Article and interview by Zainab Hassan
Saima Islam is a Solicitor at Freeths LLP and is based in the firm’s Oxford office. Saima qualified at Thomson Snell & Passmore LLP after completing a vacation scheme at the firm during her undergraduate degree. Saima shares useful tips for students who are in a similar position.
In this interview, Saima reflects on her journey as a qualified solicitor and shares with us what she enjoys doing outside of work.
Hi Saima, thank you for joining us today. Please share with us a day in your life as a solicitor at Freeths LLP.
I am a Solicitor within Freeths’ highly regarded Family Wealth Department, and work with our Trusts, Estate and Tax team. I am based in our Oxford office, and this location really gives rise to a real variety of work. I start my day at 9am and one of the first things I enjoy doing is prioritising which tasks and files need to be dealt with on that particular day. My list gets updated throughout the day, depending on deadlines and what emails come in from clients and other Solicitors.
As a Newly Qualified Solicitor (NQ) I have my own case files, but I also assist other Solicitors with their more technical files. An important skill you pick up on and develop is organisation, this is the key to being able to successfully manage your own workload, as well as keeping on top of other cases that you are assisting with.
My day consists of attending to clients on the phone, via email and at meetings. Depending on the day, I will also have a catch-up session with my supervising partner. There are different types of supervision meetings, some meetings cover the files I am working on and my billing, while others cover my development in the team and how I am progressing on a professional level. What I really appreciate about Freeths is the level of support that I receive. As an NQ, it can sometimes be a little daunting taking on your own caseload, but I feel reassured by the fact that I am working with such a great team and everyone is always happy to assist.
There are various networking events which are arranged for us to attend. Many of these events include networking with other professionals in the Oxford area, which helps to grow our own professional network, and other more department specific events. The next event I have in my calendar is scheduled on 6 March in support of International Women’s Day and is being led by our own Networking Events for Women Initiative, which we call NEW.
You completed a vacation scheme during your undergraduate law degree and secured yourself a training contract (TC). Can you share some useful tips for students who are currently in a similar position?
It is really important for undergraduate students to start obtaining work experience as soon as possible. It’s no myth that a TC is hard to come by, but by getting your foot through the door with a vacation scheme can really help build your experience.
I graduated from City, University of London in 2016 and when I was in my first year, I remember receiving emails from LawCareers about deadlines for vacation scheme applications. At the time, I buried the information at the back of my mind and focused on my exams but in my second year, I realised that even though I may not have the work experience, there is no harm in trying to get my profile out there. You don’t lose anything by trying; in fact you gain more knowledge about where you can improve your CV or develop your commercial awareness.
I applied for vacation schemes at a number of different law firms, I received a few rejections but I also had a couple of firms who were showing an interest. I started a vacation scheme with Thomson Snell & Passmore during the summer before starting my third year at university.
Later in the year I applied to Thomson Snell & Passmore for a TC and was offered a position to start in September 2017. The feedback I received following my interview was that I made a really good impression and was remembered from the vacation scheme.
My top tips for those in a similar situation would be:
What was the most challenging moment of your training contract?
My TC didn’t have just one single challenging moment, but it can be broken down into a couple of moments which really tested me.
One of these includes getting to the end of a seat, where you feel like you are gaining knowledge and confidence in the area, but your time in that department has come to end. It can be quite challenging to get to a level where you are comfortable with an area of law in practice, and then you need to let the information go, figuratively speaking, and start over again. Although the process can be tough, it does get easier as you progress through your TC.
When I started my TC in Thomson Snell & Passmore’s family department, I really hit the ground running. There were bundles to be made and court hearings to attend. Especially for a first seat trainee, it can be quite challenging to quickly learn how to manage your workload in light of the numerous deadlines. If you are going through this stage, my only advice would be not to worry as prioritisation and organisation get easier with practise. I would always recommend that you go to your supervisor ahead of any deadline to explain if there have been difficulties. It’s best to be upfront from the start, then be chased on something.
As an NQ solicitor, how has the transition been between trainee and newly qualified?
You leave work on a Friday evening as a trainee and start on Monday as a qualified Solicitor. You tell me what’s changed over the weekend!
I started at Freeths during quite a busy time, and really got stuck into client files as soon as I arrived. I felt so grateful for how far I had come and was really excited to carry on as a qualified solicitor. This feeling gets you through a lot of the initial challenges, especially if you are starting at a new firm upon qualification. That being said, everyone was so welcoming I now feel like I have been in the department for years.
The main effect of the transition is that you start seeing a lot more responsibility in your role. I will always remember the first file which was opened in my own name as a solicitor. There is a real sense of accomplishment, and the team also takes pride in my progress.
What is really important is that even as an NQ, you are not expected to know everything. I understand that the change in title can put more weight on your shoulders but remember that you are there to learn as you progress. I thoroughly enjoy working with my supervisors, Grace and Louise, who have so much knowledge between them and it’s an absolute pleasure to seek advice and gain experience from them.
Even now it sometimes feels a little surreal and I do occasionally feel nervous but I try to remind myself to have faith in my training, and there are so many knowledgeable individuals in the team who I can take advice from when faced with a challenging file.
Finally, what do you do for some downtime to help give you that balance?
I really enjoy going for a run, swim and cycle whenever I can. It gives me some time to detach from what can sometimes be a busy personal and professional life.
I recently participated in the British Red Cross’ Miles for Refugees challenge in September 2019. This challenge involved picking a distance to reach by running, swimming or cycling over the course of a month. This distance reflects the journey a refugee might be forced to take just to reach safety. I picked the distance between Calais to London which is 108 miles, and successfully ran this distance with support from friends and family who were sponsoring me. The challenge ended in September with a total of 276,043 miles being logged nationwide and total of £366,420 being raised!
I am also a keen reader and have recently finished ‘This Is Going to Hurt’ by Adam Kay, which covers snippets of Adam’s diary from his time working for the NHS. The book was just as brilliant as it was horrifying! I would recommend it if you are looking to take a break and read something a little different.