Name: Aalia Datoo
Job Title: Senior Counsel at Macfarlanes LLP, Litigation and dispute resolution
Backstory: Aalia trained at Linklaters, qualifying into the Dispute Resolution team in March 2008. In April 2014, she moved to Macfarlanes. During the course of her career, Aalia has been on a number of client secondments: to the litigation teams at BP, Vertex Financial Services, Standard Chartered Bank, and RBS (Williams & Glyn); and a business secondment as Global Pro Bono Manager when at Linklaters. Aalia is an enthusiastic member of the Macfarlanes REACH (Race, Ethnicity & Cultural Heritage) Network Steering Group, and dedicates a significant amount of time to working within the firm to recruit and nurture talent from ethnic minority backgrounds. Aalia has been listed as a Rising Star for two years running by Legal 500, and she was recently shortlisted as Legal Advisor of the Year by Women In Law.
Who or what influenced you to train as a lawyer?
At school, I enjoyed debate (or, if you believe my friends and family, being argumentative!) and writing; and my parents were keen for me to go to university and study a subject that led to a career (less chance of getting distracted along the way!) so Law was a good fit. I left a small town to come to London for university, and I couldn’t imagine not living in London once I graduated, so finding a training contract became a necessity. I remember thinking that since I had made it this far, it would be a shame not to qualify as a solicitor. I appreciate that is not such a ‘romantic’ starting point to my career, but it’s true. I had enjoyed my degree and I was excited to see what a career in the Law might look like, and I also recognised that it was not a bad launchpad for other prospects if it didn’t suit.
If you didn’t pursue a legal career what would you be doing now?
Journalist, or possibly, if I had the courage for it, a politician. Both have the potential to shape other people’s world view and provide the opportunity to advocate for the things that matter in life.
What does success mean to you?
Helping people to thrive – whether that’s clients stuck in a knotty situation and needing my help to resolve a dispute, or to find a way forward from a problem situation; or colleagues and friends recognising and fulfilling their potential. Or in the case of pro bono work, handholding a person through matters which can, at first blush, be totally overwhelming, but tend to be that little bit more accessible for an outsider who is just that little bit more familiar with reading documents. In the context of my work for more equity in opportunity for BME and female talent, and for fairer representation in the legal sector, success for me means being a good ally and being 100% comfortable in my own skin in the workplace.
Imagine a time when you felt like giving up. What helped you bounce back?
My family and friends are my biggest champions, always providing an unending source of confidence and support. There have also been some stern, but well-meaning, words of encouragement from peers and role models to keep me on track! Retaining perspective is so incredibly important; as well as recognition of your own self-worth. No one has to do it alone – identify your cheerleaders, champions and challengers – and listen to them.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Curate your own path. Cookie-cutter models to life or your career are never really all that. Just maybe, it takes more courage, more resilience and more gumption to forge your own path. Equally, it is your career to curate, no one else can do it for you.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt about life and / or work outside of a formal education setting?
Not everything can be (or should be) in your control. As a control freak, this is a difficult message to swallow. But try. Work on the things that are within your gift to mould, challenge, change; but don’t sweat the other stuff, it will save you a lot of anxiety, and frankly, your energy is better spent elsewhere. Finally, smile. It’s good for you (the science actually says so!). Also, people smile back, promise!
If there was one skill you could’ve excelled during your formative years as a lawyer what would that be?
Managing my priorities: it really isn’t possible to do everything well, so select what’s important to you and prioritise – it will keep you happy and true to yourself.