Fireside Chat with Neha Chugh
Updated: Feb 20
June 1, 2022
I recently finished watching The Lincoln Lawyer - a legal drama series on Netflix, and I really enjoyed it. I was drawn to the series because it was what I envisioned as a "bona fide" legal drama that I grew up watching: the court, the judge, and the adversarial lawyers. Being a solicitor with an IP background, I find criminal law fascinating and lawyers specializing in this area of law admirable and extraordinary. I believe it takes certain personality, courage, and strength to practice criminal law, and I don't think I can do it as I may get overly emotionally attached.
Wondering how is this related to the Fireside Chat? It is because our next incredible Fireside Chat guest, Neha Chugh, is a criminal defense lawyer and a mom of three! Through Neha's authentic and heartwarming sharing, you will find the ingredients to her recipe of success include resilience, humour, and staying true to herself. Neha's stories also reveal a glimpse of the life of a criminal defense lawyer-mom and it is truly inspiring. I hope you will enjoy this chat as much as I do!
Without further ado, let's get started...
Part 1 - Introduction
Hi, my name is... Neha Chugh.
Year of call to the Bar: 2011.
Type of practice, your role, and where:
- Private practice, I practice criminal, family, and child protection law.
- Owner of Chugh Law Professional Corporation, a team of lawyers and staff.
How many children do you have?
- 3 (Boy - 11; Girl - 8; Boy - 3).
What do you do for self-care or stress relief?
I read a lot, contemporary fiction novels. I work out almost every day, on my own terms. Sometimes it’s a walk with my audio book, or meeting my trainer in the morning. I don’t pressure myself too much, just make sure I get out.
Part 2 - The first “Dual 10” Challenge: within the first 10 years post-call
Equilawbrium: Did you have a master plan for your career path? What was the driving force behind your career decisions? What are the important things to consider as you are figuring out your career path?
Neha: I had a master plan as a child and teenager that I rewrote over and over and over again. As an adult, with kids, I have been thrown a lot of curveballs – my husband’s job moving us hundreds of kilometers from home, pregnancies and kids, a pandemic.
A combination of grit, patience, laughter, and tears has gotten to me to a place of resilience.
What drove me was twofold. First, I have South Asian parents who are career oriented and wanted to see my brothers and I land in professions. I was also driven by a profound sense of justice and fairness. I think being a criminal defence lawyer has achieved my desire to advocate for fairness in the justice system and my parents’ wish for me to be a professional.
When you are considering your career path, first ask yourself this: Do you live to work, or to you work to live? As lawyers we are almost indoctrinated that being a lawyer is our identity. This does not have to be your story, and you are much more than just your job – you are a community member, volunteer, parent, sibling, child, niece, nephew.
There is also a lot that is outside of your control. We are lawyers, we like control. You can’t control the facts of the case your client brings to you. You can’t control who is in the pool of applicants of the job you are applying for. For me, I couldn’t control my spouse’s career trajectory and where life brought us. Being able to let go, and be flexible and accommodating eased my transitions.
Equilawbrium: Please list one soft skill that contributed to where are you now and suggestions on how to cultivate it.
Neha: Humour – I have been told that I have a strong sense of humour. I put people, my clients included, at ease, with a light comment or a funny quip.
That being said, I have never been easy on myself. I have had to work on this. Rather than looking at my past with criticism or regret, I try and see the past in the broader picture and bring some levity to it.
Humour is not always about being a comedian or a clown. We deal with serious issues affecting clients who are trusting us with their lives and their money. Humour can be about making people feeling relaxed and approachable. A smile or open body language can be a start. Also, helping people be easy on themselves for their own decisions without diminishing the gravity of the situation can help them process their legal issues.
Equilawbrium: Please list one hard skill that contributed to where are you now and suggestions on how to cultivate it.
Neha: I consider myself a strong writer. I don’t write deep, analytical jurisprudential prose. Rather, I write in a way that is easy to read and digest and that helps lay people understand dense legal issues. I like writing editorials and contributing to blogs and letters, when asked.
The best way to cultivate your writing is to continue writing. Start a blog or a journal, and just keep chipping away at it. You don’t have to write a lot, 10-50 words is ok! “I like this case, paragraph 12 made me laugh” and then the hyperlink to the case can be enough. A small private reflection in a notebook is a piece of writing that belongs to you too.
Part 3 - The second “Dual 10” Challenge: have kids in their first 10 formative years
Equilawbrium: How did you juggle work/life responsibilities? Is it possible to have it all?
Neha: When I am in the juggling act, I never feel like I am doing it perfectly or that I am doing enough. When I look back on it, I think: wow that went by fast and why was I so hard on myself?
