“I set up a rebel law firm when I was 26”
I co-founded my own firm when I was 26 so I could dictate my own narrative. I was working as a paralegal in a city law firm and found that I wasn’t comfortable with elements of the lifestyle that came along with that environment. You often need to work late to meet financial targets or deadlines which meant that I had little time to give back to my community. I also found that there was little awareness of the impact of mental health that junior lawyers can face.
I saw a lot of social injustice when I was growing up. I witnessed first-hand how issues arising from immigration, housing and family matters to name a few, impacted my community and those around me. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to enter this profession. The role of a lawyer is to act as the social glue to the community and give a platform to tackle the social injustices we face daily.
The legal sector has a drinking culture…and I don’t drink. If there’s an evening out or a networking event with a firm, quite often you get the sense that you’re missing out career-wise because you’re not participating in those conversations. It sometimes feels like if you were a better drinking buddy you would be more likeable and have more opportunity to get promoted or recommended for bigger cases.
I run a ‘rebel law firm’. Even the name of our firm is different! We are called Black Antelope Law, so haven’t gone down the traditional road of using our surnames. We support our clients to achieve their objectives through a range of services that combine intelligence and awareness, communication, learning and decisive action. All the traits that the antelope symbolises!
We got rid of formalities and old structures early on. We wanted to become more human in delivering services to our clients. We want to be approachable and accessible; we’re about human impact rather than billable hours. For example, we were doing online Zoom calls with clients long before the pandemic and have custom-made our own case management system for our colleagues to use.
Being a migrant can be tough. One client I represented was a renowned lecturer at one of the biggest universities in the country. He is highly educated, has worked with the British Army and has published several books. He has done everything right and the judge even called him a model migrant. But he couldn't get indefinite leave to remain and keep his job. We won his case, but it shows how difficult it can be even if you’re successful and doing all the right things.
Law firms need to quickly realise they’re missing out on business. There is still some discrimination against British Bangladeshis in the legal profession to an extent. Not only is that wrong, but it also means firms are really missing a trick. When you take on a young British Bangladeshi lawyer, they could bring a big community with them that could result in work. And it helps firms become more inclusive and progressive, which is what other clients want too.
We need more role models. There are some great stories, such as Sultana Tafadar being appointed as the first Muslim hijab-wearing female QC. But we need more stories like this to raise our profile. Bangladeshis make up only 7% of British Asians practising law, and are much more likely to be a sole practitioner rather than a partner at a large firm. It’s encouraging to see more firms embrace equality, diversity, and inclusive policies. However, this needs to be implemented at all levels to encourage more British Bangladeshi lawyers to enter the profession.
Law could learn a thing or two from Bangladeshi hospitality. You would be amazed by what you would see if you came to one of our events. People can get overwhelmed by the welcome they get. That’s another reason we struggle in law. It doesn’t feel hospitable to us. We’re always trying to accommodate others, and the legal profession – particularly corporate – often doesn’t think that way. A bit of thoughtfulness – a bit of hospitality (whether it’s at junior or board level) – will go a long way.
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Discover more about Shaheen and the work that the Law Society’s other social mobility ambassadors do.