Sussex alumnus and leading employment law solicitor Rustom Tata was praised this week for "raising the next generation of social justice warriors".
Rustom, a partner and chairman at DHM Stallard LLP, received a University of Sussex Fellowship at winter graduation for his voluntary work with the University’s employment law clinic.
In presenting Rustom to Sussex’s Vice-Chancellor, Sasha Roseneil, for the honour, Professor Amir Paz-Fuchs, Head of Law at Sussex, said: "Rustom has not given up on the power of law in general, and employment law in particular, to bring about a better society."
He described how Rustom was the first solicitor to come onboard when the legal clinics, which provide free legal advice through student advisors and with the support of expert professionals, began seven years ago.
He went on: "Rustom has been showing up, sleeves unrolled... not only to offer advice to the client in the office, but also to raise the next generation of social justice warriors."
After the ceremony on Wednesday (25 January) at the Brighton Centre, Rustom said that he was grateful for the acknowledgment, but emphasised that the University should be proud of the wide range of legal clinics it now runs that give advice to the local community on matters such as family law, housing law and migration law.
"I wanted the opportunity to give something back"
He said: "In employment law, it’s all about relative strength of bargaining power. Unfortunately, because of the withdrawal of legal aid, most ordinary people cannot afford to go to an expert lawyer. I wanted the opportunity to give something back, to support the University and help provide a service to the local community."
For the students he said it is about supporting them, sometimes stepping back a little bit, and sometimes having to direct them more firmly. "It’s very different writing a letter of advice to a client who may be going through a particularly stressful time, to writing an essay citing cases and statutory provisions."
Rustom joined DMH Stallard (then Donne Mileham & Haddock) soon after graduating from Sussex in 1988, but has stayed connected to the University since his student days. At the time, the firm provided legal advice to the University It has continued to be involved in local projects, ranging from the West Pier Trust to gaining planning approval for Brighton’s AMEX Stadium. For a number of years, Rustom was a trustee of the University’s Mandela Scholarship Fund, which supports a student from South Africa each year. He continues to be a non-executive director of the Students’ Union Trading Company.
"I stayed in touch with Sussex because it has a really special place in my heart," said Rustom. "It was part of my formative years, and it is what set me on my path. In life, I think you need a bit of luck, a bit of time, hard work and opportunity. I didn’t necessarily work as hard at Sussex as I might have done, but it helped set me up."
Rustom studied Law with French in what was then known as the School of European Studies. This enabled him to spend a year abroad in Brussels, focusing on European law, and a month in Bologna in Italy.
"It was a brilliant time," he said. "Sussex appealed to me because of the combination of the course, of Brighton and the campus - and the vibe. At the time, I also wanted to go to a university where the students weren’t all wearing denim. And at Sussex they weren’t. They were in cool, wacky trousers!"
Although not one for the limelight, Rustom’s comment is often sought by the media when issues regarding employment law hit the headlines. He has appeared on BBC TV and radio, and in the print and on-line national media.
For more than 20 years he has also been advising the Royal Households on employment matters and, in 2012, was appointed a Member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO) by the Queen for personal service to the monarch. In the New Year’s Honours List, he was made a Lieutenant (LVO).