FEATURE INTERVIEW: BARRISTER SAMEERA MAHMUD REZA

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Barrister Sameera Mahmud Reza

Career Snapshot

Current Position:

Associate at Sadat Sarwat and Associates

Academic Background:

University: LLB (undergraduate for law) from Northumbria University in Newcastle.

LLM from City University, London.

Bar Professional Training Course From City University, London.

Finished schooling from CGS (Chittagong Grammar School).

Professional

 ●   Current role and core responsibilities:Associate at Sadat Sarwat and Associates:Currently my main area of work revolves around corporate, land and litigation. My responsibilities include ensuring the legality of commercial transactions, advising and giving opinions to various clients about their legal rights and duties. Drafting and vetting various kinds of commercial agreements, Deeds, MOUs, etc. I also draft Writs, and various kind of petitions and assist my seniors in every possible way in conducting a case and in doing research.

●   Past Role: Junior Associate at Rokonuddin Mahmud and Associates.

Questions

About Sameera

GradInsights: First of all, we would like to know about your academic background.

Sameera: I did my A’Levels in Law from London College of Legal Studies (LCLS), which is situated in Gulshan, Dhaka. After that I enrolled for my undergraduate degree in law in LCLS as well, the undergraduate program is called LLB. For the undergraduate degree program LCLS provides a process whereby you can study for the first two years in LCLS as an internal student, and then you can transfer to one of their affiliated universities for the final year as an external student. LCLS is affiliated with the University of London and Northumbria University. I chose Northumbria University.

GradInsights: Do students have to complete A’Levels in law to enroll in LLB?

Sameera: Not really. But I chose to. I had three subjects in A’Levels: Maths, Accounting and Law. But it would be my suggestion that any person who aspires to be a lawyer take A’Levels in Law as it would give him a preview of what lies ahead academically. There are various schools offering A’Levels in Law and subsequently a LLB degree, such as the British School of Law, Newcastle Law Academy and of course, LCLS.

GradInsights: Has completing your degrees from abroad given you some sort of leverage for practicing here?

Sameera: Well, you can still be a graduate from here and become a practicing lawyer. But i think it made a big differencefor me for completing my degrees from the UK. All the degree programs were intense and included rigorous training. For my Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) I had to attend many advocacy sessions and at times i had to face off my classmates in those sessions.I got to learn about the practical world, and how to deal with clients and negotiate and set up a case.

GradInsights: Is it possible to become a barrister here?

Sameera: You cannot become a barrister here in Bangladesh, since there are no such institutions providing any such courses to become a barrister. So aspiring barristers enrol for the Bar-at-Law courses abroad, mostly in the UK, you can also do it from New Zealand, Australia and Canada, and be recognised as a barrister in Bangladesh and practise and build a career here after completion of Bar Council Enrolment Exam.

GradInsights: What is the advantage of doing your undergraduate degree in law from UK rather than doing it from here?

Sameera: The institutions here are mostly affiliated with British Universities, so the exams are actually marked by examiners of those universities. If it is an institution like LCLS, the examiners will all be based in the UK. So you may still have the same level of competition and marking scheme of that of an University based in the UK. But yes, going abroad definitely gives you an edge. Since you will be studing in a completely different environment. You will have exposure to diverse, multicultural perspectives, and you will have the opportunity to mix with students from all around the globe. And you get to learn a lot from that sort of an environment.

 Also, you have direct interaction with the teachers, who are the writers of the law text books that you would follow in Bangladesh. In addition to that, since most of the teachers are practicing barristers, they were able to provide a lot of real-life insights into the world of law and practise. My teachers went to great lengths to illustrate what happens in a court room, how lawyers conduct a case and they even educated us on things like what we should wear and how we should look in a courtroom. So the experience abroad was very fulfilling. Having said all that, I don’t want to put down the teachers here in Bangladesh at all because they are the reason why i was able to sustain myself in the initial stage of my academic period.

GradInsights: Sadat Sarwar is a traditional law firm, specialising in corporate law services. Can you give us a little background on its specialisations and large clients?

