A Lifelong Pursuit of Justice. Member Spotlight: Neisha Shepherd

Neisha Shepherd is the Founder and Legal Director of NLS Law, with offices in Newcastle and Sydney, Australia. As an Accredited Specialist in Children’s Law, a National Accredited Mediator, a trained Child Inclusive Consultant/Mediator, a Collaborative Lawyer and Arbitrator, Neisha brings a wealth of experience to represent her clients in complex legal matters. A passionate advocate, Neisha also practices in the area of Criminal Law, Defamation, Discrimination, Human Rights, Immigration, and Sports Law.

Finding her passion

From a young age, Neisha “always believed in human rights and social justice.” Her career, built upon following this passion, arguably began with a Year 10 work experience placement, where Neisha chose to work at a Youth Refuge. With no intention of becoming a lawyer, Neisha completed her first degree in Social Sciences at Newcastle University. This led her to work with a non-government organization alongside her studies, where she worked with at-risk youth who were victims of sexual abuse. Here, she learned about solution-focused therapies, narrative therapy, and strength-based therapeutic practice, as well as family-centered approaches.

She recalls one situation, where a 13-year-old girl disclosed to Neisha that she was being sexually abused. The perpetrator was charged with sexual assault, and Neisha had to attend the District Court to support the girl through the trial, where she gave evidence over three days and “was pretty much crucified. They called her a liar, and showed her diagrams that she didn’t understand.” While the perpetrator was ultimately found guilty on two charges, he was acquitted on the other two, and Neisha had to explain this judgment to the girl. Outraged by the injustice of this scenario, Neisha ultimately wrote her Honors thesis on strange language and how we communicate with children in criminal court proceedings. Following this trailblazing piece of work, Neisha was asked to complete a PhD in Social Work. However, she felt that, if she wanted to challenge the legal field, she had to become a lawyer. And so, she began her legal studies at Macquarie University, graduating with an LLB. She describes how, “I fell in love with the law. Law for me was a way that I could make a difference in other people’s lives.”

Striving for justice…

After graduating, Neisha was offered a government job, working as a Child Protection Lawyer. However, she ultimately decided to go into private practice. “And then it just went from there. I learned how to be a lawyer, and I was able to work in a way that I could make a difference in people’s lives. And some of the cases that I have done in my law career have changed the law in Australia. I was never afraid to take a risk, and I realized that it wasn’t really an elite profession. You could work towards justice and that’s exactly what I did. So, over 20 years ago, I decided that I would commit my career to promoting justice and making sure everyone had equality to justice. And I’ve done that ever since.”

Neisha explains her decision to go into private practice was also guided by this desire to work towards justice. Her private, fee-paying cases help to fund her pro bono work. She decides to take on cases, not by financial means, but by merit. It was this merit-based approach, and Neisha’s passion for justice, that led her to take on a groundbreaking High Court case, which she eventually won. Another high-profile case concerned the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in Australian law, which was also a resounding success. “And so,” she concludes, “what I decided was that no matter where we are in our lives, if you really believe in something, you can achieve it.”

… in all its forms

Through her legal practice, Neisha also utilizes podcasts as a platform to share knowledge and information, engaging with experts and speakers from around the world to discuss topics ranging from family violence to mediation and arbitration. But Neisha’s commitment to justice extends far beyond her role as a legal practitioner. With a rich background in law, social work, and community development, Neisha brings a unique perspective to her work as a mediator and arbitrator.

Indeed, recognizing the importance of mediation skills in the legal field, Neisha made a conscious choice to pursue mediation qualifications, acknowledging that every day in the legal sector involves mediating, negotiating, and striving for the best outcomes for her clients. Rather than viewing mediation as just another skill to add to her repertoire, Neisha sees it as an opportunity to continually develop and expand her expertise. She understands that true mastery in any field requires a commitment to lifelong learning and growth. In her mediation practice, Neisha covers a wide range of areas, including civil disputes, workplace conflicts, and family law. Her commitment to upholding the rights of children in family law disputes led her to embrace Child Inclusive Mediation. While the child does not directly participate in the mediation process, a Child Advocate works alongside the Mediator and parents to ensure that the child’s perspective is considered, ultimately facilitating workable solutions. Neisha believes strongly in this approach and its potential to create positive outcomes.

Drawing on her background in social science and welfare work and her belief in capacity building, Neisha envisions mediation as a powerful tool for empowering individuals and communities, and for facilitating human rights conciliations on an international level. By facilitating changes that communities own and develop, Neisha envisions a future where long-lasting solutions are found, particularly in areas like climate action, where mediation can begin to address the devastating impacts on communities. Having previously founded an international human rights organization with a focus on preserving culture and capacity building in remote areas, Neisha is acutely aware of the power of community empowerment and the role that corporate social responsibility and business can play in supporting marginalized communities.

Neisha is also a passionate advocate for the power of art as a medium for storytelling. As an abstract expressionist painter, she works with acrylic and oil to “paint about people’s stories.” She explains that her painting style is intuitive, and she often finds herself inspired by the “incredible strength and resilience” of her clients. Some of her work tells stories of family violence, while others focus on strength, overcoming, and resilience. Neisha exhibits and sells her work, donating a portion of the proceeds to charity. She recently exhibited five collaborative works with a young Indigenous artist, which explored cultural connections. This work comes at an important time, with the upcoming referendum on amending the Australian Constitution to recognize and give voice to the First Peoples of Australia.

Inspired by Nelson Mandela’s advice to “dream, believe, and achieve,” Neisha explains that “if we just really believe in ourselves, we can achieve anything.” It was this mantra which led her to join MBBI, “because it was a volunteer group on a mission to make a difference in the world.” Through her extensive experience, passion, and determination, Neisha continues to make a lasting impact on the lives of her clients and the broader community. Her pursuit of justice serves as an inspiration to aspiring lawyers and changemakers alike, reminding us all that, with conviction and sustained effort, we can create a more just and equitable society.

Article by Natalie Dewar, MBBI Writer