When I think about “having it all”, I think about my capacity to handle life and work as a mason jar, filling up with sand. It may be half filled with the demands of my family. Each client adds a handful of sand. A new writing project may be a few grains. If I sense that a demanding client or obligation is going to overflow my jar of sand, I do my best to say no or to refer the work out.
I admit that I have never been great at saying no. I always wanted to be all things for all people. It took an overflowing jar of toxic sand for me to step back and say: things need to change. I was unhappy, unhealthy, and not being a good lawyer or mom.
When you fill your life with things you like to do, work you like to do, family commitments you like to do, even if you are overflowing, you will be overflowing with joy as well.
How do I "do it all”? I take short cuts where I can and can afford to. I hire a cleaning lady when I am able to and have extra cash. I buy pre-made meals and rely on salad kits and chopped veggies for healthy side dishes. I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself for perfect on the home front. If I can “buy time” with my kids by finding a shortcut on household tasks, I will.
Equilawbrium: Having walked the walk, what is the one parenting tip or trick that you wish you’d known?
Neha: The kids will be ok.
There is so much pressure to keep up with parenting trends, to be a helicopter parent, to be involved in every aspect of our kids’ lives. While trying to juggle a solo practice and my kids’ young years, I would often be the last mom picking her kids up at daycare, and sitting in the McDonalds drive thru late into the evening just to get something for the kids so I could get back to work.
I would lay in bed at night lamenting my choices, feeling torn between the demands of work and my kids tender needs.
What I learned is that my kids were not looking for perfection, or for me to be constantly available for them. My kids relish the 15 minutes in the McDonald’s drive thru and hang on to the jokes and giggles that we share in that time.
My kids have developed resilience in their own way. They have respected my work schedule, so I return the favour to them by being focused and attentive during my time with them.
As soon as I accepted that my kids will be fine even if I work, I started to relax and enjoy every second of the time with kids, even if it was too short.
Equilawbrium: What do you miss most about your kids at that young age?
Neha: I miss the baby days. I miss rocking them on my shoulders and the new baby smell. My kids are in the talking back phase now, on the brink of the pre-teen years. I miss the "mommy is always right" days.
Part 4 - Achieving Equilawbrium: how to survive & rise from the “Dual 10” Challenges
"When you fill your life with things you like to do, work you like to do, family commitments you like to do, even if you are overflowing, you will be overflowing with joy as well." – Neha Chugh
Equilawbrium: What was your biggest challenge going through the Dual 10 phase? Any advice for our readers who are living and breathing this phase and trying to survive and excel?
Neha: I struggled to take criticism and to accept losses. We work in an adversarial environmental and it is actually our job not to agree with one another. Losing in court is hard. At home, kids are brutally honest, as are moms, siblings, best friends, and neighbours. Everyone has an opinion and wants to share what they consider to be advice with you. A little voice in my head was always shouting “I’m doing my best! Accept me! I am trying!”.
Today, I have a strong filter for what is constructive criticism, what can be ignored, and what can be the subject of a good laugh at myself. And I don’t mind losing in court or at a board game anymore. If I do my best work, the decision is left in the Court’s hands.
There are so many critics out there, so be kind to yourself.
Equilawbrium: What is your take-home message for our readers who are trying to find their “equilawbrium”?
Neha: Set your own pace on your own terms. Define what is important for you. If you need to drive your child to school every morning, maybe taking out of town legal work with an early start time is not for you at this time in your life. If you are in a trial that requires long hours during the trial, plan for the days in trial, put in the hours if you are able to, and then book yourself a vacation after.
Equilawbrium: What is the one-word encouragement/support that you would want us to remember?
<<End of Fireside Chat with Neha Chugh>>
**A MILLION THANKS TO NEHA!!**
Neha Chugh is a lawyer practicing in the East region. Neha started Chugh Law in 2014 her love of criminal law, working with individuals and families, serving the vulnerable population, and working with community members in Cornwall, Ontario is evidenced in all of the work that she does. Neha graduated from the University of Waterloo with honours degrees in Sociology and Social Work, a Masters of Science from the University of Guelph in Planning, and a juris doctorate Osgoode Hall Law School at York University and is currently working on a PhD in Sociology from Concordia University
Neha also serves at as the prosecutor in the Akwesasne Court, supervises provincial offences prosecutions with the City of Cornwall, and is an instructor at Iohahi:io Akwesasne Education & Training Institute. Neha was appointed as the Law Foundation of Ontario’s representative on the Board of Governors of the Law Commission of Ontario. Neha serves the community of Cornwall by sitting on various charitable boards around town and giving her time through volunteer work. In her spare time, Neha hangs out with her three kids and spouse.
Disclaimer: Any views, information, and personal opinions expressed by the authors or guests are entirely their own and do not reflect or represent those of their employers or clients.