Anta Guissé & Doreen Chen

Anta Guissé and Doreen Chen are international defence counsels who work alongside each other respectively representing Khieu Samphân and Nuon Chea -- the two senior-surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge -- at the UN-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), in their trial and forthcoming appeal on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Anta is a French defence lawyer with over fifteen years of experience in international criminal law and a thriving domestic criminal law practice in Paris. In addition to her work at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, she has worked for the defence in three cases at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) (Kalimanzira, Ngirumpatse, and Kamuhanda) and as a victims’ representative at the International Criminal Court (ICC) (on the Katanga and Ngudjolo case). Among many other postings, Anta has been a board member and legal advisor of Citizens Governance Initiatives, a Cameroon‐based association working on citizens’ participation and governance. She has also been a trainer for the ICTR Capacity Building Programme to coach Rwandese lawyers in international humanitarian law, as well as for the Cambodian bar. She has a Master's degree in law and a postgraduate degree in law and African studies from Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne and is admitted to the Paris bar.

Doreen is an Australian human rights lawyer based in France. Prior to her appointment as International Lawyer for Nuon Chea, she served for nearly five years as his Senior Legal Consultant. Her wider practice focuses on representing persecuted human rights defenders and vulnerable communities in Asia, including before UN human rights bodies and as Lead Prosecutor at the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal on Myanmar. She co-founded and co-directs the NGO Destination Justice, which works on rule of law, access to justice, and access to information in Cambodia and beyond, and is the Coordinator for International Law with the Free Rohingya Coalition. Among other things, Doreen previously consulted for the UN human rights office in Cambodia, including to develop the first Annotated Cambodian Code of Criminal Procedure, and has lectured widely on international law, human rights, and political science at universities in Cambodia, France, and Australia. Doreen is admitted to the Supreme Court of New South Wales in Australia. She holds an LLM from Columbia University and honours degrees in government and international relations and law from the University of Sydney.

 Anta and Doreen interviewed each other for ATLAS. @AntaParis @DoreenTFChen


What pulled you towards international law as a career?

Anta: That's an interesting question, because have I chosen international law as a career? I'm a criminal lawyer who happens to plead before international tribunals, but for me, I define myself as a criminal lawyer first. I could say that chance brought me to international law, because my first boss (Raphaël Constant) used to be Bagosora's lawyer before the ICTR and that's how I happened to discover international law. Yet he hired me first to work in his office in Martinique in France, so I was not proactively drawn to ICL at the beginning.  

When I wanted to go back from Martinique to Paris, I met Aïcha Conde. She was a lawyer at the ICTR and a friend of Raphaël's who was looking for a legal assistant. That's how I started in this field.  It was good experience to work on a case at this level, and concerning an African country. But when I started, there were not as many PhDs or Master's programs in international law, so really for me I still have this vision that I work in criminal law and I happen to use international law in my work.

Doreen: For me, it was different, ending up in this field was always written in the stars. My family has experienced a lot of displacement and social upheaval. My mum was born in a civilian internment camp in WWII. My dad was born and raised as the child of political refugees who fled China for Burma and started over with new identities. They were both raised stateless; they met at university in China; they lived through the Cultural Revolution together; and then eventually they managed to migrate to Australia.  

That's the family history I grew up hearing at the dinner table. And when you look at it now, we’re a case study for the kinds of social challenges international law hopes to address. So for me, it was a natural flow in this direction.


What were your first steps?

Anta: My first step was of course my first post as legal assistant at the ICTR. And then you know how it works, you work on a case, then another, then you become co-counsel, and if people like your work, they talk about you and that's how you have a new case, and that's how it happened for me. 

I had a few years between 2002-10 working on several cases at the ICTR. Then I had a few months on a team representing victims at the ICC because I was replacing someone that I knew. Then I worked on a case before the ICTR with Arthur Vercken, and when he got his case before the ECCC (for Khieu Samphân), he called on me to share the role of international lawyer.

For my work at the ICTR, coming from a civil law background, the possibilities and freedom you feel as a lawyer working in the adversarial system were very interesting. I'm also very interested in contemporary history, so to be able to work in the law and deal with historical facts and concepts was incredible.  

