After three tumultuous years as leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party, Rana Bokhari is taking on a new challenge by creating a one-stop commercial law practice for doctors and dentists.
Bokhari is determined to become the go-to lawyer in the Winnipeg area for medical professionals seeking corporate and commercial advice.
Opening an independent law practice has been one of Bokhari’s long-standing ambitions. “It’s always been a dream,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com.
Her clients benefit from the same commitment, integrity and high standards that she brought to her political career, she says.
“It’s essential that I earn my clients’ trust and that my clients are certain that I will be there to handle their legal issues in a efficient and timely manner,” she says
It’s been an extraordinary three-year adventure for the Winnipeg-born daughter of Pakistani immigrants who defied expectations in her mid-30s by becoming the first female of South Asian descent in Canada to lead a major political party.
As an outsider, Bokhari faced stiff opposition, but the Liberal Party managed to double its vote count in the 2016 Manitoba election and grow its standing in the legislature from one to three seats.
Although, after expending great efforts for herself and the party, the Winnipeg riding of Fort Rouge did not turn Liberal. Bokhari stayed on as interim leader until September 2016.
Days later, she and two colleagues, criminal lawyers Kate Smith and David Wolfe Walker, opened their boutique law firm, Bokhari, Smith & Walker. The firm occupies sleek, modern offices on York Avenue in the heart of Winnipeg’s legal and business community, just a block from Manitoba Law Courts.
The three lawyers are practising independently but share resources — it’s an inviting space where people feel comfortable walking in and always receiving first-class service, Bokhari says.
She believes her specialization — serving the business law needs of doctors and dentists — fills a unique niche in Manitoba.
Bokhari handles legal issues associated with purchase and sale agreements, incorporations, shareholder and partnership agreements, contracts between associates and employers, commercial lease arrangements, records privacy and employment issues and medical regulatory matters.
She also offers services in wills and estates planning, as well as immigration law.
A lover of all things medical, Bokhari got the idea for her practice from speaking to different professionals in the medical field.
“I recognize the difficult balance between their profession and their business. I’m here to offer them a trusted relationship with one lawyer who they can rely on to have their legal needs taken care of. A lawyer who understands their professional and business structures,” she says.
Her high profile as former Manitoba Liberal Party leader has been a boon in launching her practice, she says. “I am fortunate to have built long-lasting relationships in this province over the past four years.”
After being elected party leader in 2013, Bokhari toured Manitoba, attracting new members and grassroots support.
With little money and few resources, she revamped the organization, building a call centre and database, and worked to create a transparent, progressive party that would serve as an alternative to the status quo.
“It was fulfilling in many ways including the usual uncharted challenges that come with public life,” Bokhari says. Some of the unusual challenges such as racism, sexism, death threats and even vandalism were difficult and eye opening, she recalls. “That’s where I had to rely on the strength of my own character and stay focused on who I am and what I was about. I had to be resilient and fearless.”
Through it all, she was buoyed by an inborn confidence. “I never waiver in my convictions. I’ve had that fighting spirit in me since I was very young,” she says.
As a child growing up on a poultry farm in Anola, east of Winnipeg, her parents encouraged Bokhari and her siblings to work hard, get a good education and pursue a profession. The two boys and three girls were treated equally. “There was a lot of girl power in my house,” she laughs.
As a young woman, Bokhari worked in retail and founded her own clothing design business while helping to take care of her ailing father.
Finally, at age 28, she acted on a long-standing ambition to become a lawyer.
At the University of Manitoba, Bokhari earned two bachelor of arts degrees — one in psychology, the other in criminology — and made the dean’s list for academic excellence, before she was accepted to the University of Manitoba’s Robson Hall law school.
While at university, she became a high-profile student leader, spearheading numerous fundraisers for such causes as Haiti earthquake relief and help for the homeless. She was active in the Manitoba Law Students’ Association, serving as president in 2012.
Called to the Manitoba Bar in 2013, Bokhari worked as an associate at Carroll Law Office in Winnipeg, practising mainly commercial and corporate law.
Today, free of the responsibilities of politics, Bokhari is continuing her active community work.
She is also writing a book that draws on her experiences about the challenges faced by minority women in leadership positions. She is planning to give a series of talks to women encouraging them to seek leadership roles.
And she does not rule out future forays into the political arena.
“I believe you’re supposed to live,” she says. “That’s why I choose to contribute positively to our community and do as much as I can every single day. I have never followed the beaten path, and I don’t ever intend to.”