Glasgow Alumni, ‘Saif Gilani and Converting to a City Law Career’

As part of one of the Law Review’s projects this year we are undertaking written interviews with various law graduates to showcase the variety of career paths available to law students.

For the fourth edition of this series, we have Saif, who graduated from Glasgow LLB in May with a first class degree. Since leaving the university, he has gone onto convert to English law, starting the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) this year, before doing the Legal Practice Course (LPC) next year. He is due to start his training contract with magic circle firm, Freshfields, in 2021. 

 

Were you engaged in the law prior to university at all? What made you want to study it?

As a member of my school debating club, I was initially drawn towards the contentious side of law. I noticed that the process of preparing for debates was similar to the tasks performed by a lawyer: researching a problem, finding a solution, and defending the solution. I was fortunate to have some initial contact with the law prior to university. This included work experience with the Glasgow Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, and I also participated in a mock trial competition. These experiences gave me an insight into the role of a lawyer in practice and solidified my intention to enter the legal profession.
Did you attend any career events during undergraduate? Did any in particular stand out?

Attending the Law Fair was one of the best decisions I made during university as that was my first bit of exposure to commercial law firms. Speaking to firm reps – the graduate recruitment teams, trainees, and partners – engaged my interest in this area of law. Networking can initially be daunting; however, I looked at it as a reverse interview where I was the one asking questions. The more contact that you have with firms, the better as firms will remember your name when it comes to applications. Above all else, the freebies are an added incentive to attend!

The other stand-out event was the annual Glasgow University Law Society Bubbles & Truffles evening, one of the final career events which I attended. This stood out as it was an event which I organised as the GULS VP Academic. Recognising the importance of engaging with law firms from my own experience, I was motivated to making this event a success. We invited seven of the top firms from across the country, and I would highly recommend anyone interested in commercial law to attend in the future. It is a great opportunity to find out about each firm and to ask questions which can’t be answered from their websites.
What made you become interested in corporate law?

During high school, I had some criminal law work experience with the Glasgow Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and a criminal defence firm. However, after getting more exposure to commercial firms, from networking events to firm open days, I was drawn towards corporate law. Compared to other areas, commercial lawyers can develop stronger relationships with clients by advising on a wider range of matters.

Additionally, commercial law enables you to combine legal and commercial knowledge to develop a client’s business. For example, working as a lawyer in the digital economy sector presents the opportunity to facilitate the development of new technology such as blockchain. Additionally, commercial lawyers are instrumental to the advancement of developing countries across the world. For this reason, firms have a growing presence in regions like Africa. This is a great opportunity to work at an international level and to be at the forefront of developing geographical markets and innovative product markets.
Why did converting to english law seem like the best next step after undergraduate?

As one of the main global, financial centres, the legal market in London really appeals to me. Firstly, the quality of training is unparalleled. I’m looking forward to working on the biggest transactions with the most prominent clients. English law is utilised across the world, so the market is also incredibly international, whether it be the diversity of the people working in City law firms, to the range of clients, to the cosmopolitan landscape of London.
How long is the process of converting and qualifying in England compared to Scotland?

As a Scots law student, it was surprising to find out that a Scots law degree is readily convertible to English law. The entire qualification process is only 6-12 months longer than if you qualify in Scotland:

  • GDL: After graduating, the next step is the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), taking a year to complete.
  • LPC: After completing the GDL, the Legal Practice Course (LPC) is next. This is the equivalent of the Diploma and lasts between 6-12 months. As with the GDL, if you’re able to secure a training contract, many firms help with funding.
  • Training Contract: This is the final stage. Like traineeships in Scotland, this lasts two years.

Disclaimer: the qualification route is changing in England with the GDL and LPC being phased out and replaced by the “Solicitors Qualifying Examination” (SQE) in 2021. It’s not clear when firms are going to alter their processes in line with this, so it is worth keeping tabs on how things are developing. This is a good website: https://www.lawcareers.net/Explore/Features/16092019-The-Solicitors-Qualifying-Exam-everything-we-know-so-far
How have you filled your time outside of doing the GDL this year? 

Not only is the GDL available online, Scots law graduates are eligible for multiple exemptions. I am studying Criminal Law, Trusts and Equity and Land Law. The programme is really flexible as I have scheduled my classes at the weekend.

This has allowed me to get a full-time job as a Legal Analyst in Ashurst’s Glasgow office. Ashurst is an international commercial law firm. The Glasgow office deals with process-based work which was traditionally performed by trainees and paralegals, such as document review. This is proving to be an invaluable experience as it has bridged the gap between university and working life. It has also given me the experience of working with lawyers from the firm’s network of international offices, and I have also had plenty of client contact. I am hoping that this will give me a head-start when I begin my training contract in 2021.
Do you see yourself working in any other jurisdiction? How easy is it to work in other countries once qualified?

As I studied abroad in Copenhagen in third year, I am keen to do an international secondment during my training contract. In particular, I would like to experience working life in another global financial hub, like New York or Hong Kong. This opportunity is available at most international law firms.

I think the misconception with law is that you are tied to the jurisdiction in which you qualify. However, in some instances, as a Scots law practitioner you can still work in the City without having to re- qualify. This is especially true for commercial law where there is a lot of harmony between Scots and English law. Additionally, international firms offer opportunities to second to another country as an associate. In that sense, there is a lot of flexibility.
Where do you see your career going in the future?

I have an early interest in competition law as I really enjoyed studying it at honours level, and it was also the topic of my dissertation. I am, however, keen to experience a variety of specialisms before making a decision about where I’d like to end up, looking at areas such as disputes, corporate, and finance. I would also like to do a client secondment as that will allow me to develop my network and gain a deeper understanding of what a client expects from external lawyers.

Irrespective of the area of specialisation, I would like to progress to partnership level. At a firm like Freshfields, there is an established route to partnership, going from trainee, to associate, to senior associate, and then partner. This is one of the big advantages of working at a large commercial law firm like Freshfields.

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