Shabana Muneer, Senior Associate, Employment
Having been born and bred in Leeds, I always knew that this great city was the place in which I wished to build my career. During the second year of my law degree at Leeds University, I heeded the advice of careers advisers and set out in earnest to find myself a training contract. Setting aside a couple of weekends for the daunting task of selling myself to big scary firms, I diligently worked my way through training contract application forms, focusing on those firms with offices in Leeds. A few interviews and vacation placements later, I was rewarded with the offer of a training contract with a large national firm. It didn’t take me long to decide that I wanted to complete my training in their Leeds office.
My first job as a trainee in the Banking department involved working for a high street bank on the financing of the flagship Bridgewater Place building in Leeds, the tallest building in Yorkshire. My career took off to heady heights and to this day I can’t help but feel a pinch of pride every time I see the building, knowing I played a part in its existence, albeit a miniscule one! I went on to do seats in commercial litigation and property, but it was the employment department that truly won me over and where I ended up spending half of my training contract. It presented a rare mix of work that played to both my belligerent and amiable sides. The ability to undertake a bit of advocacy in the employment tribunal, assist on a corporate acquisition, draft up a contract and advise on general day to day employment skirmishes all in the same day provided the variety I needed to keep me on my toes.
My first year as a fully fledged employment lawyer was nothing if not a baptism of fire. Juggling over 25 employment tribunal claims for the department’s biggest client meant frequent trips to Tribunals up and down the country, and being out and about seeing witnesses to take statements and prepare them for hearings. At one point, I had five hearings listed for the same week, though luckily all but one settled! I got to travel a lot and made frequent trips to London, which only served to confirm to me the fact that the capital wasn’t the place for me. Getting off the train at Kings Cross at the height of the morning rush hour and being forced to wait in a holding pen like cattle because the underground was overcrowded made me desperate to get back up north!
A year on I decided to make the move to a competing regional firm. The work was more varied, I left behind the huge Tribunal case load, and I got to spend a year on secondment to the in-house legal team of one of the firm’s biggest clients, an international retail giant. It was an eye opening experience and made me realise that no matter how well us lawyers think we understand out clients’ needs and their businesses, we can’t possibly get a true picture until we’re working within their organisation. But the power of being the client clearly got to my head; I once sent instructions to a colleague at my firm to do a piece of work and told her it “needed to be done yesterday”. I realised then it was time to go back into private practice!
Seven years (and a marriage and 2 children) later and in a very different economic climate to the booming one I had qualified into and moved firms in as a junior lawyer, I joined Walker Morris. Being a Leeds based firm, it’s a natural fit. The work is just as challenging, varied and engaging as anything I’ve experienced before, but without the cross office politics and bureaucracy! The firm has a genuinely friendly atmosphere that feels more intimate than anything I’ve experienced in the workplace. Within a couple of months of being at the firm I had been involved in bidding for new work, trainee recruitment, presenting at client seminars and writing articles for the press. It’s unlikely that these opportunities would have presented themselves so quickly in the other firms I had previously been at, which reinforces the fact that there are opportunities aplenty at Walker Morris.
Encouraging the next generation of wannabe lawyers is something I have always been passionate about, and in my spare time I am also a freelance tutor at BPP law school where I teach on their LLB and LPC programmes. As well as teaching my students the law, I always aim to leave them with the message that if I can make it in the legal arena, then so can they.