Young lawyers fight age and gender bias

Saturday July 24 2021
Lawyers pic

For the two young lawyers - Yvonne (seated) and her partner Annamary - only the sky is the limit in achieving their shared dream. PHOTO | COURTESY.

By Lilian Ndilwa

Sometimes the decisions we make in life are influenced by the situations that we encounter along the way. It is what we do afterwards that determines our core commitment on the particular goals and decisions.

This is true of Annamary Ishengoma, 26, and Yvonne Massai, 27, advocates of the High Court of Tanzania. The two established a law firm based on their experience as young female lawyers. They decided to set up Quinn Corporate Chambers (QCC) with the aim of enhancing recognition of women in the law field.

The two friends say it has been a challenging ride that has left them with valuable life lessons, whilst increasing their zeal to reach their goals.

The partners took a leap of faith and started a law firm on February 10, 2020, right after they obtained a Postgraduate Diploma in Law from the Law School of Tanzania. They pursued undergraduate studies at the University of Dar es Salaam.

The ambitious young lawyers were determined to run a successful legal firm despite being new in the profession. Prior to establishing their firm, the duo had each worked in legal departments of various organisations.

“We wanted to create a space of no limitations in the law field, through our expertise, education and skills but also our innovative minds. The idea of having our own law space was born when I was working for Hakika Insurance Agency and Annamary at Barclay’s Bank, currently the Absa Bank. We had gained the experience; but we wanted to be in the actual field and have our own office,” says Yvonne.

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Before Barclay’s, Annamary worked for several non-governmental organisations and financial institutions, where she noticed a lack of recognition for young women in the law industry.

“I believe this planted the seed in me, and I felt a strong urge to start a business. When I met Yvonne, she had the same idea. We wanted to create a space that would gain from our skills, expertise and innovative minds. We also wanted to serve as an example, to show that young women in the law industry need to be recognised and appreciated,” says Annamary.

Yvonne expounds that women-owned law firms are not looked down upon but they do not receive the recognition they deserve.

“I think it all circles back to our history concerning women and how our abilities have always been underestimated. The world is changing alongside massive technological development and adoption of different laws that have given more room for women to be involved in decision making. This should be enough to change the notion about us in terms of doubting the work of our minds and hands in relation to gender and age,” Yvonne notes.

Annamary says they were confident to start QCC because, apart from understanding the basics, they realised they were one of a team.

“We had the same goals... But, most of all, we found that we liked daring ourselves to do things out of our comfort zones.”

The confidence to establish a law firm stemmed from the fact that Annamary had grown up in a family of lawyers, while Yvonne had supportive parents. They chose the word Quinn - Irish for wise - for the firm’s name, to represent a woman. This is given the fact that the word sounds like ‘Queen!’

After establishing the firm, the daring partners learnt that it takes more than willingness and passion to run a law firm. The realisation came after they faced a series of challenges.

“Honestly, the first eight months of running the business made me start having second thoughts because things were not going as I had expected. We did not have clients. My partner and I tried everything we could to make our company known. We sought referrals from colleagues and our seniors until we finally got our first big client. It was patience that held us back from quitting,” Annamary says.

The attitude of people around them reflected Annamary’s observation in her early years of practice at the various organisations she worked for. Some people do not have confidence in them (Anna and Yvonne) simply because they are female and still young. She says QCC has failed to close multiple deals because of the same reason.

“The age factor has made us look incompetent in the law field because people doubt our skills and competency. They believe that older persons are better, which is not true,” says Annamary.

She adds: “The only way to overcome the age challenge is by proving ourselves out there. We wanted to start a business, we did it. We wanted to work with big clients, we already are and we are getting positive feedback. This depicts that nothing is impossible with patience and commitment.”

During the ‘dry months,’ Yvonne and Annamary sought the intervention of their parents.

“We asked our parents to help us pay office rent as well as other bills. I remember one day as we were about to make the grand decision to officially close our firm, we received a call from a client who saved us. After that phone call, we re-arranged our goals and stood with our heads held high. We afterwards made a pact that no matter how bad things got, we would always work our way through it,” Yvonne recalls.

The eight tough months left the partners with valuable lessons as they are still exploring the law arena. Annamary says the experience she has gained in her career journey has taught her a lot.

“First, it is important to choose your team or partner wisely before starting your business. Starting a business is full of ups and downs that are hard to digest when you’re on the entrepreneurial roller coaster all by yourself. A good partner doesn’t only let your idea survive but will help you survive as well.”

She advises business owners to do their research before making decisions or executing tasks concerning their businesses. Annamary suggests that people should do their homework in the type of services, target clients, team, as well as the industry they want to venture into. This, she says, helps put the business in a position to kick off.

“We did not limit ourselves in terms of areas to practice law. We are covering the corporate arena, intellectual property, real estate, banking and finance, investment as well as tax,” Annamary explains.

Yvonne says she now understands that for a business to excel, consistency is key. She says despite the constraints that limit a business to prosper, one has to develop the courage to keep going, whilst seeking for ways to perfect the business.

“You must wear confidence like the greatest outfit it is, embrace mistakes made on the way to your goals because every day is a lesson in itself. But it is important to always believe in your capabilities. Giving up should not be an option,” says Yvonne.

Annamary says it is okay to walk when everybody else is running. Everyone has their own speed as long as you know what your focus is.

“If you ‘invest’ hard-work into something, it will always come back twofold - no matter how long it takes. Despite all we have been through, and the challenges that we are still facing, we believe that we are getting close to our goals,” she says.

Annamary also says that they want to get to a point where, if one talks about law and women in Tanzania, then Quinn Corporate Chambers should definitely get mentioned, too.