In times of coronavirus we have decided to prepare interviews with wonderful lawyers from around the world. If you want to know why our guests decided to be lawyers, how the law education looks like in their countries, and how lawyers around the world deal with the coronavirus issue – check our blog!
Today we’re having an interview with Sonya Taheri, an advocate from Netherlands.
Slowlaw: First of all, thank you very much for taking part in our project! Could you tell us where you’re from, where do you live?
Sonya Taheri:I am from the Netherlands but I have Persian roots so I speak Dutch, English and Farsi. I have my own practice since the day that I have graduated at the age of 21. First many years as a lawyer and three years ago I started as an attorney.
SL: That is very interesting! We graduate at the age of 24. You started really young! Has becoming a lawyer always been your dream? If so why?
ST: No, honestly I never thought about becoming a lawyer. Since the beginning of time I wanted to become a dentist, totally something different. But I went into that direction at the age of 16 turning 17 and found out that I was not seeing myself doing that for 24/7. So when I turned 17 I didn’t know what I wanted to study so I went into law school just to study something. And after a couple of months I found myself liking law very much since I was good at it and I understood the law very well and I could play with the law in my advantage.
SL:From a dentist to a lawyer, wow. That’s unexpected! Could you tell us about the educational path in your country, which you have to follow to become a professional (advocate, prosecutor, judge etc?)
ST:In the Netherlands you can always climb up to go to the University. I went directly into the University since my high school diploma was qualified for it. First, I had to study 3 years of Dutch law (bachelor) and then I had to choose a master. You can choose any master you want to become an attorney since you first specialize after being admitted to the bar. I chose “Public international and European law”. After that you have two options. The first one is to get hired by an existing firm who will be your teacher for 3 years since you have to start as an attorney-intern. Meanwhile, you have to study for two more years and pass your bar-exams. This is the most popular way since you get hired and you get a monthly income and most of the time your bar-education will be paid for by the law firm. The second option is to start your own firm and find another attorney to be your teacher from outside. This last option is a very hard road since you will be an entrepreneur and all the costs and risks are for yourself. And it costs quite a bit and most young people who have just graduated don’t have that kind of money. I chose the hard road and started my own practice. It was not easy, I can tell you that! It was like inventing the wheel all over again instead of learning it from another attorney.
SL:Sounds intense! You must be so brave to pick this way. Why have you chosen this harder way to become an attorney?
ST: Back in 2010/2011 when I graduated there was a financial crisis in whole Europe and law firm didn’t hire new attorneys. The only way for me was to start my own firm as a lawyer, not an attorney. And after so many years working for myself it didn’t find it possible for me anymore to work for another firm since I was used being my own boss. So I had no other option since I wanted to stay in control of my own firm.
SL:Has there been anything in your job that surprised you, that you have not been prepared to?
ST: There are a few things that were surprising to me. The first one is how clients underestimate your work. Many times I have heard that the lawyer’s fees are “too high”. Most clients don’t understand how much work you put into that paper and don’t understand all the extra costs that you have as an entrepreneur. The taxes which are included in the fee, the material cost, the secretary cost and so much more. I find many clients trying to negotiate regarding the fee. What I have learned is that it is up to you to show them what you are worth and stop giving discounts.
The second thing is how clients treat you after you tell them that the outcome of the case is negative for them. Many clients think that it 100% the lawyers’ fault, but don’t realize that the decision is never with the lawyer but the judge. And they don’t realize that a lawyer can only work with the documents that the clients provide. We are lawyers, not magicians. We give our 100% for every client and clients don’t see the many hours that you have worked on a case.
SL: From your point of view – does being a woman make it harder to succeed in this profession? If so, why?
ST:It certainly does. Especially in the field of criminal law. I have many times faced gender discrimination by male clients who don’t think that I can represent them well enough and prefer a male attorney. At first I found it offensive but now I just don’t waste my time with those kinds of clients. I also have to deal with mostly older male attorneys who always think that I am for example the translator and don’t think that I am their equal colleague. Once I put my black robe (gown) on they act surprised. I always try to laugh it off but it is really a male dominated world even in 2020.
SL:Yes, we know that kind of behavior from our own experience. It’s funny that no matter where you live, you deal with this very issue. Could you tell us about your day schedule?
ST:When I wake up I am a mother and a wife. I take care of my family, I make breakfast and make everybody’s lunch to take with them. Then I send my son to school with his father and sometimes I bring him myself, it just depends on both our planning for the day. After that I go to my office and start working on the cases, receive a lot of phone calls, answer many e-mails, sometimes I receive clients and sometimes I have to go to court or to hearings. My work day is very different day to day. But I always try to end at 18:00, and I don’t check my work phone or e-mail after that. In case of emergency the government has my private number and is able to reach me if a client needs me.
SL:Has working in law industry changed you in any way?
ST:It made my skin thicker and I have learned to be kind but to know when I have to say no to clients. I am their attorney, not their worker.
SL:Could you name 2 things that you love about being a lawyer?
ST:Mostly I am a immigration and asylum attorney, and what I love the most is that when I win it means that people get a second chance to a new life. And I love that since I am my own boss I can decide my schedule and combine this with my family.
SL:Ok. So now something a bit harder. Could you name 2 things you hate about being a lawyer?
ST:I think the one thing that most lawyers have to deal with is family and friends who take you for granted and always want to ask “a minute of your time”. They don’t realize that the whole world wants a free minute of our time, which means that most of the time we don’t even get paid for all the years that we have studied to know these answers. Don’t get me wrong I love helping people, but it is just sometimes too many “free minutes” if you get me.
SL:I totally get you! It’s often hard to explain to the clients, that you cannot advise them in all the issues they come to you with. Still, it’s good to have such problems, rather than not having clients at all. Speaking of, has the coronavirus situation affected your work? If so, how? How do you deal with that?
ST: Coronavirus has stopped everything, the courts are closed, the hearings are postponed, I cannot receive clients and so much more. I try to be innovative and try to give video-call consults and try to work as much as possible from home. Benefit is that I can actually spend a lot of time with my son, which I adore.
SL:Well, we wish you all the best. We hope you stay safe and sound and that you’ll be able to get back to your regular schedule as soon as possible. Stay safe and thank you for your interview!!
If you want to follow Sonya on the Instagram, here’s her account:
Sonia Taheri Instagram