Shameem Ahmad

Shameem Ahmad

What inspired you to study law?

As someone who was quite impatient to crack on with life, the vocational nature of a law degree was attractive as it seemed like I would have a road to embark upon while studying. I also liked the thought of the types of careers that law could lead to. However, some students can start a law degree without really understanding what it entails and end up not enjoying it. It can be dry.

I was fortunate that I came across the concept of the rule of law in my first term at university. As soon as I did I knew I wanted to contribute to a better realisation of that concept in society. That motivation drove me through my law degree – even the bits I didn't find so interesting.

Did you receive encouragement to pursue your ambitions?

I am largely driven by a real sense of curiosity to see how far I can stretch myself in this world. That curiosity and imagination was instilled in me and encouraged by my father, who was severely disabled and had a passion for life and all its possibilities. He encouraged me to believe that it was all up for grabs.

Where did you study law?

I studied law at the University of Cambridge.

Did you encounter any challenges studying law?

The main challenge I encountered was a real culture shock at Cambridge. I encountered racism, sexism and many other isms, which was destabilising. I also lost my father the night before I was supposed to start my first term and joined the university a few days after his funeral.

For those reasons the next few years were enormously challenging. However, I was lucky to have my mother who continued to believe in my capabilities and the possibilities my future held. I also was fortunate to have some amazing tutors who helped me navigate that time and beyond in practical terms.

It wasn't all bad though. I enjoyed my degree. I also had an incredible and enriching Erasmus year to the Netherlands where I met people from across the world and made some wonderful friends. It also gave me the opportunity to dabble in some hitchhiking across Europe.

What type of law do you specialise in?

I specialise in public law and human rights. My interest in that area comes from a personal space. As a child of the welfare state, the hand that feeds will never stop being a fascinating subject to me. I have benefitted hugely from the social safety net.

However, my family and I have also been pushed around unfairly by public bodies. These experiences have given me an intuitive understanding of the area. I believe that those with power have a duty to wield it with utmost care, which underpins my approach to this area of law.

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

I have been working on social mobility issues for several years now. I've been a mentor, run workshops, spoken on panels, given speeches. It's a complicated area – at its most basic level, what does "social mobility" mean?

What I know is that there are many people with potential not able to get a foot into the sector. There are also many people already in this sector not being recognised and rewarded fairly for their talent. But the fact is if you're from a low socio-economic background and you're reading this, it is very likely that you're resourceful, creative, courageous, empathetic and strategic.

Which client wouldn't want that sort of lawyer fighting their corner? That's the question I want to keep posing within the sector, pushing it to acknowledge a better, more useful definition of talent. I will use this platform, as a Law Society social mobility ambassador, to do so.

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

The best advice I have received was from one of my teachers at secondary school. A couple of months before my GCSE exams my father had a stroke. It was a frightening period of time where my entire focus became supporting him. My teachers understood that I would be prioritising him, and so they had somewhat written off my potential in my exams, I'm sure out of kindness.

However, Mrs Partington took me to one side and told me that I was not to give up. I was to wake up every day, go to school, concentrate, study in the car on my way to the hospital, see my dad, come home, finish my homework and then go to sleep.

I was to do this every day until my exams had finished. She gave me the structure and focus I needed when the world felt like it was spinning. I ended up getting 10 A*s. To this day, when I have a lot going on I remember that advice. I make a plan, execute it, remain focused. And I make sure I get some sleep.

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

I have adjusted my goals over time, as I’ve gained a better understanding of the landscape I'm operating in and how I fit within that landscape. I also acknowledge that because of my socio-economic background a straight-line career will not be for me. I have too much to catch up on, so there will be more zigging and zagging in the direction I want to go.

However, my concept of success has not changed. I would simply like to keep trying to reach my potential and to add value to this world. My idea of success is not more complicated than that.

Do people have misconceptions about becoming a solicitor?

One of my mentees was surprised that the job is more prescriptive than might appear from the outside. She was especially surprised at how many emails there are!

What skills would you say are essential for the job?

People will tell you the technical skills are important and they are right – you are selling legal advice, so you must have a handle on your area of specialism. However, there are a myriad of other skills needed.

I would suggest honing as much emotional intelligence as you can. Having a good level of emotional intelligence will ensure that you can make yourself happy, your team happy and your client happy. Those are fundamental ingredients to success in this challenging career.

How can you increase your emotional intelligence? There are lots of ways, for example:

  • enjoying the arts, whatever that means for you: music, tv series, books, paintings, podcasts, plays, films
  • getting out of any echo chambers you're in – if you're not regularly being surprised in conversations and interactions, you're probably in an echo chamber
  • leaning into uncomfortable feelings and working them out
  • helping others with their problems or issues. I have learnt a lot through mentoring and volunteering with organisations over the years. You can do this at any stage in your career
Contact the ambassadors

If you want to ask an ambassador a question about their career or route into law, email using the address below and include their name in the subject line.

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