“I am a lawyer, but my interest really is in seeing how I can make others around me feel valued,” Tana'ania Small Davis, QC, says in introducing herself.
The effervescent go-getter doesn't mince words when it comes to explaining her passion for her craft, nor does she pause when asked what it means to have been appointed to the esteemed rank of Queen's Counsel (QC) this year, the only female in her firm, Livingston Alexander & Levy's, 110-year history, and the sixth of the firm's attorneys to take silk.
“It has been an aspiration of mine from the day I entered the profession,” she says. “When I would be at my uncle Hugh's offices (Hugh Small, QC), he had his letters patent hanging on the wall right as you entered his office, and I would go in there and just stand and read those letters all the time. Similarly, when I went to [work in] the British Virgin Islands (BVI), the senior lawyer in the firm was a QC, and I would go into his office and just read it. It means a lot to me, I strived towards it, it's an immense recognition. And I also recognise that it also has duties to go with it, in terms of reaching my hand onto others to mentor them and encourage them along the path of striving towards excellence and understanding the responsibility of your duty to the court, and the honesty, integrity not just in your personal life, but also in your practice of the law.”
A partner at Livingston Alexander & Levy, Small Davis' achievement was an historic one for the firm, being its first female counsel to get that recognition.
“On her call to the Bar in 1992, Small Davis embarked on a legal career influenced by a family steeped in the law, following her grandfather Senior Puisne Judge Ronald Small and uncles Hugh Small, QC, and senior attorney-at-law Richard Small,” the firm says in recognising her.
“Tana'ania quickly established herself as a formidable litigator and is known for a zealous representation of her clients and their interests. She is well recognised for her considerable experience in complex commercial litigation including multi jurisdictional litigation and areas of shareholders disputes, breach of contract and insolvency. Her vivacious nature coupled with a strong sense of duty and dedication to the profession have earned her both the respect and endearment of her partners, associates and colleagues alike.”
Born in Kingston, Small Davis grew up with her great grandmother, a woman she says was everything to her and the person who has had the most influence over her life. At Vaz Prep, an institution her father attended and her grandmother taught at, she admitted that she just didn't put in all the work that she could and should have, but it was an important institution that shaped her formative years.
“But now it turns out that when I became a professional I'm all about putting in the work... so I think Mrs Vaz would be proud of me to know that those things that she put in my head in those formative years, they're actually with me and I'm practising them now,” she mused as she referenced Vaz's motto, 'Honest Labour Bears a Lovely Face'.
Entry to St Andrew High followed prep school, and then it was on to sixth form at Wolmer's, then on to The University of the West Indies to study law.
“Doing law felt natural to me, from I was quite young my great grandmother used to say it all the time, that I should be a lawyer because she said I talked too much,” she laughed. “She loved language and people who would speak well and use the language well... and I think she linked that with lawyers. Back in the day, before we had Netflix, people would go to court to watch the cases — that was sort of their education as well as their entertainment... and so there was a great admiration for lawyers — the way they spoke and put across things and the authority that they commanded. I think probably that's what she saw for me.”
With a grandfather being a judge and two lawyer uncles, law would seem more like it chose her, but Small Davis said even with that background she didn't feel pressured to follow their footsteps, nor did she think she had it easier than any other student because of her family ties.
“I did the sciences, strangely enough, in high school,” she explained. “And I did have thoughts of becoming a surgeon... or a criminal psychologist, I thought that was fascinating. But I always came back to law. It was just no other question.”
She graduated, was called to the Bar, and worked in her uncle Richard's chambers for three years, where she did a lot of criminal law and a lot of legal aid work.
“I got a lot of opportunities to learn the craft very early by having a wide swathe of legal aid clients,” she said. “I did a lot of work for the Jamaica Council for Human Rights, that gave me exposure to people like Lloyd Barnett, David Muirhead, Pamela Benka-Coker — some of the stars of the legal fraternity — and I think those were just some of the things that helped me understand how to be a good lawyer.”
After three years she wanted to do more civil law and joined the firm Kelly Williams & McLean for some four years, then went back into solo practice again with her uncles.
She left Jamaica in 1999 for the BVI, where she said she was shocked to discover the stellar level of practice in the offshore jurisdiction.
Practising very complex commercial litigation is where she grew as a commercial attorney in the 13 years she spent in the territory, she said.
Having returned to Jamaica in 2012, she immersed herself in her craft at Livingston Alexander & Levy in Kingston, and says she also gives back as much as she can.
The firm is very active in the surrounding neighbourhood, and is celebrating 110 years as a law firm this year by giving back and honouring the long-lasting legacy it has in the community. It's advocacy also includes work with the Friends of Marie Atkins Night Shelter and St Alban's Infant and Primary Schools, Bethel Baptist Church and the Mustard Seed Communities.
Small Davis is also part of the Jamaican Bar Association's effort to revive and revitalise its mentorship programme, to ensure guidance and support for young lawyers. The bar association also recently signed an agreement with Woman Inc to give free legal services to Jamaican women who are victims of domestic violence, and Small Davis said involvement in legal aid is also important for lawyers so that people who don't have a voice can be helped.
“I think it's important for each one of us to do something everyday so we can show people that we deserve the honour, the dignity... that our profession is still one that is the most honourable profession, and we have to do that everyday,” she said. “And that includes also giving back to the community.”
The cooking enthusiast, who also has an interest in art, and is constantly looking to improve herself even with all her accomplishments, says she's also actively involved in the swimming community, as her daughter is a competitive swimmer.
She finds support not only in her extended family, but in her husband and three children, the youngest of whom, at 14, seems destined to also head down the law path, being a good communicator, an activist, and a “great advocate for every downtrodden body”.
“They are all very supportive. One of the great things that I've benefited from my whole life, is that all those people — my family, my extended family — everybody has just always believed in me… and you have no idea how that, in and of itself, helps someone to achieve, to just know that someone believes in them,” she said. “I think that's the greatest gift we can give to each other, and in particular that parents can give to their children... it almost makes it inevitable that you can't fail.”
To those still finding their way, her advice is simple — centre yourself.
“You have to be patient with yourself,” she said. “Identify the thing that gives you the most pleasure, what's the area that you find yourself always leaning towards, and pursue that, pursue it knowing that it might not happen in 10 hours or 10 weeks or 10 months, but pursue it assiduously and keep on improving on your skill set in that area, then you will become better and better at it and you will find a way in which that becomes your career path.”