Sameera: The most competitive sector is definitely the corporate law sector. The largest clients to this firm would be the local banks, as we retain a lot of banks and other financial institutions. Our firm is expert in providing any kind of legal service in any area of law.   

About Students who want to break into the industry

GradInsights: What motivated you to come into this profession?

Sameera: As I was growing up I actually never thought I would become a lawyer. I always wanted to be an architect but when I took law for my A’Levels, I loved the subject so much and found so much interest in it that I wanted to stick to this.

I have also been inspired by my uncle, who is a barrister as well. Actually this profession has been in my family for generations: My uncle and before him my great-grandfather was also a barrister. So i was probably destined to be in this profession.

GradInsights: For young graduates, do you think it is a positive opportunity for them to become a lawyer?

Sameera: It is definitely a very rewarding and lucrative career. I think it shapes you as a person, and gives you a lot of confidence. However, in the last 10 years in Bangladesh, there has been a huge surge of barristers. There is a lot of competition today than there was a decade ago so you have to be really focused and ambitious to reach your goal.

GradInsights: What sort of pathway do you recommend for students interested in becoming a lawyer?

Sameera: Firstly, you have to become a LLB graduate. The institutions offering this course in Bangladesh must be chosen very cautiously. And then, once you are done with LLB you can go for your Masters of law which is the LLM. It is not mandatory to get a postgraduate degree in law, but it has its benefits while getting a job here, as you can specialize in a particular area. I did my LLM on International Commercial Law and specialised in Banking law and finance.

If you aspire to become a Barrister, you must enrol yourself in a Bar-at-Law program. There are 9 institutions in the UK which provide the BPTC, and you can choose any one of them. Well, actually they are going to choose you as it is challenging to get into any one of them. A place in these 9 institutions is highly competitive since a lot of people, from all around the globe apply for it, and there are only a few allotted seats.

The application process in itself is quite complex, as you have to take an aptitude test which is the minimum entry standard test. This test is called BCAT and has been introduced very recently. It is only after passing this test can you send in an application to the institution of your choice.  It is essential to make sure that you send in a spectacular application. You are required to pass a few other steps for a successful bar application: For instance you have to have a minimum grade of 2:2 in your LLB, and if you are an international student you have to attain a really good score in IELTS as well. And once you successfully complete your BPTC along with 12 formal dinners at any one of the Inns of Court, you will be titled a Barrister.

 

GradInsights: What attributes will an individual require to be employed at an institution like Sadat Sarwar?

Sameera: I think they look for the general characteristics found in all successful lawyers. I would think it is essential to possess good oral communication skills, it is also important to have the ability to think critically, and have good analytical and interpersonal skills. And last but not the least perseverance, the mere act of becoming a barrister requires a great deal of commitment.

GradInsights: Any extra-curricular activities or experiences that are emphasised upon during selection?

Sameera: Although I have never been a debater during my school life, debating is a very good extracurricular activity to indulge in if you are interested in this career. It is important to be very confident and to have excellent interpersonal skills to shine in this career, thus debating and giving public speeches may give you that boost.

Also, while being recruited, experience in any particular field of law will always be given more preference over those who don’t have any experience at all. It is very important that lawyers seeking for jobs with a good position in the corporate world have experiences. I personally believe that fresh Barristers or lawyers should initially work in a law firm under a senior Advocate or Barrister, gain some experience and then venture out on their own or look for a job in the corporate sector.

GradInsights: After fulfilling what qualifications exactly do you get into a courtroom formally in Bangladesh?

Sameera: You will have to be enrolled as an Advocate to start practising here in Bangladesh, but you can still enter the courtroom while shadowing your senior. It is quite a lengthy process and takes years before you can practise in the High Court Division.

GradInsights: What is an entry-level position at a reputed organisation like that of yours? I think a lot of students do not know what a job description of an entry level position looks like, so would you please give us an overview?