My identity as a criminal lawyer stems from what you can do from showing another angle. You know that in these cases your clients will be seen as evil, and you want to be able to show the public a perspective outside of regular thinking. But when I say I'm a domestic lawyer first, I'm simply talking about the way I first approach the work. I have the same sort of relationship with the client, and the work ethic, our independence as lawyers, is the same.  

Doreen: In my case, I started out by getting a relevant academic background. But even more importantly, I volunteered extensively throughout my uni and early working years, much more than I studied; I just was much more drawn to the doing. I held youth leadership roles including with Amnesty, Oxfam and the Inspire Foundation for example. As a junior lawyer, I did pro bono work advising homeless people and people from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds. And all of these roles showed me that it's possible for us as individuals to achieve social impact, including as a lawyer specifically.

Apart from that, my last semester was on exchange at Utrecht University in the Netherlands where I was heavily exposed to the Hague courts and the ICC as it was just getting underway. From then on I knew that somehow I wanted to be in this space, but I wasn't sure how. So, I decided to start in corporate law (at Deacons, now Norton Rose Fulbright) for the training and experience. And honestly, the hard legal and soft people skills it gave me were second to none.  It's made me the professional I am today, without a shadow of a doubt.

It also gave me my own funding, which was important, because I knew that the next step for me was an LLM and that I'd likely need funding. I went to my dream school of Columbia University where I studied ICL, IHL and human rights alongside too many incredible ATLAS women to name. I have to say, I will always remember the day I was offered that LLM. The dean at Columbia called me at work, and it was the day my firm was firing staff due to the global financial crisis. I still feel lucky to have gotten my first career steps in before that crisis, because unfortunately it has been a completely different job market for the generation that's come after me.

During my time at Columbia, I did research assistantships, as well as an internship at the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch in New York. But even with a background as a lawyer and a so-called “Ivy League” LLM, it was impossible to get a foot in the door to be hired. I applied for so many jobs, never heard back, or sometimes got rejection letters even 2-3 years later!

So after my LLM, I went to Cambodia for an internship with the ECCC prosecution. I was planning to eventually go to the Hague if I liked practising before an international tribunal. But then a strange thing happened: I didn't like international litigation as much as I thought I would, I think because fundamentally I'm not a litigator. My Plan B was to do a PhD at Columbia in ICL, but then I thought, maybe I'm not sure about the area of law either.  

With Plan A and Plan B both out the window, I decided to just stay in Cambodia and see where the wind would take me. It was the first time I'd ever done anything without a strong plan -- it's not like me. But surprisingly, everything worked out. Slowly but surely, I started getting consultancies, for very little pay but doing very interesting things -- OHCHR, trial monitoring, and so on. At the same time I set up my own NGO Destination Justice with my husband (Rodolphe Prom) and amazing ATLASers (including my LLM classmate Silvia Palomba and our first intern and now team anchor Céline Martin). And I think that's what's led me to where I am today.

Anta: It’s interesting to hear your background and other lawyers’ backgrounds. For me, I started law in an organisation helping migrants in France. Then I was a part of a feminist organisation helping to fight violence against women. What we can see is that many lawyers in ICL are people with a strong commitment to civil society. And I think it's not an accident, it has to do with wanting to change things.

That's why I am always surprised when I hear young people who are not in the defence asking “How can you defend this guy?  I could never do it!” And for me it's always strange. If you are for rule of law and human rights, they're for everybody. You can feel uncomfortable in a defence role, but you have to understand that it's paramount for justice. And the fact that at a high level, we have interns and professionals, say, showing outrage at an acquittal -- well, sometimes justice has been served with an acquittal because perhaps the prosecution wasn't strong enough and the law prevailed. Essentially, I wish there was less hypocrisy when it comes to defence work.

Doreen: I couldn't agree with you more and I've seen the same attitude time and time again as well. It's also double-edged. Being mission-driven is on the one hand incredibly important. I think that's why we're still in the field, because it's really hard to go from job to job and it's frankly easy and sometimes really tempting to give up. So I think it does take that deeper-level, enduring connection to the issues.  

