Name: Shohel Ali
Job Title: Senior Legal Counsel – Capital Markets, OSB GROUP PLC (OSBG)
Backstory: I was born and raised in Blackburn, Lancashire and the first in my family of nine siblings to go to university. I graduated with a law degree from City University in 2005 and eventually completed my training contract in 2010 but was left without an NQ role (read on to find out why). This resulted in me having a rather unconventional legal career post qualification. I spent several years at HSBC as a hybrid investment banker/lawyer on the securitisation desk, followed by stints in private practice (Reed Smith, Paul Hastings and Mishcon de Reya) before returning in-house to first, Link Asset Services and now to OSBG, where I provide coverage for the Capital Markets, Treasury and Commercial Real Estate and Asset Finance divisions of the Group.
Who or what influenced you to train as a lawyer?
At school I was good at English, History and Geography, but average at everything else. Plus, as a second-generation immigrant and from a predominantly working-class town, educational prowess converted into a successful career meant one of three “acceptable” routes – lawyer, doctor, or accountant. As aforementioned, I didn’t excel in any of the core subjects pertaining to the latter two so a lawyer it was.
If you didn’t pursue a legal career, what would you be doing now?
Honestly, I have no idea! I was very single minded (and probably naïve) in that I had no alternative plans other than training as a City lawyer. But as I went through the meat grinder of vacation scheme and training contract application rejections I had to consider a Plan B. Especially, as I had the added pressure of having self-funded the LPC.
Instead of answering “what would I be doing” (pretty much anything in a professional capacity making use of my qualifications in the summer of 2006), in an alternative reality, I would’ve loved to be a chief sportswriter for a broadsheet.
What would you say is a common misconception or misunderstanding aspiring or junior lawyers have about the legal profession?
A successful and rewarding career in law only means progression to partnership. Don’t get me wrong – if you’re a trainee or junior lawyer who aspires to be a partner, fair enough. But from experience, you can have just an incredibly rewarding legal career as an in-house lawyer – you just have to be honest with yourself as to what your priorities are in life.
What does success mean to you?
Professional level – respect and appreciation of colleagues and stakeholders. Also, continuous learning and development.
Personal level – happy family and the ability to spend quality time with them. From experience, you could be earning “top of the market” as a private practice lawyer but for me that didn’t correspond to a happy family life because you’re not home and even when you are, you feel “burnt out”.
Imagine a time when you felt like giving up. What helped you bounce back?
July 2010 – when the now defunct firm Halliwells where I completed my training contract went bust. The timing was awful as it was a mere month before I was due to qualify. I thought (again naïvely) that having secured a training contract I’d overcome the biggest hurdle of my legal career. However, the period between Halliwells going under, and qualifying was one of the most challenging and stressful times of my life. Reeling from Lehman collapsing in September 2008, the legal jobs market felt like an apocalypse for NQ lawyers like me to the point that I had little choice but to apply for paralegal roles with no success.
What got me through was (a) my wife (we’d just got married eight months earlier) and (b) my sheer determination to ‘just’ get a job relevant to my career path and carry that experience forward into something longer-term.
As I aspired to be a banking and finance lawyer longer-term, I accepted a six-month contract role at HSBC. Though, I ideally wanted a permanent position I thought having HSBC on my CV would offer a great platform. Thankfully, it was the best gamble of my career because after eight months I moved across to the investment banking division of the bank on a permanent basis, working as a hybrid investment banker/lawyer.
What careers advice would you give to your younger self?
- Aspiring for perfection is admirable but sometimes “good enough” is “good enough”.
- From experience, an outright “win” in law is extremely rare so view the “compromises” as wins. It’s much better closing a matter and having both parties walking away feeling good about the deal than quibbling over the small stuff.
- Every experience (whether good and especially the bad) should be viewed as a learning experience. Learn from them and consider how a change in approach might deliver a better result next time. It’s the challenging experiences that make you stronger and are infinitely more important learning and development tools.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt about life and / or work outside of a formal education setting or away from the office?
Often events occur outside of your say and control. As lawyers that can drive you crazy and it may also be unfair. However, this also makes you resilient and can force you to open your mind and look at these challenges differently – as opportunities – which can ultimately lead to a more rewarding outcome.
If there was one skill you could’ve excelled at during your formative years as a lawyer what would that be?
Have more confidence – Confidence to say “no” when you have zero capacity. Confidence to ask questions when you’re slipping down a rabbit hole rather than feeling afraid of how that may be perceived. And confidence to respectfully challenge the views of others.