This was a BLD interview with Debo Nwauzu in July 2009. Read more about Thalej Vasishta in the Directory
Our Lawyer of the Month is Thalej Vasishta, the founder and Managing Director of the specialist immigration law firm Paragon Law based in Nottingham, Ludhiana (India), Shanghai (China) and opening in Leeds summer 2009.
Thalej was born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1970. He came with his family to the UK, aged 4 years old and grew up in Nottingham. He is very proud of his comprehensive education in Nottingham and later went on to read Law at University College London, graduating in 1994. He attended the College of Law in York finishing his Legal Practice Course (LPC) there in 1995.
After finishing his LPC, Thalej travelled for a year and then worked at the Nottingham Law Centre for a further year. He subsequently joined Berrymans in Nottingham as a paralegal. Thalej so impressed the firm that he was asked to set up the Immigration Department before he started his training contract there. On qualification, Thalej stayed at Berrymans until he founded Paragon Law in 2003 aged 32.
Paragon Law now employs more than 55 people at its offices in Nottingham, China and India. The Nottingham office currently has a team of 22 immigration specialists and is regarded as one of the largest of its type in the UK. The office in India opened in January 2007 and currently has a team of eight. Shanghai opened in May 2009.
Thalej acts for a wide range of clients, from individuals to businesses, both in the UK and overseas, with the business clients ranging from blue chip multinationals to small or medium sized enterprises.
Thalej won the Solicitor of the Year Award for the third time in his career at the 2009 Nottinghamshire Law Society Awards. In June 2006, under his leadership, Paragon Law won the Legal Team of the Year at the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year (LALY) awards. The award followed on from Thalej’s short-listing in the LALY awards as Immigration Lawyer of the Year on two previous occasions. The LALY judging panel, chaired by Cherie Booth QC, recognised the team’s work done in raising awareness of international human rights through the Paragon Scholarship, working with Iraqi lawyers looking at setting up a formal constitution in Iraq and the annual Paragon Lectures as being at the forefront of legal and social activity. Also in 2006 Paragon Law won Best Employer at the Solicitors’ Race Equality awards. The firm was also recognised by the Law Society and the Commission for Racial Equality for its outstanding achievement in promoting equality and diversity within its practice.
The annual Paragon Human Rights Lecture was started by Thalej in 2005 and the 2008 lecture, which was on the role of women in British and Malaysian societies, took place at the University of Nottingham’s Kuala Lumpur campus in Malaysia and was organised jointly by Paragon Law and the University of Nottingham’s Human Rights Law Centre.
Thalej is currently seeking to expand his immigration practice and will be opening an office in Leeds this summer.
Thalej is married with a four-year-old daughter.
Below is our interview with Thalej.
BLD: Why did you choose a legal career?
TV: In school and college I was always interested in humanities and business-related subjects and the combination of the two made law a natural progression to study at university. Moreover, law is one of the few subjects which gave a natural career path from degree right through to qualification, be it as a solicitor or barrister. In my particular case, it was not until I started my training contract that I realised that I did, in fact, want to pursue a legal career. Up until then I knew with a law degree I would have many opportunities, be it in industry, public sector or working with an NGO if I realised practising law was not for me.
BLD: If you were to choose another role/profession other than law, what would it be and why?
TV: I set up Paragon Law in October 2003 and I have really enjoyed the first five years of developing the practice, setting out strategy and vision for the business. I have learnt a lot in respect of the “business” of law and I would like to use these skills in helping budding entrepreneurs and start-up businesses in developing in the early stages of their business cycle.
BLD: What was the best career advice you were given?
TV: You are rewarded in public for the things you practice the most in private.
BLD: What was the worst career advice you were given?
TV: “Practice makes perfect” – the saying should actually be that practice makes “permanent” and indeed if you are practising something badly then you are not going to become perfect. The key is to find good role models in what you are trying to achieve and emulate and practice how they did or do things.
BLD: What career advice would you give to others?
TV: Try to work out what your ultimate outcome is, i.e. what is your vision and where you want to be in five years time. You need to be very specific about this and write it down in great detail concerning every aspect of your life, i.e. profession, finances, health, family, friendships, contribution etc. Once you have written this down, it will be a lot easier to implement a plan and set goals in making your desired outcome come true. You also need to decide very early on exactly what your USP (Unique Selling Point) is and don’t be afraid to promote your USP. All private legal practices need three types of people: the entrepreneur, this is the person who has a keen interest in and drives the business development and strategy of the practice; the artist, this is the legal eagle, i.e. the person who knows the law inside out and is able to work out the legal strategy on a case; and the manager, this is the person who enjoys supervising junior lawyers, developing a team, enjoys carrying out training sessions both internally and externally. Most people are good at at least one, if not two of the people types that I have mentioned above. Again the key is to find out early on in your career whether you are the entrepreneur, the artist or the manager or a combination of two and then perfect your skills continuously in your chosen area(s).
BLD: Who is the person you most admire (dead or alive) and why?
TV: There are so many people that one could choose from, both from history and from the current time, but if I was choose one person then it would have to be my father who has been a real backbone and support in my career path. He continuously balances me and makes sure that my feet are firmly on the ground.
BLD: What are you most passionate/happiest about?
TV: My family and particularly my four-year-old daughter. However, professionally I am very fortunate that I have found an area of law that I am able to practise which allows me to have the passion and vision to empower and inspire people in my team to achieve their outcomes and the desirable results of those they help – so to bring the people of the world closer together.
BLD: What are your dislikes?
TV: Big egos, laziness and people who knowingly are not living at their full potential.
BLD: What was your worst moment as a lawyer?
TV: Recently I was presenting at a conference on the new changes to the immigration rules concerning the employment of foreign nationals by businesses. As it was an early start, I had booked myself in a hotel near to the venue. I had requested at the hotel reception that they give me an alarm call in the morning, which they failed to do, the consequence of which was I had the event organisers waking me up some 10 minutes before I was due to speak concerned as to where I was!
BLD: Tell us your professional high point(s).
TV: It would have to be the opportunity that was given to me by the firm where I trained and commenced my legal career (Berryman LLP) to fly the nest and set up Paragon Law. In terms of professional development from thereon I haven’t looked back.
BLD: What was the most famous/interesting case(s) you have handled to date?
TV: This is a difficult one to answer because as an immigration lawyer I am fortunate enough to meet people from all over the world and no two cases are the same. I have been fortunate enough to be able to act for clients who escaped their countries due to fear of persecution through to big multi-nationals who are looking to set up operations in the UK. However, the House of Lords case Hoxha, on which Manjit Gill QC led, was particularly interesting for me. Not only did I, with Manjit, develop legal arguments which other barristers and legal commentators stated would have no merits, but moreover we managed to get it to the House of Lords and then to see seven of the brightest judges analysing and debating your case is quite special. In this particular case, Baroness Hale also established that “rape and sexual violence could be held as a weapon of war” for the Refugee Convention. This one point has helped a number of subsequent cases and clients to claim asylum in the UK.
BLD: Any professional regrets?
TV: None to date.
BLD: If you could rule the world for a day what would you change/do?
TV: I would make a national holiday for everyone but with one proviso that everyone during that day does one thing to contribute to their local communities.
BLD: Tell us more about your family life?
TV: I am married with one daughter.