But at the same time, it's funny, isn't it? As lawyers, we should be so committed to the rule of law, and yet being mission-driven can also blind people, I think! When we work on issues like let's say the Khmer Rouge which the public has already adjudicated, it seems lawyers sometimes think, maybe subconsciously, that it's a fait accompli so it doesn't matter if you cut corners a little bit.  And that's disturbing.

Anta: Talking to you makes me think that this is why I define myself as a criminal lawyer. People can have this superiority complex, thinking they are obtaining justice on behalf of the international community. But feeling like you have an almost divine mission can distract you from your job and can get you lost inside an enormous case.  

I think we are all lawyers first. I'm not a historian or sociologist even if we can use those fields as evidence in a court of law. Sometimes in this jurisdiction we can forget this. We have to recall that while it's good to have a mission, the means you are using have to be adequate.

Doreen: Indeed. Some of the work I did on the Khmer Rouge tribunal was on its legacy and the demonstration effect such tribunals can have for the affected country. But that also includes the demonstration effect when we cut corners, or when there is less than procedural fairness. Domestic practitioners see that, and that's problematic. In my view, our job, done well, is to show how the law can bring greater fairness, consistency, predictability -- that is, the rule of law.

Anta: Exactly, the rule of law and not just law, because of course, apartheid was legal. This is my leitmotif: we have to keep in mind that it's international justice but human justice at a particular political moment. The problems that the ICC is having right now are so linked to geopolitics and the position of African countries. We have to have principles but we can't be naïve. And that is why I like being a defence lawyer, because it's easier to talk about all these pressures; we have freedom.

What would you say are the highlights of your career to date?

Anta: Being in a case as interesting as the one in Cambodia is of course a high point, but I'm not necessarily talking about ICL. A high point could be a good decision in a national criminal case. For me, it's when I have a good decision that complies with the goals I had at the beginning.  

Speaking as someone who has had many clients who were convicted, of course, I'm not sure... [laughs]. Sometimes it's not about the conviction but about how it was given. Say if the court had difficulties to convict on a ground, convicting for only five grounds when there were a hundred or fifty. Unfortunately for the client it doesn't always make a difference but hey, you have to enjoy the small victories.

I also try to emphasise that there is a life before and after international law. When young lawyers come to me for advice, I always try to tell them that we are lawyers. You can apply your skills in many ways. If you have an opportunity in ICL and you feel like it's your vocation, great. But right now there are only a few international jurisdictions and there are so many other ways you can use your degree, capacity, and abilities. If it happens in ICL, it happens, but don't feel frustrated because you feel like you don't have the career that you wanted in the beginning. There's nothing linear about it. You can be many different things.

In international law, many lawyers only have one client, one case going on. This can be a problem because sometimes you have a strong point to make, you have to fight for things and it can be dangerous for you if you feel you can't go on like this but at the same time you feel that this is the only way of working in the field. Then you might be risking your integrity. Sometimes integrity means for example that you have to resign. I certainly recall some very difficult moments before the ECCC Trial Chamber.

Many people ask me about the international defence role, “But if you think the judgement has already been decided even before you plead then why are you doing this?”. This is a discussion you have with your client. As long as you document the arguments that you think are necessary for the defence of your client, criticising the application of the law, at least that is documented. 

Moreover, I am always defending a client but never against my beliefs. The client and I don't always have to agree on those, as long as we agree about the strategy. In these kinds of cases, where we don't have political affinity with the situation, you have to maintain a necessary distance. We are not always defending Nelson Mandela. We have to remember to be objective and present neutrally how and why we think something happened.

Doreen: For me, the first high point would be in the exact same vein as you: pleading closing submissions before the ECCC for Nuon Chea. Just like you say -- say what you will about the content of that, since we were presenting the client's take on alleged key Khmer Rouge policies. But according to him, our submissions were a perfect representation of what he wanted to say. So it was rewarding to be able to contribute to the national narrative and truth-seeking process and participate in such an historic moment. It was also special to be able to represent the incredible hard work of our team (including ATLAS women Xiaoyang Nie and Marina Hakkou).

