High Heels and the Law

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Happily married and devoted mother of one, Molina runs her commercial law business in Melbourne and admits to being driven and fuelled by passion. She regularly devotes her expertise and energy to community work, advocating and designing meaningful opportunities. Meet the creator of synergy in the world of law, bridging the gap between fairness, equality and justice.

A stylish lady in her own right, Molina Asthana, is not just a pretty face with a superstar presence. She is a multi-award winning and industry recognised practising lawyer of almost twenty years. Mr Tonee Sethi, G’day India’s editor-in-chief, recently had the pleasure of meeting Molina and discovering insight into how she has overcome numerous challenges and strived for leadership, yet remains humble and connected with the community.
Proudly born and bred in India, Molina “grew up in a legal family.” She elaborates, “I come from a family of lawyers and judges and jurists. Initially, I was rebelling, and I said, ‘no, I’m not going to do law, I’ll do something else.’” However, while studying for a commerce degree Molina kept thinking about law, and upon completion, went straight into law studies. Molina’s passion for a legal profession gained her work immediately after graduating. She successfully juggled work at the Supreme Court of India and various law firms.

In 2004, Molina moved to Melbourne. She married her Australian-born Indian businessman and banker, and things never looked better. Until the hard facts of gaining employment as a newly arrived migrant, albeit highly qualified and experienced, became a defining moment. Molina shares, “When I arrived here, they told me that I wouldn’t get a job and not in the industry I wanted.” She was advised, by recruiters, to change her profession to have the chance to gain employment in Australia and adds, “I was quite adamant. I’m a trained lawyer and a decent lawyer. I should have been given a chance to prove myself.”

Bolstered by this new challenge, Molina underwent a Masters of Law at Melbourne University and was a star performer, consistently achieving high grades. Upon completion, Molina was ready to obtain employment and continue her love for making law work for everyone. However, after all her dedication to achieve a higher standard in the law industry, recruiters asked for more. Molina had to defend herself and convince people of her worthiness and capabilities. She discloses, “It was like a big struggle because recruiters weren’t putting my CV forward, and I was getting nowhere. I said to myself… ‘I’m going to approach this differently.’ I started meeting people directly. I took appointments with partners from big firms. I told them this is what I am going to bring to the table from having someone like myself, with a diverse background, join their firm.”

Over the next few years, Molina’s tenacity, confidence and willpower to overcome where many people have given up sees her gain employment in top-tier law firms, such as Clayton Utz and MinterEllsion. She backed herself, started at the bottom and worked her way up, surpassing everyone’s expectations. Being a cutthroat industry, Molina focused on her job and was determined to make a difference through her knowledge and love of law.
Despite representing the minority in the legal profession, being female and a migrant, Molina thrived. She explains, “Working in big law firms: it wasn’t easy. You’d be the only person speaking with an accent. Even though there’d be some Asians working there, they were all born here. I had to find space for myself. It is a very competitive environment in the legal industry.”

Not only did Molina have to navigate a boys’ club culture, but she also had to fit in with a male-dominant workplace. She elaborates, “I found that the legal profession itself and generally the workplaces were conservative and hierarchical. There’s no place for migrants. Even now, I’m the National Vice President of the Asian Australian Lawyers Association. The very reason this organisation started seven years ago was to create these opportunities for Asians. There’s hardly any judges of Asian background or partners in firms.”

Busy and as dedicated as she was, Molina craved more from law. Through building self-confidence and resilience, Molina relinquished the idea that she should be content with her current career level. Bravely reaching out to recruiters again, they take her on board for the first time, mainly because of her extensive work in top-tier law firms. In no time at all, she secures a position at the Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office. Molina worked for the next eleven years, and as a Principal Solicitor, her accomplishments were unmatched.

Molina, a dynamic and smart woman, earns enough pulling power to assist, advocate and support clients, staff and colleagues. From this, her love of social law resurfaces. Juggling her daily commercial law duties, Molina wholeheartedly adds, “I started by sitting on boards to kick-start my community work. I also began working on social issues that were affecting migrants and a lot of issues of diversity, inclusion and access to justice.”

Community work is something Molina knows intimately from growing up surrounded by the legal profession, but definitively because of her role model and grandfather, Justice Heri Swarup. She expresses, “My grandfather was renowned as a socialist judge; he was very well known. His judgements were part of my curriculum when I did law in India. I was influenced by his consistent and constant commitment to serving the communities and making sure people had a fair chance. There was fairness in everything he did.” From this inspiration, a couple of years ago, Molina ignited a non-for-profit start-up revolving around multicultural women in sport and “encourages women of diverse backgrounds to engage in sport as a means of empowerment and a sense of belonging.”

Molina’s work is far from complete. This year alone sees her focusing on a myriad of things. One being her continued devotion to encourage those trying to attain leadership positions. She confides, “I also faced a lot of barriers. And that is what I wanted to change through my work: make sure others don’t go through the same things I did. So learn networking, how to upscale yourself and work always speaks for itself – beat them with their own stick kind of thing. For me, it was the challenges that drove me to do better.”

Honourably, Molina now is the Vice President of the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV). It is commendable to note that she is the first Indian in the 162 years of LIV’s existence to have this leadership position. However, Molina mentions that it is not all about what you do and have, but how you keep evolving and communicating to sustain influence and leadership in challenging circumstances. She promotes upskilling to stay relevant and connected; “It’s about continuing your work and changing tactics. In Australia, we have a compulsory element to our professional development. We have to do ten compulsory professional development units every year. I upskill even with human rights law. I don’t get that kind of work every day, but it’s the type of work that influences policy that goes into lawmaking. I engage in a lot of policy submissions at the law institute.”

In addition, her role at LIV sees her concentrating on three major issues this year, such as sexual harassment, diversity in the legal profession and Covid- 19 related matters. Molina addresses, “I think all professions suffered last year, so it’s about rebuilding, reconnecting and supporting the community. So, whether I can do well through my legal work or my community work, I think it’s important we can provide that support. The issues are already in the community but have exacerbated because of covid. So through another organisation that I’m a member of called Australian Alliance, we’ve been working on racism issues.

Racism directed towards Asians during covid and that has been a problem worldwide.”
Since actively practising law, Molina has seen many changes within the industry. She recommends the direction law is taking, specifically, from litigation dominance to settling out of court, lawmaking and more focus on restorative justice in Australia. Molina reveals, “Law is what has changed. There’s mediation now. Some things have become more important regarding the settlement of disputes outside of the court system. It is considered a more positive outcome and a better outcome for everyone concerned.”

From a mountain-load of trials and tribulations, Molina has forged a pathway not just for herself but for those who need it most. She assists by creating opportunities and supporting others by empowering migrants to raise their expectations about themselves. Molina has deservedly gained recognition for being a formidable leader and valuable role model.

She reveals, “I keep believing I can do it and that I can make a difference. For me, that confidence comes from my background. I am always very proud of my heritage and background. I think the positives that I bring with that: I’ll be valuable.”

By Agata Zema