Immigration and refugee lawyer Kamil Lakshman was unaware that law was in her family bloodline until she was a teenager.
Mrs Lakshman was born in Suva, Fiji, but never knew her father, a lawyer and a University of Canterbury graduate, who died when she was just three months old.
“I was adopted by my grandparents. It wasn’t until my final years at secondary school that I became aware of his background,” she says.
“My father was only about 28 years old when he died. At the time I felt the only connection I could get to him that was tangible was to become a lawyer. I wore my father’s gown when I was admitted as my grandmother had kept it for me all that time and presented it to me when I graduated. It was a complete shock.”
Mrs Lakshman is the Principal at Idesi Legal, a boutique firm which has offices in Wellington, Auckland and Dunedin. She has been a long-standing member and past convenor of the New Zealand Law Society’s Wellington branch Immigration and Refugee Law Committee and is also a member of the national committee.
She completed her law degree at Victoria University later in life and was admitted in 2000 prior to being a middle management public servant. She recently was admitted to the Fiji bar and holds a practising certificate in Fiji, mirroring her father’s journey.
As an immigration and refugee lawyer, her team deals with a wide range of cases. Clients include asylum seekers wanting a better life than the one they left behind, which in some cases is a war-torn country or politically unsafe environment.
The humanitarian aspect of many cases, she says, makes it both challenging and rewarding work.
The stories of immigrants are often tales of daring escapes and desperation, stories of survival that most of us could not imagine, so when Kamil Lakshman’s team gains a win, it is something to be savoured.
“We achieved legal status for a woman who had been living here illegally for approximately 31 years. It’s hard work. We interview people to create the strongest and most powerful story we can, and then present their case. They can’t do it by themselves. If they could they wouldn’t be coming to us,” she says.
There are no guarantees when representing people who are living in these uncertain situations.
“You have to listen carefully to comprehend what they are saying. In a sense you have to hear what is not being said and see what is not being seen. That’s where we find the clues to telling their full story.”
The really sad cases are those that had a good case to begin with but because of a small error their entire immigration status in New Zealand has become compromised, which then results in a long costly battle.
While Mrs Lakshman’s work has a strong humanitarian flavour to it, so do many of her outside interests.
For example, Fiji has been lashed by cyclones many times and it’s expected that it will happen again. Over the years, Mrs Lakshman has organised several humanitarian appeals to aid relief efforts after these tropical storms. After the last cyclone she managed to organise five relief containers.
She has also been a radio presenter, with a show broadcast in Hindi, which is aimed at educating Fiji Indians on immigration matters.
“This came about because I saw the lax nature in which forms were being filled and ghost operators undertaking this task at a fee,” she says.
In her spare time, Kamil enjoys practising what she describes as spiritual activities, including yoga and meditation.