On the flip side of that, another high point was presenting closing submissions as the Lead Prosecutor at the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal on Myanmar. What we were trying to do there was to argue that the experience of the Rohingya should be characterised as a genocide. This was in September 2017, only a couple of weeks after the refugee flow of 700,000 Rohingyas from Myanmar into Bangladesh. Back then, the idea that you would characterise that refugee flow and everything else that had happened to the Rohingya as a genocide was really radical. The furthest people would go was to label it ethnic cleansing, whereas now, the characterisation of genocide is becoming prevalent. I like to think that we played some small part in that.

Ultimately, though, the highest point for me is always going to be what we have achieved through Destination Justice. We are a tiny NGO with really a less than a shoestring budget. However, together with many talented young professionals, we have done incredible things. For example, we built (together with ATLAS women Céline Martin and Charlotte Artaz) the Justice Café, a safe space and resource centre for changemakers in the making. We published the first Annotated Cambodian Constitution (spearheaded by ATLASer Guillemette Fougeras), an especially important tool considering the current political context in Cambodia. We have also published an extensive report (Revealing the Rainbow) on the human rights of LGBTIQ communities and their defenders in Southeast Asia. 

With formidable ATLAS woman and Destination Justice co-founder Silvia Palomba, we've also represented many persecuted human rights defenders over the years. And in that vein, another high point happened just a couple of weeks ago: we got to meet a Vietnamese activist whose case we had ghostwritten and won before the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. To be able to meet him, and witness his liberty and continuing activism despite the odds -- that feeling is incredible.  It's why we do this.

One last highlight I would mention is publishing the first Annotated Code of Cambodian Criminal Procedure, on which I collaborated with wonderful ATLAS co-founder Michelle Staggs Kelsall and many other academics and students around the world. It's the first annotated code to be published in Cambodia at least since the Khmer Rouge period, and is up to its third edition now. There have also been sister publications put out now like the Annotated Constitution we published at Destination Justice. Ultimately, it's an example of a tangible output that's actually been taken up and used by practitioners and has started to change Cambodian legal culture.

Anta: I agree that it's important besides ICL to be involved in other things. As I told you, I wanted to work in Africa and I worked with an NGO, Citizens Governance Initiatives (founded by the incredible Agnes Ebo’o) in Cameroon on the board. This was a way to talk about constitutional law but at the end of the day, also human rights and citizenship. For me, it was also about giving back to a continent where I have family or sentimental links.  

This work is always a good way to meet people as well. I worked with the African Commission’s Commissioner for Freedom of Expression and Information Pansy Tlakula; I worked with Maxwell Kadiri from Open Society, etc., so it opens you to many areas of work and it's always good to see how others are committed. And I was amazed, because when you are in a country where you don't face a life sentence or prison for standing up for your views and then you meet journalists and others who are, you become a little more humble and realise even more why it's good to give back.  

This is why I always participate in trainings for example with the Cambodian bar. You are bringing something but also taking something from their experience, and it's always good to share. ICL is a very good learning experience. That's also why it is good to master your own national system, because in ICL, not only are you dealing with international principles but comparative domestic principles. Similarly, sometimes I see young people in ICL who think so doctrinally and without enough connection with real life. We are talking about people and principles that apply to real people.

Doreen: Circling back to one of your earlier points, I completely agree that there is so much more we can do than the law. Our skillsets are deep and diverse. I'm not even sure I define myself as a lawyer. I suppose I'm a human rights lawyer, but I'd probably say I'm a human rights activist first. The point is that for me, it's ultimately about the impact we can make. And that's why my career path has been as diverse as pleading before an international tribunal and also hand-building a café. If international law is going to be an enduringly transformative force, then we need to be creative. And that's also why, for example, one role I have now is as one of the coordinators for the Free Rohingya Coalition, which brings together many leading activists on Rohingya issues. I offer an international law perspective there, but the work we do is really what I'd call bread-and-butter activism.


What are some of the challenges you've had, and how have you handled them?

[Both laugh]

Anta: Well, I'm a black woman who was raised in France, so let's say I'm familiar with challenges! It's funny because in France people don't want to talk about race, they think they don't see race. I remember when I applied for internships in law firms, I had people calling me to say “Oh, you were so brave to put your photo on your CV!”  So there's definitely hypocrisy there. And you are specifically aware that if you are working with or facing a white male, you have to work harder.  