Sameera: Well you become a junior associate at first, and then you work your way up to the post of an associate. It depends on the firm actually. You can enter at some law firm as just an intern, and you can be stuck in that position forever. On the other hand you can enter somewhere straight as an associate. The top-most position in a law firm is that of a Partner or a Senior Partner.

GradInsights: There is a popular notion that lawyers are paid mercenaries licensed to fight to win at any cost. Do you agree to that?

Sameera: I see no wrong in that notion because it is through our efforts that justice is being served. Everybody accepts remuneration for some kind of service or the other. What we actually are paid for is for defending people, and helping them resolve their disputes, and guiding people to stay within the legal framework of our constitution.

GradInsights: Do many of the employees transfer into commercial or independent practice?

Sameera: For me I would love to form my independent practice. If not now, maybe after a few years, after I have gained enough experience. The main thing I would like to emphasize upon is that you have to have a lot of experience before starting your independent practise. Because if you do not have anything sufficient to add to your name, clients will not trust you. They will not believe in you, and they will not hire you and take the risk of the huge cost involved in litigation.

GradInsights: What are the attributes you would generally find in an ideal lawyer?

Sameera: Generally, an ideal lawyer would be someone who is discipline, routined, diligent, and someone who is able to voice out everything confidently and is able to stand his ground in a courtroom. Becoming a lawyer may not be very difficult but it is very difficult to become a successful lawyer. The sector is obviously highly competitive, but if you can stand out and prove your worth, it is a very rewarding profession.

GradInsights: Are there any words of caution that you would offer to any prospective employee? How long the working hours are and how much work load will they be looking at?

Sameera: You have to be hard-working, focused, competitive and prepared to take risks. At the initial stage of your career you have to forget that you have a social life. Timings are really long and hectic. For instance my working hours vary from 10 am in the morning to around 9 pm at night. For people who are family-oriented or are social butterflies they will probably have to let go of family and social gatherings often. It is a difficult profession but if you can establish yourself in the first few years of your life in this career, things will eventually get better. And ultimately if you have your independent practice, things will get much more relaxed and flexible.

GradInsights: Most degree pursuers have the goal of a very high future salary. While the industry is admittedly high-paying, money as the only motivation could be damaging. What would you recommend for them to set as goals, other than the monetary benefits?

Sameera: It is a very respectable profession. You have a strong sense of self, since each barrister has an overriding duty to the court and to assist in the administration of justice, ultimately you are helping the society through your role.Especially, if you are doing it pro-bono, which means voluntarily for the social good.

GradInsights: How do you regard the way the highly-popular American television shows like Boston Legal and Suits portrays the lawyers?

Sameera: Television shows are obviously all dramas and exaggerated, but yes, there are some similarities. It will definitely be a plus point if you are as charismatic as the characters of Alan Shore or Harvey Spectre in Boston legal and Suits.

GradInsights: What exactly is the basic difference between a barrister and a lawyer:

Sameera: There is no bookish answer to that really. It’s actually the same thing. Both barristers and advocates have the same qualities, and can execute the same roles. You are titled a barrister if you successfully pass the Bar-at- law course from any specialized institution from abroad. In Bangladesh, all barristers eventually need to become an advocate to be able to practice here.

GradInsights: So why do you become a barrister?

Sameera: Well that’s because, the bar-at law program in itself is designed to teach and train you on how to think and act like a competent lawyer. The specialized training helps you shape as a lawyer, as you will be gaining skills and knowledge by dealing with realistic cases under the program. It is actually the training provided under the bar-at law program that may distinguish you from an advocate.

GradInsights: What, according to you, is a professional lawyer’s biggest virtue?

Sameera: Well I would say,strong sense of justice. If you are asking me what drives us as lawyers to push forward, it’s the consciousness of making sure that justice prevails at the end of the day. But how to get there? That is through your patience and hard-work. It might be a difficult journey. There might be a lot of hurdles. Sometimes you might feel frustrated. But at the end it may all be worth it. The day I got called to the Bar of England and Wales, I felt a sense of satisfaction like no other. The feeling that I did it. I became a barrister. It was a very happy moment for me and my family.

 



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