Umme Habiba is a Barrister and Solicitor in Ontario, Canada. She is the owner and founder of the Umme Habiba Legal Professional Corporation (UHLPC).
Umme has over 20 years of experience working in the legal field, both in Bangladesh and in Ontario, Canada. She worked with the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Legal Aid Clinic as part of the Law Practice Program (LPP) where she dealt with difficult family and immigration matters. She also worked with Harmony Hall, a Center for Seniors in Toronto and served diversified and marginalized people. After her Call to the Bar in Ontario, Canada in 2017, she practiced successfully on her own and thereafter joined in the Marie G. Michaels & Associates. Thereafter, in 2018, she founded the Umme Habiba Legal Professional Corporation in the heart of Toronto, Ontario.
After reading the upper part if you feel that you can address only a learned and proficient person, then we must say you have made big a mistake. How powerful a Bangladeshi woman is! Sometimes it’s beyond our imagination. Keep your penetrative eyes on and read the conversation thoroughly – Your understanding will be stronger that you can fight against any kind of injustice and contribute towards the society no matter what. You don’t need to be in a specific scope, time or environment to make a difference to the world in this lifetime.
The InCAP: Greetings! You have already greatly admired face in Canada and Bangladesh. But Ms. Umme we eagerly want to know your growing up story. Would you please start with your childhood?
Umme Habiba: My father, a government college teacher was sick when I was very young; he became the victim of a wrong treatment which caused his liver to be severely damaged. He died when I, the eldest of us four sisters, was only in grade 6; my youngest sister was 2 years old. Our life was uprooted from a regular government quarter’s life to one with a feeling of having no home. My mother had a good education (B.A., B. Ed.). She got a job as a school teacher in our home town, Satkhira. We faced several traumatic periods in life at that young age. We witnessed issues of poverty as we did not receive our fair share of the paternal property when we most needed accommodation arrangements and property distribution etc. At one point of the paternal property settlement, I very clearly realized that a girl child was always supposed to inherit less than a boy and that was the reason why we four sisters were born with our parents’ implied longingness for a son. During one such day, when I saw my mother cry out loud while executing some documents/deeds after my father’s death, I first tasted the meaning of deprivation as a girl child. I argued with my uncles. I was told not to argue without knowing the laws. I decided to study law and change the laws of the country, especially the laws of inheritance that deprived a girl child.
My childhood was spent in several cities, Khulna, Dhaka and Jessore as my father had a transferrable job. In my childhood, I was an average student; however, I used to read a lot of other books outside of the school curriculum. That reading habit later helped me to a great extent.
My father’s untimely death had a significant impact on my life. Education and good results – these are the only things I could imagine of to use as tools to fight against the society to achieve equality for myself and my sisters and all girl children. So, I started to study and work hard. I began to participate in many extra-curricular activities too (including Girls’ Guide, Red Cross’s Young Leadership Program, school level debate and essay writing competitions, drawing competition, participation in science fare etc.). My hard work paid off; I stood first in the Jessore Board in the combined humanities merit list. I eventually got into the law department of Dhaka University, having placed 6th on the list of the students admitted into the University in the year 1990.
The InCAP: When did you decide to become a Barrister? And contextually willing to ask, Why did you decide to go to Canada?
Umme Habiba: I have already answered about when I decided to study law. However, I did not know that I would be a Barrister. When I was a law student, I was engaged in human rights activist and was involved with Law Review (Dhaka University law students’ organization), Ain O Salish Kendra, Bangladesh Legal Aid, and Services Trust and other legal and human rights organizations. Eventually, I became a judge. I worked as a Judge in several districts for a decade. I chose to proceed on with immigration to Canada to complete my dream of higher education. But the original plan started to change. I had to come to Canada when I was under continued pressure of a district judge for unreasonable and unethical things. My son had been suffering because of the nature of my job and my daily, busy life. I came to Canada and planned to take a study leave in order to stay for some time, which would help my son settle in with the issue of maladjustment with schools in Bangladesh. I had a plan to go back to Bangladesh, but unfortunately, my application for a study leave was turned down by my former district judge; the application was never forwarded to the Ministry; rather there were further steps taken by him to issue notices of show cause. I started the Barrister and Solicitor Licensing Process in Canada and sent the resignation from my job.