Maybe this can make you bitter or maybe it can make you tougher. I prefer toughening up to bitterness. I really like to laugh and I think it's really important to find happiness whenever you can. But I'm also neither the funny black woman nor the angry black woman! I can be, but you have to choose your moment.

You know, it always makes me laugh when we are talking about females in the workplace being more fragile, more emotional, because all the drama queens I have met in my career are always male!  Always!  

I've had opportunities maybe despite or because I'm a woman, but sometimes because they know you're an okay lawyer, and sometimes because we are less likely to show our egos. Sometimes it seems it's because they think they'll feel less threatened because it's a woman. And then on the other hand, sometimes they feel threatened because “even though you're a woman”, you're good.  So you have to navigate between these two poles.

I decided to laugh about it.  I really love it when people underestimate me. Underestimate me as much as you want, I'll do my job anyway! If you have to work a bit harder, you will.  But I'm not the one with disrespectful, misogynistic behaviour. Sometimes people aren't even aware that they're doing it.

So again, being a black female in the conservative law world, I've met these people and learned to laugh about it and set limits at the beginning. I can laugh but not with everybody. I can be challenged but not based on unreasonable expectations or because I'm a female.

Doreen: I’ve had three main challenges. My first is exactly the same as you: being underestimated, or put down, or taken for a fool. It happens to me all the time. It's partly me, specifically my appearance and demeanour: I'm Asian, I'm petite, I look young, and I'm also irreverent, approachable, and can-do. So people think they can take advantage of me. But on the flip side, it's not just me, it's also clearly about those people. And that's the thing about this field that always surprises me: I find that it's more ruthless than corporate law and many people are more self-interested. Or at least in corporate, it's all on the table and less insidious. So this mistreatment I've experienced I think comes from that nastiness, that dog-eat-dog world.

Dealing with this involved sitting with this for a long while. It's been tough. There were countless times when I couldn't clap back and had to swallow my words and lean on my support people to keep me sane.  

In fact, recently I was advised that as I become more senior in the field, I should change the way that I present myself and how I communicate. But then I realised that that is my strength and why I've been successful.  I wear my integrity upfront. You always know what you're going to get. If you're going to underestimate me, that's on you. And if it's about egos and power plays, well, we have much better things to do with our time than to deal with people and issues like that so I'm not going to give that the time of day. 

The second thing is, the one consistent theme in my career is how precarious it's been to work in this field. When you look at my CV now, you might think there's a good narrative or career progression. But that doesn't show you what it was really like day-to-day. How much it was a struggle. The uncertainty of almost always never knew where the next paycheck was coming from. The feeling of being in a country where to stay you needed a visa which meant you needed a job, such that there was always the risk of being sent home at any moment; yet also being away from home and its infrastructure, its creature comforts and support network.  

One of the other things that is really difficult about this field is the prevailing idea that you need to sacrifice to “make it”.  Whether it's being paid decently, or being recognised for the work that you do, or your health, or your personal life. Again, surviving this meant that I really needed to lean on my people, my husband, best friend, but also the people I've met in this field that are in the same boat and have become my second family.

If you look at how things have unfolded for me, yes, there was a little luck. However, what I've learned is also that you make your own luck. And what that looks like is that you try to develop the skills and experience you need so that when it's a case of there being a right place and right time, you'll be the right person.

The last major challenge for me is work-life balance. I've always been terrible at it! Yes I have lots of productivity tools, which help (like a Timeular, a Panda Planner, and Trello). However, the only thing that has actually made a profound difference has actually been becoming a mum a year ago. I have the most wonderful baby in the world, and he is the living embodiment of what else I could be doing with my time. He makes it easy now for me to be far more selective about my commitments. 

At the same time, every mum's choice is valid and for me, right now, I feel I have to be a working mum to be a good mum. Being away from my family is excruciating, but we just try to make it work and bring the family on the road with me as much as possible to show my baby the world and hope that it's enriching for him.

