Usman Tariq graduated with an LL.B from the University of Glasgow in 2006. Since then, he has gone on to work as an Advocate at the Scottish Bar, specialising in commercial dispute resolution. He is appointed as a Standing Junior counsel in Scotland to the UK Government. He was awarded the title of "Advocate of the Year" at the Law Awards of Scotland 2017.
Here, he talks to the School of Law about his path into law and what he enjoys most about his work:
Nobody in my family is a lawyer. I started University with little idea of what a career in law would look like, or where I would end up in the profession. In some ways, it was great starting University with few pre-conceived ideas about lawyers or the profession.
I have fond memories of studying at the School of Law and made many friends for life. I was lucky to be taught by many great teachers – Jim Murdoch and his human rights class stands out.
I still recall many afternoons between lectures spent procrastinating with friends over a game of pool or at the Offshore café, evenings spent working in the Law Workshop and the trepidation that came with exams.
By the end of the degree, I had a much better idea of who I was as a person and what I wanted to do in my career. Each year had given me more confidence that I had made the right choice to study law and that I could carve out a successful career in the profession.
Since graduating, it has been fascinating to see where some of my peers from the class of 2006 have ended up in their careers. I have friends working as lawyers all over the world from the Czech Republic to Australia; some friends have ended up at the Bar like me; others have become leading solicitors in UK law firms; and some have chosen to pursue careers outside of law. A degree in law can open many doors.
Having obtained my LL.B from Glasgow, I completed a Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at Strathclyde before going on to study for an LL.M at the University of Cambridge. The LL.M programme was interesting as there were a substantial number of international students from an array of backgrounds which was a contrast to the LL.B at Glasgow where most of the students were Scottish. While most of the “home” students in the LL.M at Cambridge were recent undergraduates of British universities, some of the international students were senior practitioners in their own countries, including judges. This gave a real international flavour to the classes, a wonderful opportunity to make friends all over the world and a chance to learn from leading academics in their fields.
After completing the LL.M, I returned to Scotland to undertake my legal traineeship, which I did at Pinsent Masons. However, I knew that a career at the Bar was for me. I enjoyed legal research, crafting arguments and presenting those arguments in a logical and persuasive manner. I applied for entrance to the Faculty of Advocates while still a trainee solicitor, passed the Faculty’s entrance exams and started devilling at the Bar some three weeks after the end of my traineeship. I think I was on the Roll of Solicitors for all of nine days!
I received conflicting advice about whether it would be the right decision to go to the Bar so early in my career. I took the view that if a career at the Bar was the ultimate objective, I should trust my ability and pursue that objective. If I enjoyed what I was doing, it would give me even more drive to work hard and succeed.
While advocacy is a passion of mine, it is important to remember that cases are very important to the clients and to approach each case with utmost care and attention. Most of my work has been in the field of commercial litigation representing large businesses or in the field of public law representing the UK Government as one of its Standing Junior counsel in Scotland. However, the cases that standout are those that make a tangible and immediate difference to the clients' lives – for example, obtaining an interdict that means that a husband and wife will not be sequestrated and lose their home over Christmas.
On a personal note, a real highlight was the day I called to the Bar in 2011. The first time you put on the wig and gown is at the calling ceremony. That moment is the culmination of many years of hard work. It was an exciting time for me and my family, none of whom were lawyers or knew much about the profession. But after the initial excitement, you realise that this is just the start of the journey, not the end. You still have a whole career at the Bar in front of you, and that itself was both an exciting and daunting prospect.
Another highlight was appearing in my first case in the UK Supreme Court. I represented the successful appellant in the case of Henderson v Foxworth Investments Ltd (2014). It was a memorable “bucket list” goal to tick off so early in my career at the Bar. It was a moment of reflection. I would still have been at the very junior end of a law firm had I chosen to remain as a solicitor. However, a career at the Bar has given me some wonderful opportunities, including successfully arguing a case in the UK Supreme Court while still in my 20s.