The InCAP: Would you please detail the structure and working style of Umme Habiba Legal Professional Corporation (UHLPC).
Umme Habiba: Umme Habiba Legal Professional Corporation (UHLPC) is basically a law office formed in the form of a professional corporation. I am the chief lawyer here. We have a team consisting of a law clerk, a legal assistant, and a part-time office manager. We occasionally have part-time placement students/ legal interns too.
In a nutshell, I work just like a regular lawyer. I go to the office (unless I have a court date); we go by our schedules. Sometimes people step in with pressing needs; if we have time, we try to provide services right away; otherwise, I meet with clients on an appointment basis. We continue all other regular work including but not limited to meeting with clients, drafting legal documents, preparing clients for court, providing consultations, conducting legal research, completing real estate transactions, attending courts, etc.
Our main areas of work are – Family Law, Immigration and Refugee Law, Real Estate and Commercial closing, Wills and Estate, and Notarial Services. We accept legal aid for family law matters. Occasionally we do some works pro bono as part of our commitment to the society.
The InCAP: You have an outstanding professional journey. You have already reached a high peak of your career at a very young age. Of course, achieving this position is not that easy, and as a Bangladeshi girl, it’s even more challenging. Tell us something about this.
Umme Habiba: It is true that I have come a long way; however, I still don’t believe that I have reached my peak. I have just completed a journey having careers – one as a judge; another as a lawyer – there is still a long way to go, and many more things to do. If you had asked how I could overcome the journey of becoming a lawyer (Barrister and Solicitor) in Canada, the answer is that I worked hard and never gave up hope. It was doubly hard for me as I was a single mother in a new country with hostile, cold weather. I embraced the struggle as an adventurous journey. In this journey, I felt, my mentors were my deceased father and my maternal uncles; my all-time inspiration came from my mother and my sisters. And obviously my friend Moushumi and my son, Joheen were integral parts of my this part of the journey in Toronto by being continued supports and inspirations.
The InCAP: Umme, please give some advice to young people around the world, from the knowledge gained from your experience.
Umme Habiba: I learned that dreaming big and pursuing the dream with hard work and staying positive are the three things that brought changes to my life. These can help other young people too.
The InCAP: We used to say many things for motivating people, but sometimes voicing does not work too much. What should be the right process of motivation for anyone’s life?
Umme Habiba: This is the hardest question to answer. I motivate myself to stay positive, which I learned from my maternal uncles who always have smiling faces and positive vibes that assure me that ‘I have nothing to worry about, I just should run!’
When I try to motivate others, it does not work in the same way for everyone. Sometimes I talk starting with a dream to visualize where s/he likes to see herself/himself in a few days or years; what s/he really loves or cares for, and then engage in a discussion about how s/he thinks that would be achievable for her/him.
I myself often struggle too to stay motivated. In any such situation when I feel low or dismayed or frustrated, I think for some time; sometimes I get up from what I was doing. I start talking to those that will make me feel better or think otherwise, or I start walking or doing some physical exercises, or I start reading something different or watching some movies or listening to some music which helps me get rid of negative or depressive thoughts. Sometimes it’s not easy. Whenever I do any such thing, I try to keep my brain working to not forget what my main goal was so that I don’t get completely distracted from my path. It may work better if I have several goals – long term and short term noted somewhere within my visibility which may change from time to time but which will remind me of what I am up to.
The InCAP: Your childhood, adolescence, and relatively a large part of education had been elapsed in Bangladesh. What’s your plan for your motherland Bangladesh?
Umme Habiba: I have a dream to go back to do something meaningful. Here is a quick summary of my thoughts about how and where I can contribute to my beloved Bangladesh:
None of us want a divorce to happen, but it often is inevitable. When there is a divorce in Bangladesh, there is no law on how the property accumulated during marriage by both spouses is to be divided. In most cases, a woman even after a long marriage and even after contributing a lot to the marriage has to leave the home with nothing of her own. It can happen to a man too. I have a dream to do some work in this regard which will not challenge any religious personal laws in Bangladesh but which can help eradicate some of these inequalities or will fill up an important vacuum. So, I have a dream to go back to Bangladesh or to visit more frequently to contribute in this regard or somewhere where I have scopes to contribute to the country.