Anta: That's true, balancing personal life and work is a struggle that many women face. You have to make a choice. If you are lucky to find someone who supports your career, then more power to you, really enjoy that.  Also, I'm not at all a workaholic--

Doreen: You work hard!

Anta: I do work hard but it was not my goal in life. When I have to do it, I do it. But I really like quality of life, vacation -- you know, I'm French, I'm very anchored in the congés payés [annual paid leave] culture [laughs].  I know I've chosen a job where there is no definite stability. You're talking about the struggle and we have good years and bad years. But the independence and freedom that we get from it is incomparable so I wouldn't change it for anything.

For people who want to work in ICL, perhaps that's a question they have to ask themselves. The way the UN and other organisations work with short-term contracts etc., if that is something that scares you, then maybe you should think about another career, because it goes with the territory. Again, not forgetting that we have to fight for better conditions, thinking for example of the ECCC defence where consultants have one-month contracts. I'm not even talking about having a private life. If you want to buy a house or have family burdens, that's something you have to take into consideration.

This reminds me of something else: there are many ways that social discrimination expresses itself everyday.  And in ICL specifically, people from very modest backgrounds can't afford to have a six-month internship abroad unpaid or by taking out unbearable loans. That is something we have to work on in ICL, to find ways to avoid creating this small world of privileged people who can afford these conditions.  

When I was a law student, it was impossible for me to take on an unpaid internship. So when people apply for internships with me, I must say I look at their social background. When you come from a modest background, I tend to be more likely to give you a chance. I had to work throughout my studies, and I know how it is to come up short, or to have parents that would love to support you but can't. Seeing that in others breaks my heart.

Doreen: My experience is exactly the same, I come from a working-class background as well. Without working in corporate law, winning scholarships, there is just no way I could have done my LLM or unpaid internships. Even then I dug a big debt hole, and being quite underpaid in my first consultancies meant that took years to pay off. It's a huge sacrifice and skews the field in a socioeconomic direction that's hard to correct.

That's why at Destination Justice, whenever we have funding we have always tried to share it with those who work with us. We don't always have funding, but that's also why we always try to make sure we give young professionals access to opportunities to do work they can't always access and to gain recognition for that work as well.

Anta: And I would also have a specific thought for people from Africa because there is also the problem of visas and how difficult they are to get. It's not a level playing field.

Doreen: That makes me think of something else. One thing that people don't necessarily think about is what it would be like to work long-term overseas and in contexts that are sometimes themselves quite precarious. It's not until you try that that you know what kind of person you'll become in that situation. So if you can test it, do, because you never know, maybe it's not for you.

Anta: You also meet people who think it is for them but are patronising and disrespectful of the local culture.  I've noticed that in ICL, when people are abroad and thinking they are “expatriates”, they can behave idiotically.


What advice do you have for people who are embarking on a career in international law, with specific reference to advice for women?

Anta: We've covered a lot already, but I've heard in many organisations that there is sometimes unacceptable behaviour from male co-workers or supervisors. I know there are gender focal points etc., but when you think of your career, you may fear repercussions by speaking out. But there are things you can tolerate and things you can't.  

People sometimes think that they won't have to face consequences, whether for racist or sexist remarks. I also think sometimes this derives from the opinion that women are only competitive and don't help each other. That's something I've always fought throughout my career and personal life. We are not in competition.  It's good to have emulation and whatever, but when you have a sister lawyer in pain, just be there, and not because it may serve you later, but just because perhaps you're older and more experienced and can help. 

Sometimes when you're young or in the sun, you can forget this, but also always remember that you are a professional. You might think that accepting the behaviour will help you but at the end of the day, people won't respect you as much. So it's better to raise awareness. Of course you can't always do so, but when you can, go to someone or do something that might make people afraid. And I think some ATLASers are working on this--

Doreen: Yes, #ATLASToo.

Anna: I think this is really a good way to promote solidarity between women and raise awareness among men. Sometimes men are perhaps short-sighted and don't see this. It's good for them to see that the amount of experiences their female colleagues are facing highlights the fact that there is a problem and that they can be part of the solution. 

