fivehundred magazine > > Interview with Nazan DİRİ BAL, managing partner

Interview with Nazan DİRİ BAL, managing partner

Tell us about your career choice and journey. What inspired you to become a lawyer?

We have the cliché of a family full of lawyers. But inspiration is a strong word that includes desire, ambition and a deep force from inside. Although that was my only response as a kid when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I was not actually inspired to become a lawyer in the first place. I was, however, convinced that studying law is a magical key that may grant me access to many different career opportunities. And in addition to that, I was also inspired by my father, who is not only a lawyer, but also an influential personality whose fair lead was always followed by others. So during my journey of education, I started to understand that the important question is not actually what I wanted to be, but instead who I wanted to become and how I do what I do. In a nutshell, I believe my inspiration to becoming a lawyer is a package consisting not only the people around me; but also the books I read, the movies I watched, the friendships I made and all my inner journey.

What are your reflections on the diversity and inclusion culture in the legal profession in Turkey?

In previous decades, there was an unconscious bias against women as managers with a false understanding that they are unnecessarily cautious, less confident, less aggressive with inferior leadership and problem-solving abilities when compared to male peers. Fortunately, many successful women succeeded to overcome this myth. The role of women in society has considerably changed in Turkey. Being a woman lawyer is not a new phenomenon, as in Istanbul alone the ratio of women to man is about 50/50, with even higher number of woman lawyers. To be honest, however, diversity and inclusion do not only cover gender related matters and the legal profession in Turkey has still a considerable way to go from the traditional to modern in order to be defined as fully inclusive with all colleagues feeling a sense of belonging regardless of their identities.

How is Diri Legal progressing with its diversity agenda?

We believe every firm is a small simulation of the general legal society. By this understanding, we try to create a workplace where we would have applied to work at. Regardless of a person being only an applicant or a long-term colleague, we do our best to treat everyone the way we want to be treated. The only privilege we acknowledge is the acceptance of the principle of equality with no barriers.

How do you define the culture at Diri Legal?

I am more than sure that all colleagues in each and every firm are doing their best to provide high level professional services to their clients with deep legal knowledge and solid experience as we also do. The question of culture, however, refers us to somewhere different than the quality of the legal services. Culture should be adaptable, genuine and open to improvement. We do not differentiate client satisfaction from employee satisfaction since we believe they are linked to each other at the end of the day. In order to achieve both, we value open communication and transparency. At Diri Legal, being “culture fit” is as important as skills and experience.

Our firm was born in Izmir and I can define the culture at Diri Legal as embracive and as tolerant as the Aegean culture.

In your opinion, are women lawyers treated differently by clients and colleagues compared to their male counterparts?

Luckily, I have never been treated differently for just being a woman in my personal experience. But I know stories of colleagues who unfortunately experienced such dark side of the profession. The main problem, however, is that regardless of being a lawyer, a woman is instinctively forced to create her own self-control mechanisms in professional life such as acting gender-neutral, or sometimes even masculine. These identity strategies are of course triggered by the unfortunate fact that women are actually still treated differently compared to their male counterparts, so that femininity is something to be hidden in business. In the meantime, men are free to be men as much as they want. Yet still, I believe we are close to a future where all identities will be free enough to form the same sentence for.

How do you see the new generation of women lawyers?

Less committed with much more free spirit! Their self-confidence and awareness will definitely reshape the profession in a positive way.

If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be?

Although a clever response to this question would be to state that becoming a lawyer was my only desire, an honest response would be to confess that I would have loved to study drama and become a stage actress.

Which women in your life have had the most influence on your career?

I was lucky enough to meet and work with many intelligent women, not only as my superiors but also in more junior roles and each one of them enriched me with their strong personalities and unique perspectives. Now that I’ve been asked to name the ones who had the most influence, I cannot miss the opportunity to thank three special women in particular. I met Associate Professor Idil Elveris when I was a sophomore in university and I was always (and am still) impressed with her never-ending enthusiasm to change things. She made me understand that studying law actually serves to a greater purpose. Cagnur Alp has been a great mentor in mapping my career journey during my internship. She is also a great example that shows you there is no need to choose between a successful career and happy family life since you can have both. Finally, Begum Durukan Ozaydin has always been a great source of inspiration for me with her impeccable professional skills, perfectionism and absolute motivation. Her generosity in sharing her extensive knowledge and expertise, as well as her modesty and honesty has impressed me at all times.

What motivates you?

This one may be surprising but the longer my to do list gets, the more I feel motivated to get things done! The secret ingredient in this recipe is the list to also include items which require skills other than just lawyering. I like to be challenged by being multi-tasking and versatile.

Are there any pivotal moments that shaped your career as a lawyer?

Certainly the day I started working at Birsel Law Office and the day it closed its doors permanently due to Dr. Birsel’s decision of retirement. The first taught me that it is possible to produce some of the best works in the country without being in destructive competition with colleagues, but instead by always supporting each other. There I have made life-long friendships that I hold dearly. The closing, on the other hand, pushed me to finally move on from my comfort zone and take over the family business with a 30-year legacy. Birsel, which was also a family business, helped me to develop a vision of how such a business may grow solidly and a strong understanding of the dos and don’ts.

How do you manage your current work / life balance?

By stopping to believe that there should always be a continuous balance between work and life. It is not realistic at all and targeting the impossible would only make you feel overwhelmed. I sometimes read articles in which people share strategies to manage work/life balance as if they are sharing the secret of the universe. Although I agree that finding a kind of balance and not totally losing yourself in work is incredibly important, this cannot be as systematic and scheduled as we dream of. Something urgent may always come up in the middle of a family dinner, which means you should be flexible as things may not go as planned – especially if you are in a managing position. So trying to enjoy the moment as much as I can and less sleep would be my response.

When you look back at your career and the knowledge you’ve gained, what advice would you give to female students who are about to enter the legal industry?

To be known as collaborative is much more reputable than to be known as competitive. We are in the same boat and we are here to strengthen each other and clear the way for the upcoming generation. It doesn’t matter who sits in the driver’s seat as long as the road is open. Self-confidence and not giving up yourself are also important in order to make sure that it is still you inside even after decades – not only the lawyer you but the real you.

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