Coming from the remote Maldives in the Indian Ocean motivated a Wellington-based immigrant lawyer to excel in two difficult and oft-considered dry areas of practice, tax and intellectual property law.
Ismail Rasheed became a sole practitioner in October 2015. He gained his LLB at Waikato University in 1999 and has 18 years legal experience as a tax law specialist.
It’s a second career for Mr Rasheed who, before training to become a lawyer, worked as a detective in England.
“I was a detective in the Maldives before going on secondment to West Yorkshire. It was in the UK where I was introduced to law. It was fascinating and intellectually challenging. I was in Court often and had to study the UK Crimes Act along with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and apply it with various investigations,” he says.
Mr Rasheed was a police detective for about nine years. He migrated to New Zealand and studied law at the University of Waikato from 1995.
With a background in law enforcement it would probably have been a smooth transition into specialising as a criminal lawyer. However, Mr Rasheed chose to focus on what many might consider a less sexy practice, tax law.
Why tax law?
“I was determined to get high marks in that area and achieved an A+ in my tax papers. I’d investigated the market and found tax was not a popular area to work in so that’s why I set my sights on it,” he says.
He says tax law was hard, dry and complex.
“The Income Tax Act is one of the biggest Acts of Parliament. It’s constantly changing and I thought if this is something that I can do, and I can prove to employers, then I’ll get a good job. I desperately wanted to settle in New Zealand so I took the emotion out of it and made it work for me by retraining my thinking.”
Mr Rasheed says being an immigrant also brought with it many challenges, particularly in securing that first job after graduating.
“Initially, they didn’t want to employ me. I was told it was because I didn’t have permanent residency, so I sent a legal opinion to them detailing how I had graduated, these are my grades and this is the Government immigration policy and I’m entitled to a work permit. I requested that they reconsider my application and offer me an opportunity for an interview at the very least,” he says.
He was granted that wish.
“They sent me a ticket to fly to Wellington (from Hamilton) for the interview. It was winter yet I was sweating during the meeting as they grilled me on law. It was a technical interview. I had to cite case law. But in the end they offered me a job at a level higher than the position was advertising,” he says.
After years of working for other people, time was up. In October 2015, Ismail Rasheed set up his sole practice law business, IR Legal.
It was a gamble leaving the security of working for a Government department but it appears to have paid off.
Mr Rasheed, who is 50, puts much of his success down to the use of social media – 95% of his client base comes from Google search, he says.
“When I started out I thought, where am I going to get clients? Should I sit at a pub all day on a Friday and network to find clients?”
He says his biggest investment was in paying Google.
“I don’t have a search engine optimising agent because if you employ somebody external, they might have two lawyers, creating a conflict of interest and which one will they put higher up on the search list, the person with the best model?
“I’m dealing directly with Google and that gives me the advantage. I market myself and if you search ‘immigration lawyer’ or ‘tax lawyer’ on Google, IR Legal usually comes up amongst the first crop of results,” he says.
He says before social media it might have taken up to five years to gain the client base he has, which is spread across New Zealand.
Mr Rasheed says being an immigrant from the Maldives has also benefited the immigration part of his law business.
His workload consists of 60% immigration and 40% tax law.
One on One
Giving clients up front personal service empowered Ismail Rasheed to go solo.
While he works from his Lower Hutt home office, he also rents two virtual offices in the Wellington central business district where various meetings are held.
“When you work for large departments sometimes there is a lot of micro-management going on. You can’t be completely yourself. On one hand you are an employee and have to follow their instructions. There’s a certain amount of control over the arguments you can put forward as a lawyer. I found that after about 16 years of working for other people that I had gained a lot of technical knowledge and I needed a new challenge,” he says.
Citing an appeal case he is working on before the Immigration and Protection Tribunal, he says it’s a case where he is able to raise arguments based on international law that he says have not been tried in New Zealand before.
“If I was to raise the argument I’m planning while working for a Government department, let’s just say it would be very difficult for me to persuade them to take my angle,” he says.
Mr Rasheed says over the past year he has saved seven businesses from bankruptcy or liquidation.
“Those clients instructed me after their accountants and lawyers failed to negotiate an arrangement with Inland Revenue. I was very pleased to be able to help them continue trading,” he says.
One of his long term goals is to build a lawyers’ network on social media both nationally and abroad.