Doreen: I have a couple of tips and the first extends on from your thoughts: you do you. We don't have enough time nor should we waste our time trying to be somebody else. We should be unapologetically ourselves and embrace every aspect of our identities, including as women, women of colour, LGBTIQ, whatever. If we are who we are, we will create a future that includes us and paves the way for others like us to follow as well.

In a related sense, I would say, sure, take career advice from us and others, but we've always heard it said time and time again that there is no set career path, so use it to your advantage! Carve out the path that feels right for you and that creates an organic and authentic narrative you can tell the world about what impact you are trying to have. The rest will follow.

Secondly, networking is crucial.  Almost every role I've had since corporate law has been a referral or direct invitation and this comes down to networking.  But like you say, it's how you do it; there is quite an art to it. It's key to be a normal human and try to build a good relationship with someone.  First and foremost, we're a community, a sisterhood.  Nurture that first rather than try to always immediately extract a benefit for you.  I think of it as professional karma: it'll circle back to you eventually.  But if you're too transparent or transactional, it won't.

Next, aim high.  We hear from everywhere that we’re not good enough, from our own impostor syndrome; external voices like elite white men who feel their privilege eroding as the playing field levels; and others putting us down often because they feel threatened.  Ultimately, though, unless weput ourselves forward, then we'll never know. Maybe we're the right candidate in this case but we won't know until we try.  

On a related point, when you negotiate, never open with the reasonable position. Our male colleagues never do that. Push, and then maybe it'll come back to the reasonable position, but don't start there or you'll undersell yourself.

Going back to something you said earlier, another tip I'd have is that if you're going to choose a life partner at all, choose wisely. I've seen what happens when women don't. I've heard it said that one of the most important career decisions you can make is the life partner you choose, and I couldn't agree with that more.  My husband has always been there for me, he's my number one champion. He will always believe in me and he has often unfurled my wings when I can't. And when I look back on my career, he's a key reason why I've succeeded in some posts. Obviously they're my own achievements but if I didn't have him there in my corner, I don't think I would have put myself out there so much.

Anta: I think in every career you have when you're a woman, especially a challenging one, the support system you have -- the people who love you and advise you -- are very important. I think it's also why women can be strong professionals and still stay a little humble. Most of the time, these women have a good support system.

Life is not only the job. The way you behave in your job also has a link to the way you behave in life. I think the education I received from my parents is a very important part of the lawyer I am right now.

Doreen: Likewise, so much.

Anta: Also my friends and those I've worked with have influenced the way I'm behaving right now. And for the record, I have to say that it is very difficult to always speak in English when I have so many more interesting points to offer in French!

Doreen: We're so sorry! My last tip is related to this discussion.  It's just, be kind and generous--

Anta: Which does not mean be stupid!

Doreen: No, do not be a human doormat! But do be kind and generous. Why? Well firstly, because it's tough enough out there already without you adding more baggage to it. Secondly, because memories are long and this community is pretty small, so if you're unkind, it's going to come back to you eventually. And finally, isn't this what we're trying to put out there into the world at the end of the day? Yes, human rights, but when it comes down to it, it's about kindness and dignity and respect. So we should be modelling what it is we're trying to achieve in the world.

Anta: I don't know if I'm modelling anything--

Doreen: You are!

Anta:- -but I know that it's very important for me to be myself. Sometimes I don't agree with others. You can say it in a proper way. You can disagree with the prosecutor and still be civil. You can get angry -- I'm a very passionate human being and you can see it when I'm pleading -- but at the end of the day, I am just trying to be faithful to who I am and what I think. I don't want to say things inside the courtroom that I couldn't own outside the courtroom and vice versa.

Doreen: When I look at you and me and how we are as lawyers, we're trying to be active members of a legal or human rights community who are trying to spark change together, even from opposite sides of the courtroom. And I think this is the right way to be.  

Anta: Right, and be civil and polite. We can't be friends with everybody [both laugh] but you can be respected. I hope that throughout all my years in the courtroom, nobody will say that I was purposefully rude to somebody.  I've maybe had strong opinions or points to make, and perhaps expletives crossed my mind and I've to keep my mouth shut at some point! But again, in whatever field you're working in, or in leisure, just be a person you'll be proud to be.

Sareta Ashraph