionalism and her tireless dedication to advance the fairness and equity of the justice system. She was nominated from over 30,000 solicitors performing work under the pro bono scheme, which refers disadvantaged individuals to solicitors prepared to act on a pro bono basis.
The Law Society encourages pro bono assignments as part of a solicitor’s wider community responsibility – in fact, the National Pro Bono Resource Centre has an aspirational target of 35 hours of annual pro bono work per lawyer. Speaking to Indian Link, Joy says it’s a responsibility that she takes very seriously. “I have always seen it as my duty to help those that can’t help themselves,” she says. “We all need help sometimes and I am lucky enough that my particular set of skills and knowledge can be used to assist people in navigating the legalities of the world. My social justice radar is always on overdrive – I sincerely believe that it is my civic duty to help wherever and however I can.”
It’s a testament to Joy’s excellence – and her transcendent awareness of the importance of access to justice – that of the four nominees in her category, she was, by some decades, the youngest.
To Joy, it was a surreal experience to be nominated alongside experienced individuals held in such high regard within the profession. “With the thousands of solicitors who are out there working hard every day for their clients, doing their best to ensure everyone has fair and equitable access to justice who weren’t nominated, I am simply honoured to have been nominated. My fellow nominees are exceptional solicitors with decades of experience and legal knowledge, pillars of the community and an inspiration to all the young lawyers out there including myself. No one dedicates their career to a cause for external validation; we do it because we love it and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. However, it was still immensely gratifying and humbling. I still can’t stop smiling!”
Joy accepts referrals from often desperate individuals facing complex and critical legal problems of an inherently personal nature, including immigration, employment, family and criminal law. She often finds herself – like many others in her profession – sacrificing time and energy that would otherwise be dedicated to family, friends and other personal endeavours. “It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle,” notes Joy. Preparing for court demands perfect preparation – sleepless nights spent writing submissions, working through several briefs, double and triple checking – all in the pursuit of doing what is best for the client.
“It doesn’t matter to me if it looks like I might not have time for a life outside of work,” says Joy. “You must expect that is going to happen, especially when what’s at stake is someone’s very livelihood. You just have to make time.”
In such a demanding line of work, with so much at stake, motivation is key – and it often transpires from the most unlikely of sources. Joy notes in particular her interactions with a very elderly client who had been in disadvantaged and maligned circumstances for the majority of his life. His positive attitude and friendly disposition were in stark contrast to what Joy recalls as his “extremely troubling experiences”, including having been taken advantage of on countless occasions due to his inability to read and his difficulties with writing. “He has taught me a lot about resilience and stoicism in the face of great adversity. Together we turned his fortunes around, obtained the justice that was so long overdue, and yet, even though it was he who had gone on this journey, I felt like I was the one who changed. Clients like these teach you more about yourself and help you reflect on what’s really important.”
Important, too, for Joy has been her support network of friends and colleagues guiding her through the more difficult and demanding moments of her young but burgeoning career. In a profession which consistently ranks among the highest for instances of depression, particularly for young lawyers, the role of those mentors and colleagues is even more pronounced.
“I am a big believer in speaking to your colleagues and mentors on a regular basis. I call it ‘dial-a-friend’!”