Meet the Leeds lawyer who made it to the top after being dismissed as a 'shopkeeper's daughter' by her university lecturer

When Daxa Patel’s father died, her outlook on life changed. She has written a book about his life and his dream of seeing his daughter get the education he never had, writes Ismail Mulla.

A bench was placed in memory of Manhar Patel, Daxa's father, at Golden Acre Park in Leeds.

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is difficult. When the person that you have lost is your father, who also happened to be your best friend, it can change your life.

Daxa Patel felt her world was tipped upside down when she lost her dad Manhar Patel in 2013. There was no guide to coping with the grief which she was overwhelmed by.

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“He was just my best friend,” she said. “When he died my world collapsed.”

Daxa Patel says her father was her best friend.

Both their lives had been closely intertwined for over three decades. Her father had undertaken the long journey from Gujarat, India, to settle in Leeds.

Ms Patel’s education started at a public school in Leeds.

She said: “My father was only a shopkeeper but I was one of the first Indian children to go to a private school in Leeds and the first one they had to cater for with vegetarian food.

“But at the age of nine he sent me to India. My father then sold up everything and came to India.”

Moving to Gujarat, where Ms Patel spent a decade, was a “baptism of fire” for her. She didn’t speak a word of Gujarati and was put in an English-speaking school but Sanskrit, Hindi and Gujarati were all compulsory.

It did lead to her falling in love with Gujarati literature and Ms Patel is “grateful” that her father sent her to India as “it allowed me to learn about my culture and appreciate the richness of our language”.

However, after family relations soured, her father lost all that he had built up over there and once again made the journey to Yorkshire – this time with just Daxa with him.

“I came back to England at the age of 19 and my qualifications from India were of no use here,” she said.

While she admits to having no aspirations, her father was not willing to give up on the dream of seeing his daughter get the education that he never had.

Ms Patel said: “I’d been out of education for four, five years. My dad was very insistent. He said you need to get back into education. He made it very clear to me that I’m going to become a lawyer.

“I ended up going to Park Lane College to do the mature matriculation course.”

She passed her exams and managed to get herself into University of Leeds to study law. But upon getting into university, a lecturer dismissed her as just a “shopkeeper’s daughter”.

Ms Patel said: “The way people talk to students now has probably changed but he made me feel so small.

“He said ‘it’s only doctors and lawyers whose children become lawyers, not a shopkeeper’s daughter’.

“I came home and I was in tears. My father said to me ‘you’re going to do this. You are going to prove him wrong’ and I did.”

She added: “I started my journey as a lawyer representing a bank. I was doing more insolvency work and that kind of thing.

“Then I went onto become a trade union lawyer. I worked for a national law firm.

“It was quite a change. From that I went into complex injury law.”

Her career came to halt when her father had a stroke at the age of 92. Care duties started to creep up on Ms Patel: “You don’t even know that you’re falling into the role of a carer.”

She added: “We knew he didn’t have long. He had cancer so I walked away from my job.

“I was doing really well in my profession and I felt that I didn’t want to take a sabbatical or anything because you still have that feeling of needing to report back to work as to when you’re going back. I didn’t want that pressure. I just resigned.

“A lot of people said to me that it was a foolish thing to do because you don’t know how long your dad will need you.”

In hindsight, it turned out to be the best decision Ms Patel made. She says “having that time with him is something that I’m glad I can say I had”.

After he died in December 2013, Ms Patel admits to being lost without her father. That was when she started writing. At first they were blog posts about her dad. She then turned these into a book – My Dad And Me.

She said: “The blog was very cathartic. I found people, who read the blog, would often come back to me and say you’re giving voice to what we feel but have not been able to articulate and say. Somebody six years down the line said to me ‘why don’t you turn this into a book?’”

Losing her father has changed Ms Patel’s outlook on life. She’s now a partner and clinical negligence lawyer at Manchester-based IMD Solicitors. Ms Patel works there two days a week. The rest of the week she spends running her own business acting as an executive leadership coach.

She said: “I went through coaching myself because I was trying to figure out what was next for me. I found that coaching is underrated. I was privileged enough to be taught by the best lawyers.

“I’d like to pass that onto new people coming into the profession and support them because people come into a very intense profession. It doesn’t need to be that. People can still pull their weight, do what’s right for their client and make money from it. But we need to trust people and we need to support them.”

Ms Patel also volunteers with The Silver Line, a charity that helps combat loneliness amongst elderly people, and is a trustee of Carers Leeds.

Recently, Ms Patel got herself a German Shepherd called Oscar. The 12-week-old puppy is a reminder of her father who had a similar dog named Asha.

“My father was a single dad running a string of businesses, Doing stuff like starting a new temple in Leeds but still had the time to raise a puppy,” she says. “I thought, I’m working from home now. This is the best time for me to get one.”

Her father’s legacy lives on in more than just Oscar. It lives on through Ms Patel and the values he instilled in her.

“There’s more to life than just earning a living and doing our own stuff,” she says, when speaking of the greatest lesson he taught her. “We’re here for a greater purpose.

“He always instilled in me that just doing a job for yourself and promoting yourself is not enough. You have to think that ‘I’ve been put on earth to add value to other people’s lives’.”

Curriculum vitae

Title: Author, executive leadership coach and partner and solicitor

Lives: Leeds

Favourite holiday destination: Mauritius

Last book read: The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho and The Book of Gutsy Women by Hillary and Chelsea Clinton.

Favourite film: The Post

Favourite song: I’ll Be Missing You by Puff Daddy, Faith Evans.

Car driven: VW Polo

Most proud of: Running my first ever London Marathon in 2018 for St. Gemma’s Hospice, on what would have been my dad’s 100th birthday. This was the hottest London Marathon and I only started running to find focus after my father’s passing. Running, like writing, saved me from me.