Q&A with Lubna Shuja
Lubna Shuja is the principal solicitor and mediator at Legal Swan Solicitors. She is currently the vice president of the Law Society of England and Wales and is due to become the first Asian, the first Muslim and the seventh female president in October 2022.
How many years have you been a council member?
I joined the Law Society Council in 2013 representing the Sole Practitioners Group (SPG). There are over 4,500 solicitor sole practitioners in England and Wales, many who previously worked in City firms and across all areas of the profession.
What other roles have you held at the Law Society?
I was deputy vice president before becoming vice president. I have been a Law Society Board member since March 2018. I am the chair of the Law Society’s Strategic Litigation Group and also a member of the Conduct Committee.
I was the inaugural chair of the Membership and Communications Committee, a role I held for three years. I was a member of the previous Membership Board and also a member of the Scrutiny and Performance Review Committee.
What motivated you to stand for election to be president of the Law Society, and what are you hoping to achieve in your years in office?
I am proud to be a solicitor and I am proud to be a member of the Law Society, which does a great deal of tremendous work for members. Of course, there is always more to be done and we need to ensure members see the benefit to them. I have always kept the member perspective at the heart of what we do. I am open to thoughts and ideas from members who are welcome to contact me at any time with their views.
It is difficult to please everyone all the time, but we must also remember that there are so many values that we all hold which unite us. That is where our strength lies.
Taking on the role of president of the Law Society was not something I ever really thought of doing. It didn’t seem to be a position for someone like me! A number of colleagues suggested I should stand for election, so I decided to try. I was very fortunate as I had the support of so many colleagues and was elected by a large majority on my first attempt.
There is so much to achieve – members continue to need support as they emerge from the pandemic into the new hybrid ways of working, more international markets need to open up post-Brexit, the negative rhetoric around solicitors needs to change so that the profession is valued and recognised as the guardian of the rule of law as well being a critical contributor to business/community/global legal services.
We must continue to fight the continuing challenges to access to justice so that our court system is fit for purpose and we must continue to improve diversity across the profession. I hope to do what I can to help place our members in a better position, whatever their needs and goals. I would also like to see the Law Society increasing its visibility to the wider public so that the excellent reputation of our profession, as well as promotion of the incredible work of members, is highlighted on new, different and influential platforms.
Give us one great piece of advice you have received
Take up every opportunity that comes along – you never know where it will lead you.
What book is on your bedside table?
I always have a pile of about 10 books waiting to be read. Getting round to reading them is another story! There always seems to be something more urgent that needs to be done, so reading time tends to be when I am on holiday, when I will get through two or three books a week (and then wish I read more often!).
Spending my student days and early working life in London was pretty amazing. There really is no other city like it, although New York comes a close second.
What needs to happen to diversify senior leadership roles in the City?
There is a high level of diversity within the legal profession, but this is less evident at the leadership end. Women make up the majority of the profession (52%) yet only 32% of partners are female. Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic solicitors make up almost 17% of the profession yet only 7% of partners are from these backgrounds. The figures are even less in large city firms. The numbers of LGBT+ solicitors and those with a disability are not reflective of the wider population and even less so in leadership roles.
One of the starting points to increase diversity in senior leadership roles is to address the issue of unconscious bias which affects every one of us. Only when we know what our unconscious biases are, can we take steps to mitigate them. That includes reviewing recruitment, selection and promotion processes so that competencies are fairly assessed without impacting adversely on any one group of candidates.
Everyone has to have equal access to the most valued work and setting diversity targets helps to drive accountability. Finally, allies are very important. Senior leaders need to use their power and influence to champion change. They need to drive initiatives which make workplaces more inclusive for everyone.
What was your first job?
I started working part-time at 13 years old and have not stopped since! My first job was a Saturday job, working on an indoor market stall selling ladies clothes. It was a great lesson at a very early age on how to run a business. By the time I was 16 years old, my employer had enough confidence in me to leave me in charge of one of his smaller market stalls selling children’s clothes – I was serving customers, stock taking and cashing up regularly. It made me realise that I did not want to have a job which required me to be on my feet all day!
In rare moments of calm, how do you relax?
Watching Netflix with a bag of popcorn… and reading books for pleasure when I can find the time! Being on the beach is also very relaxing, but I live in Birmingham which is about as far from any UK beach as you can get!