In early 2019, I was invited by distinguished publishers, HarperCollins India, to tell my story on how I became the first Indian-born solicitor to start a law firm in the one square mile financial district of the City of London. I did not want my book to a vanity book, but rather a book which records the historical changes which Britain had gone through in respect of diversity. Writing Honour Bound gave me an opportunity to inspire and educate the next generation of young lawyers, and to show that no matter the hurdles we face, they can be overcome with integrity and hard work.
Honour Bound – Adventures of an Indian Lawyer in the English Courts, released in December 2019, is a real-life account of how one morning in January 1975, I took the cheapest flight out of Mumbai to London to pursue my dream of opening a law firm in central London’s largest business district. 38 years later, Zaiwalla & Co is an award-winning international law firm recognised by the Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners for our outstanding track record in international legal work. Through determination and our ‘out of the box’ mindset, we are today one of the most renowned law firm’s London has to offer.
It is true that nothing comes without diligence, and my journey was by no means nonchalant. In fact, in the mid-90s, I was faced with one of the biggest obstacles of my entire career. Following the breakdown of my marriage, I was betrayed by my firm’s then managing partner, who was stealing large sums of money from my firm’s pockets. I trusted him and in return I was badly deceived. I took the matter forward to an arbitration and he was ordered to pay back to me £525,000 plus interest and costs. As a result, my ex-managing partner was made bankrupt and unfortunately, I did not see a penny of the money owed to me. This incident had almost ruined me and my legal career.
I was unable to run my firm as I had run out of money. I was left with no option but to downsize the firm and make my entire staff redundant. The bank threatened to put a freeze on my lending and loans, and I was forced to terminate the lease on my offices at 33 Chancery Lane early, causing my landlords to make a claim against me for £1.4 million. Fortunately, my good professional reputation remained intact.
But above it all, I kept my faith in God. I prayed, I did not panic, and I took practical steps to not let this defeat me. And then, a miracle happened. Some two weeks later, I received a letter from the landlords dropping the claim against me. I took this opportunity to start over again. I got back up and brushed myself off and rebuilt my entire firm from scratch into the pioneering law firm that it is today.
Honour Bound is living proof that no matter how many times you get knocked down, if you keep your faith, you will always be able to get back up. Journeying to a foreign country at a time when diversity had barely begun seemed totally impossible. Back in those days, the legal community was predominantly white and unwelcoming, or so I thought. But with silent courage, creativity and without ever compromising my values, I was able to make it on my own terms, and all those fears faded away. Much to my surprise, despite the very early days, I generally faced no difficulties with the English legal and judicial fraternity (of course, there are a few exceptions!) I quickly found the British people to admire an ‘under-dog’, especially one who is prepared to stand up and fight with both integrity and courtesy. I am glad I decided to open my London law firm with my Indian name and not with an anglicised name.
I have lived an incredibly eventful life, having walked the corridors of power, and rubbed shoulders with ministers, diplomats, industrialists and celebrities. From instructing a young barrister called Tony Blair to dealing with some of the biggest names and cases ever heard, including the likes of Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi, PV Narasimha Rao, VP Singh, the Hinduja Brothers, the Dalai Lama, Benazir Bhutto and the Bachchans, I am grateful to every obstacle overcome, as I wouldn’t be standing where I am today without them.
I find with every single case there is a lesson to be taught and a lesson to be learned. The lesson I would like to teach through Honour Bound is that nobody should be prevented from reaching their dream because of gender, colour or creed. In fact, I always say the colour of the ability and heart are more important than the colour of skin, religion or flag.
Sarosh Zaiwalla is the Founder and Senior Partner of Zaiwalla & Co Solicitors, based in London. With a succession of high-profile victories in the English courts for individuals and corporations from across the globe. He is regularly consulted by political, business and religious leaders.
Zaiwalla & Co is known for setting precedents and challenging established law. We do this because we have decades of successful experience, coupled with a team of remarkable international lawyers who are encouraged to think differently to get results.
When Sarosh is not deep in legal work, he enjoys spending time at his Sussex Countryside home and watching cricket.