Wednesday, December 30, 2009

An Attorney Representing Women

In Iraq, I worked as an attorney representing marginalized groups- mainly women and workers. Women seeking a divorce, custody, or child support, workers seeking compensation for work injuries.
After graduating from the Law School, I joined the Bar Association, and then I went to the courthouse on a daily basis in hopes of landing a client. I didn’t care much about criminal cases or civil litigations. I was passionate about the Family Law. I related a lot to women’s struggle to obtain their rights.
After months, I landed my first case. I was representing a woman seeking child support. The case was a bit challenging because the ex-husband tried to hide his real income. I didn’t have an access to a private investigator because there was none.
The husband also hired a highly qualified attorney with many years of experience. But I was motivated to win my first case to establish myself as an attorney.



It was crucial to me to win my first case and build credibility. Otherwise, no other client would approach me. I would have been labeled as a loser. You know, another female who couldn't make it, not fit for the job. 
I decided to divide my task into small yet simple steps; building the case one step at a time. 

Researching the case was my first step. I looked up the Court of Cassation ruling on similar cases, in which the ex-husband tried to hide his income. I studied each argument carefully and learned how other attorneys provided evidence of the real income, what type of evidence did the court accept or reject. 
I collected evidence and testimonies regarding the lifestyle of the husband. For example, the ex-husband dinned at one of the finest restaurants in Baghdad on a weekly basis. Dinning on a regular basis suggested that the husband had some additional income. The husband owned two cars and drove them both to work. Thus, he could afford to maintain and operate two cars.
After collecting all the evidence, I typed my motion electronically and bolded the parts that I needed the court to focus on. Not all attorneys in Iraq type their memos not electronically at least. Most attorneys either used the typewriter or hand wrote their motion.  

My motion presented a strong legal argument in an elegant and eye-friendly manner. Presentation was key for me. My motions landed on top of all other motions. Later, I learned that Judged liked my motions because they were eye-friendly and well-written. 

On the trial day, the opposing counsel was unprepared because he underestimated me. He thought I was young and inexperienced. But when I presented my motion and argument, he was shocked. He didn’t know what to say, so he attacked my character claiming that I was “ too young to make an argument,”  said the opposing counsel. 
  
I stayed calm, ignored his remarks, and directed my keynotes to the judge. I reinforced my client’s claims, saying “Your honor, based on the evidence that shows the real income of ex-husband, my client claims a higher child support,”

Judges were more respective towards a female attorney, they appreciated my fresh approach. 

I provided proof that the ex-husband’s income was far more than the amount he was paying. The opposing counsel couldn't refute any of argument or evidence. 

The judge ruled in favor of my client. I couldn’t be happier. I won my first case! Although my client didn’t have money to pay my fees, I felt I won a million dollars. The wheel kept moving and more clients approached me to represent them. Some of paid my fees, some of couldn't. 

I felt my work had a social aspect too. In order for me to successfully represent my clients, I had to understand where they came from and why they want to take a legal action. For example, a client wanted to divorce her husband, because of a misunderstanding. A couple who truly loved each other, but didn’t want to live together anymore. The son who blamed the mother for the divorce, and wanted to go live with his father, leaving the mother broken hearted. The ex-husband who sought retribution from the ex-wife, because she remarried. Every day a new client and a new story

One day, an old man approached me claiming compensation, because of a work injury. I prepared his case. However, the judge surprised me by saying, “ you can’t represent him!” According to the law, only the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs could be represented. An individual could not.
I argued with the Judge, but he was determined. I took my client outside the courtroom and briefly explained to him the most important points that he should say to the judge. The Judge saw me teaching my client, but he couldn’t object to that. In the end, my client won. I just taught him how to advocate for himself.

Listening to my clients' grievances and their inner feelings brought me closer to how people think and how they react to grief. The only way to over come grief is to advocate for yourself. 

5 comments:

wafa said...

I am happy to read that you were and still fighting for peoples right especially women. I just have one question; have you ever thought of creating a center in Iraq to teach women or young women their rights? And how to learn to say NO when they feel they have to say it?

Mishkat said...

Dear Wafa,
I know we exchanged notes on my earlier post. However, I want to leave a comment here too. I founded Women and the Environment Organization (WATEO) that trains women in Iraq. I am hoping that women all over the universe will stand up for themselves. I am hoping that WATEO will reachout to more women.

Mishkat said...

I would like to post a comment about some cases that I could not do anything about them. These cases required connections with Ba’ath party members or were time consuming.



I still remember meeting “Um Ahmed” at the Enforcement Department in Baghdad Iraq. She was in her early thirties. However, she looked sixty years old. Um Ahmed wanted my help as an attorney to obtain her alimony and child support. I could not do anything. Her ex-husband was well connected with the Ba’ath party. Moreover, he was rich and bribed all enforcement officers.

“Sumia,” who sued her ex-husband for her furniture and belongings, and she won the case. However, she received the furniture completely damaged. Sumia had to sue for compensation, which would take a long time and cost more money. I explained that to her and advised her to move on with her life.

Anonymous said...

Keep posting the good work. Some really helpful information in there. Bookmarked. Nice to see your site. Thanks! child support custody

Mishka said...

Thank you!

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