Can you briefly introduce yourself and discuss your legal career so far?
Hello, I’m Zara and I am currently working as a Commercial, IP & Technology Paralegal at Travers Smith.
I would say I took the scenic route to law, first studying History at UCL before completing the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), law conversion course. During the GDL, I worked part-time in various non-legal roles and also built up informal legal experience too. I think it is important to have both! By informal I mean opportunities that are accessible via your law school or local court such as pro bono projects/shadowing a barrister. At the same time, I applied to a handful of law firm open days, one of which was at Shearman & Sterling.
Shortly after visiting Shearman, I applied for their vacation scheme and secured my training contract, which commences in 2022.
Why did you decide you wanted to become a solicitor?
My first exposure to law was when I was creating blog content as a teenager and began to explain copyright infringement rules for music and images to a friend, who turned around and said: ‘Zara, you sound like a lawyer!” And that was that. I ended up loving exploring how law could impact our daily choices and quickly realised that breaking down complex legal concepts into digestible bits that my family and friends could understand was particularly rewarding.
Within law, I have found that there are plenty of opportunities to develop yourself both professionally and personally and that helped to solidify my decision to become a solicitor.
Why did you decide to go into commercial law?
Working as a paralegal helped me to decide to go into commercial law. I had the opportunity to work with lawyers on the acquisition of Dennis Publishing, which distributes magazines such as The Week and Men’s Fitness. I was fascinated by the lawyers’ central role in the process and how they combined theoretical knowledge with business acumen to carefully structure the sale of a business. The Partner supervising the deal was kind enough to invite me to one of the client calls and I was able to develop an understanding of the negotiation behind significant business matters, which confirmed that the intersection between commerce and law was the area that I was most drawn to.
How did you find the transition from studying History at undergraduate level to studying the GDL?
I found History to be quite a versatile degree, with great transferable skills for the legal industry but I personally preferred studying law as I found the subject more dynamic. History involves a lot of independent study, and it comes with a healthy dose of research, sources and essays so you are well equipped for the law cases!
What has been your experience working as a paralegal?
My experience at Travers Smith has been great. I am honestly very blessed to work with people who care about my well-being as well as my career progression and as a bonus they also have a great sense of humour! As I work in a large department that covers commercial contracts, technology, IP and data protection, I have been lucky enough to get exposure to all four areas. At the same time, the firm offers great training opportunities such as Smart Tech modules and Arabic language lessons.
Would you recommend working as a paralegal to someone who has not been able to secure a vacation scheme/ training contract by the time they graduate?
Paralegal work offers great insight not just into the life of a trainee, but also how law firms operate, what their business development strategy is and how they are building their Corporate Socail Responsibility programmes. However, I recognise that COVID-19 has made attaining a TC let alone a paralegal role even more difficult. I think it is important to stay open-minded, and know that in any role you are in, you are gaining effective transferable skills for your future.
Below are my top three resources that I used to help upskill during the pandemic and they are all currently free to access:
Why did you choose to complete your training contract at Shearman & Sterling?
The two key selling points about Shearman & Sterling are the hands-on training and mentorship I received during the vacation scheme and still receive today and the emphasis on being able to bring your authentic self to work. In addition, there is no compromise on the level of trust and opportunities offered to trainees, whether that be working on cross-border deals and novel pro bono projects or spending six months abroad at one of the firm’s offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, New York or Brussels.
Do you have any advice on how to stand out in training contract applications?
Be true to yourself, sometimes your most honest experiences are the ones that graduate recruitment can connect with the most. I would also recommend attending open days or reaching out to future trainees/paralegals currently working at your firm of interest. If this is not possible, the Aspiring Solicitors Directory is a great way to network with law firms and get some insider knowledge that can really set your application apart and help show a genuine interest by having gone that extra mile.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to apply to an international/US law firm such as Shearman & Sterling?
I would probably dispel some of the commonly held myths around US law firm culture and working hours. From my experience, US firms are able to offer hands on training as each intake has fewer trainees per year. Shearman emphasise a no ‘face time’ culture, so when work is not urgent, the hours really are standard practice. So, my advice would be to not let any of those myths scare you from applying, as the reality is that many international/US law firms offer trainees rare opportunities to work alongside leaders in their field on headline-making deals, all while being supported by a collegiate team.
Finally, is there any advice you have been given over the years that you think was particularly useful and would like to share?
Be proud of who you are and never shy away from your true values or change your accent, appearance or personality to fit into an idea of what you think lawyers must look or sound like. Your greatest power lies in your differences and that shouldn’t hold you back, because it’s your story to own.
I think it always appears from the outside looking in, that people have linear journeys to their goals, but that’s not true at all. Everyone’s journey to law will be unique to them.
Believe in yourself, put yourself forward for opportunities, prepare well and work hard and you will keep moving closer to achieving your end goal.