Shaheen Mamun, social mobility ambassador

Social mobility ambassador Shaheen Mamun shares his experience of entering the profession, including the challenges he faced and how he overcame them.
Shaheen Mamun is a man of South Asian heritage with short, dark brown hair and a medium-length beard. He stands on a cobbled street with his hands clasped. He wears a dark grey suit, white shirt and navy patterned tie.
Photograph: Alice Mutasa

What inspired you to study law?

I’ve always been passionate about fighting for justice and becoming a lawyer seemed the most effective way of achieving this.

As a young British Bangladeshi Muslim man attending school in inner-city London, I was inspired by the work and legacy of important figures in history such as Mohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, who not only were lawyers, but fought for greater equality that we take for granted today.

Major issues ranging from racism, immigration or housing are factors that can affect Black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities like mine and with the cuts to legal aid, access to justice is seen as a privilege rather than a necessity for many.

All of this inspired my journey to becoming a solicitor. By being part of the legal system in the UK, I hope I can contribute in the same manner that my role models had done.

Did you receive encouragement to pursue your ambitions?

I come from a very humble background. My father fled the first Gulf War from Kuwait on the last flight to the UK with barely any possessions and then followed his passion to become a restaurant owner.

My father became my biggest supporter in my ambition to study law and spent many hours helping me where he could (including staying up all night so he could keep me company whilst I completed essays!).

My father emphasised the importance of community from a young age and looking back at my journey, I always considered becoming a solicitor as a collective effort with my father where we overcame adversity together.

Where did you study law?

I undertook the LLB solicitors exempting degree (now known as integrated master's in law) at the University of Westminster, which incorporates together a degree in law and the Legal Practice Course.

Under this course, I was paying the same amount for the LPC element of the course as I would have for any of the years for my LLB degree!

My careers adviser at college advised me against attending University of Westminster and to go for a Russell Group university instead, as it would help with my career prospects.

I didn’t listen to her in the end and I think it was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

I received amazing support from my tutors who I remain in touch with and have even shared some panel talks with.

Did you encounter any challenges studying law?

My route to a legal career was by no means an easy one. I have encountered and overcome several hurdles and obstacles along my way.

Being a first-generation lawyer of an ethnic background and also the first individual in my family to graduate university, I stepped into a career that from the outset seemed daunting and challenging.

I did not have the benefit of previous connections in the legal field and have had to forge my own path through perseverance and hard work.

It was intimidating – especially when a lot of firms still expect law graduates to have gone to a Russell Group university and to have participated in a lot of extracurricular activities during studies.

Some of the challenges I first faced when studying law were the amount of reading to do, heavy workload and pressure of deadlines.

I was also worried about career opportunities as I was getting turned down for any internship opportunity, which affected my mental health.

I sat down with my tutors and improved my organisational skills, which helped me to plan better in terms of deadlines for applications and to ensure I was on top of my work.

What type of law do you specialise in?

As a director and solicitor at Black Antelope Law, I specialise in public law and holding public bodies to account in their decision making.

The nature of my specialism is predominantly in the field of immigration, family and regulatory law.

I have also regularly assisted many entrepreneurs, charities, SME businesses and start-ups/scale-ups to solve their biggest legal challenges and achieving their desired objectives within the necessary framework.

Why did you want to become a Law Society social mobility ambassador?

During my LLB solicitors exempting degree, I was paired with a solicitor from a Legal 500-recognised firm through a mentoring scheme.

My mentor helped me to succeed by enhancing my legal employability through confidence-building, networking and developing key employability skills.

I benefited greatly from this and appreciate the significant importance that roles such as a Law Society social mobility ambassador can play for any aspiring or junior lawyer during their unique journey.

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given regarding your career?

It took me about a year to land a good role in law after graduation.

I was attending every career-focused event that I came across and applying to every position my new connections would refer me to.

I was starting to get discouraged when one of the panellists at a networking event arranged by the Law Society’s Junior Solicitors Network gave a talk that spoke to me.

He said: “When opportunities don’t come your way, create them.”

He went on to explain how in this age of the internet and technology, we have all the resources and tools available to reach out to the right people through platforms such as LinkedIn.

Shortly after, I decided to produce short videos highlighting legal content such as changes or updates to the law or even discussing a case mentioned in the news.

I stayed consistent with it for a while, and sure enough, it led to my first paralegal opportunity.

Within a couple of months of producing some videos, I was approached by a partner of a law firm who asked me to join as a paralegal and also help produce some digital content for the firm.

I have never looked back since in my legal journey.

You will receive career advice all your life, but ultimately, what you do with it is what matters most. Taking action is the best way to create changes, and I'm glad I did.

Has your idea of success changed over time in your career?

As a young lawyer, it was easy for me to identify success as something directly related to how much money someone was making as a lawyer.

However, since I have been a director at Black Antelope Law, I have noticed a major shift in how myself and other people look at success.

Just because you are wealthy does not mean you are a successful lawyer, and to the contrary, just because you are not raking in thousands as a lawyer does not also mean you are a failure.

I believe we must stop this close-minded thinking in the legal profession to help develop a more well rounded view of what it means to be successful for aspiring lawyers.

For me, having a healthy mentality to work and life, a good reputation within the profession and a strong community in and out of law are all hallmarks of success.

Do people have misconceptions about becoming a solicitor?

The biggest misconception I have seen is that diversity in the legal profession is poor.

Although this is correct to an extent, over half of solicitors admitted to the roll are female and around 17% of practising solicitors (where ethnicity is known) are from a BAME background.

The problem in relation to diversity does not lie solely with law firms and whether they have policies on social mobility, diversity and inclusion.

The real issue, in my opinion, lies in state policies and access to the profession in terms of legal training.

Tuition fees need to be more affordable.

Compared to other professions, it takes law graduates substantially longer to pay off debts and get a return on investment from the time and money they have put into entering the profession.

BAME individuals and other members of society who are not sufficiently represented are, despite having the ability, unlikely to pursue a career in the legal profession.

There are other professions that offer the same opportunity to capitalise on acquired skills but with a better quality of life, prospects and security.

This is something that is being addressed through the different routes to qualifying as a solicitor and less traditional models which are now available – such as working in-house for corporations and increased remote working during the pandemic.

What skills would you say are essential for the job?

I cannot over-emphasise the importance of teamwork.

You'll work alongside a variety of people from different levels of the legal hierarchy (from a trainee solicitor to a partner of a firm) and often winning a case will be a team effort – despite what they show in television dramas!

Reading large amounts of information and turning complex material into a succinct explanation is a feature of any law career.

You'll need excellent research skills when doing the background work on a case, drafting legal documents or advising clients on complicated issues. Solicitors manage heavy workloads to tight deadlines.

Finally, accuracy and attention to detail are pivotal to the success of any solicitor.

A single word out of place can change the meaning of a legal document, while grammatical errors in emails, letters or documents give clients a bad impression, or cost your firm business – so attention to detail is fundamental as a skill.

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