Francis Xavier, Susheela Rivers, Akila Agrawal


Recently, the tragic passing of a Big Law partner in the UK has shed a renewed light on the difficult working conditions in the legal industry, with its brutal hours and high-stress work. We ask senior lawyers juggling client relationships, business goals, and team management, along with other aspects of their lives, about how they keep calm and carry on with the practice of law.


What are some of the challenges these responsibilities pose to your mental well-being, and in what ways do you regulate and handle stress in the profession?


FRANCIS XAVIER, regional head, dispute resolution group, Rajah & Tann: Legal practice demands pounds of your flesh. Battling to stay sane is a career-long journey. We learn much from those who have gone ahead of us.

First, fill your heart. Ask yourself daily: What really matters to you? This is the heart of the battleground. And it is the battle for your heart. If you had only months to live, what would you do? What do you really want to do, to experience or to fill your life with? Of course, there would be a myriad of obstacles. Life does not give up its bliss easily. As the Nike ad reminds us, just do it. With time, we learn that most of our fears and insecurities are fiction, not fact.

Also, find a niche in your career that brings a joyous thrum to your heart. Seek it until you find it. If the very fabric of legal thinking makes you shudder, it may be time to deploy the parachute. Most of us, however, would have chosen law for a good reason. Take no prisoners on this front; brook no compromise.

Do pay deep attention to the other spokes in the wheel of your life. They really matter – your family, meaningful others, friends, God. Life is synergistic, after all. Bring gladness and light to each spoke. You are the rim of the wheel – and only as joyful as the spokes are.

Sounds like too tall an order? Filling up your heart and every spoke plus getting done all that needs to be done in your life. Remember, none of this is easy. It is a battle, after all. You do need to be armed with your armour and stratagems. Become a better warrior. Seek out, then sit and learn at the feet of previous masters. Learn and effectively unleash age-old strategies, such as Vilfredo’s Pareto principle, Kaizen, and the like.

Never forget that it is people who populate your career: Your mentors, colleagues, juniors, clients, judges, and, of course, your learned opponents. Each and everyone matters more than anything else. You owe much to many of them. Honour them, cherish them – even the ones that appear inconsiderate at first. They may become your best treasures. It is the quality of these relationships that will determine if you have much to cheer about. And they are in your life for a good reason.

And don’t forget too to spend quality time with yourself. Give yourself time to pause, to reflect, to just be. Instil and guard your blank spaces that only your heart is allowed to fill up. In time, they will be your reservoirs of rebirth.


SUSHEELA RIVERS, Hong Kong managing partner and head of real estate in Asia Pacific, DLA Piper: I am proud to hold a number of different roles in my capacity as a legal professional. As well as being the managing partner for DLA Piper Hong Kong and running an office of 200+ people, I am also the head of real estate for Asia-Pacific, and I head up the firm’s global gender-balance people network called LAW (Leadership Alliance for Women).

Outside of DLA Piper, I am the chair of ULI Hong Kong (Urban Land Institute), a non-profit membership organisation with a mission to shape the future of the built environment in Hong Kong. I am also a wife and a mother of four.

Stress is inevitably a part of my day-to-day life; however, it is something that I accept and have learnt to manage over the years. We all need some level of stress in our lives – it means we are alive! The danger to mental health comes when that stress becomes too frequent or extreme.

Having a creative outlet definitely helps, and in my spare time, I paint, sew, am a voracious reader and I also design my own shoes. This entails sketching out my designs to sourcing the materials and working with a cobbler to make them. I am also searching for the best mix of elegance, practicality, comfort, and anything that elongates the legs.

A healthy mind starts with a healthy body, so I exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet. I also believe that our thoughts are our reality, so be careful how we allow them to be influenced.

Maintaining strong relationships outside of work is also key. My family and friends help me to keep everything in perspective. I live by three motos:

  • Look for the silver lining, especially in times of difficulty;
  • Make things matter less;
  • Have a love affair with yourself.

Finally, anyone who knows me, knows that I love to have fun! I think it’s really important to play games, laugh and find joy in the everyday.


AKILA AGRAWAL, head of mergers and acquisitions, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas: Transaction lawyers are expected to deliver consistent, high-quality advice and work products in a timely manner. It is a high-pressure job that could adversely affect your mental and physical well-being.

Over the years, I have realised that work-life balance essentially revolves around two things – (a) effective delegation, at home and at work; and (b) time management.

Effective delegation is an art which all lawyers should develop. At home, I get all the help and support I can get from family, friends, and staff. This way, I get to spend time on things that matter. At work, I am grateful to my capable team, which does a lot of the heavy lifting. Time spent in mentoring juniors is an investment that is bound to give good returns in the long run.

As regards time management, I multitask and try to complete my work on the weekdays. It may not happen every week, but I am conscious about not working over the weekends. It also helps to pursue a hobby seriously  – it enriches your life – reading and writing fiction and speed chess are my hobbies.



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