A recent highlight was representing the successful party in the case of CCHG Ltd t/a Vaporized v Vapouriz Ltd (2017). This was the first appeal from the UK Intellectual Property Office to the Court of Session under the Trade Marks Act 1994. I really enjoyed studying Intellectual Property law at Glasgow. It was a proud moment to be successful in a landmark case in an area of law which I had enjoyed at University, and it was another moment of reflection about the opportunities I had been given at the Bar.
I am passionate about the legal profession and I have a real desire to make a difference. I believe that it is essential that the legal profession is reflective of the wider society. This increases trust in the profession and respect for the rule of law. The legal profession can only be representative of society if a career in law is open to all. The profession needs to be dynamic and diverse so that it attracts the best students irrespective of background. As a profession, we need to be doing more to improve access into the profession. For example, there is under-representation of ethnic minority lawyers in the profession. The legal profession has not always been seen as accessible for immigrant communities which is all the more striking as some ethnic minority communities have tended to do well in other professions, such as medicine.
I have mentored law students for several years on the Diploma at Glasgow. I met many law students from ethnic minority backgrounds who were struggling to find traineeships, who did not have existing connections to the profession to seek advice, and generally did not have much insight into what was involved in a career in law.
In 2016, I approached the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates with my vision for setting up the Scottish Ethnic Minorities Lawyers Association (SEMLA). My vision for SEMLA was a group designed to assist ethnic minority lawyers and law students in their careers in the profession. This would be achieved by working with the profession and law firms to create opportunities for SEMLA’s members and to ensure that the profession is seen by prospective lawyers as accessible. Both the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates were enthusiastic supporters of the idea.
SEMLA was launched on 5 July 2017 at the Law Society of Scotland’s office. I chaired the launch event which was a particularly proud moment for me. The guest speakers were Graham Matthews (President, Law Society of Scotland); Gordon Jackson QC (Dean, Faculty of Advocates); the Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC; Sheriff Aisha Anwar (Glasgow); and Professor Lorne Crerar (Chairman, Harper Macleod). The event was a success.
SEMLA focuses on the networking, mentoring and support of ethnic minority lawyers and law students. The group has been working with some of the largest law firms in Scotland, including Harper Macleod, MacRoberts and Burness Paull by hosting events that bring people together, “open doors” for SEMLA’s members into these firms and educate our members about careers in the profession. The group aims to connect law students to positive role models from ethnic minority backgrounds that are part of the profession and help ensure that talented students are not lost to the profession.
Since 2015 I have also been involved as a Scotland Leadership Group member of the Mosaic Network. Mosaic was founded by HRH The Prince of Wales in 2007. Mosaic’s mentoring programmes create opportunities for young people growing up in our most deprived communities. Mosaic’s vision is for all young people to be supported to realise their potential. Mosaic’s mentoring programmes had been running successfully in England since 2007. I was approached to join Mosaic’s Scotland leadership group prior to its launch in Scotland two years ago. The first year was very “hands on” as we had little support in Scotland. It was our role as the leadership group to identify schools and students who would benefit from our programmes and also mentors. Mosaic is now part of The Prince's Trust and we have a substantial support team, including staff dedicated to expanding Mosaic’s programmes in Scotland.
I agreed to be part of Mosaic as I truly believe in the power of positive role models as a means to inspire young people. There are many young people growing up around us in Scotland who just need some encouraging words or a guiding hand to open a new world of opportunities. For these young people, one of the greatest values of a mentor is the ability to see a world that might not seem open or attainable.
My advice to law students is to remember that the legal profession in Scotland is small. Some of your peers will become your colleagues in future years, some may become your boss, and others might become your instructing solicitors if you are at the Bar. It is important to treat everyone with courtesy and respect and to build good relationships with your peers as these relationships can have a lasting benefit in your career.
Looking ahead, I am excited about this year. I am working on some interesting cases, including one in which there are more than 1 million documents! I am hopeful that SEMLA continues to grow. We are in the process of planning more events with some of the largest law firms in Scotland, as well as continuing to push issues of equality and diversity to the forefront of the legal profession.
~ Usman Tariq
Usman Tariq is an advocate at Ampersand Advocates. Visit his profile page here.