My Brilliant Career: Lerisha Naidu
Naidu is a partner in Baker McKenzie's competition practice group in Johannesburg
Tell me about your job as a lawyer.
Being a lawyer is not quite as sensational as depicted in the average TV legal drama. While it probably does involve a good suit and many a late night, there is a lot about being a corporate lawyer that would not make for riveting television. In competition law, my area of specialisation, there is never a dull moment, particularly because the law is comparatively new and developing. However, the reality is that, although cases may often be challenging, interesting and precedent-setting, the everyday practice of law requires a bit of blood and sweat.
How did you get to where you are today?
I began my legal career as a legal researcher to the deputy chief justice of the Constitutional Court, Dikgang Moseneke. To kick-start my professional journey under the tutelage of a jurist (and person) of such calibre and esteem was an honour. It stretched me to the limit, and then it stretched my limits, cultivating my desire to unpick things. It also taught me about changing my mind and the process of unlearning (which is sometimes just as important as learning).
My parents always encouraged awareness, discourse and frank debate. They invested in our education and travel locally and abroad. I have had the benefit of support and mentorship throughout my career from inspirational leaders in the industry that shaped my approach to legal work and my view of the world. Where I am today is therefore the product of a group effort.
What is competition law, and what sorts of cases would you generally work on?
Competition law is the set of rules that are designed to foster healthy competition among market players, for the benefit and health of the economy (and the consumer). I have had the benefit of working on some interesting and high-profile cases.
Did you always want to be a lawyer?
I started out knowing what I didn't want and was guided by what my strengths were. I knew that anything remotely mathematical or medical would not play to those strengths (and was not in the public interest). I envisaged writing novels in cafes or being in the music industry (which was also probably not in the public interest). But what it all boiled down to was that I was passionate about words, creative in some ways and technical in others and interested in people.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I enjoy engaging with a field of law that is challenging and intellectually stimulating, involving new and different legal issues and a growing knowledge of different markets. I love being able to learn every day and appease my desire to be a perpetual student. I love interacting with other legal minds that are leaders in the field. I love meeting people and learning about them and the work they do. I love finding creative solutions to legal questions - to think outside of the proverbial box. I love working in a team and being part of the project of empowering others by sharing knowledge, mentoring and training.
What character traits do you need to make it in your industry?
Other than the ability to operate sometimes on an unhealthily negligible amount of sleep, it is important to not take yourself too seriously. That sounds counterintuitive in the field of law (which is oh so serious), but being open to knowledge and being humble throughout the process of learning and growing expedites the developmental process. Resilience and grit are also important. And then, it's quite important to be able to genuinely connect with people.