How to start a law career in the middle of a pandemic
Alanood Sinjab graduated from St Andrews in 2017 with an MA in International Relations and Philosophy. Following two years at Law School, she had just begun the first week proper of her training contract when the pandemic struck.
Alumni Relations Officer Edward Findlay asked her to describe how that felt, why she decided to transition from International Relations to Law in the first place and what she misses most about her time at St Andrews.
Tuesday 25 February 2020. The day had finally come. Four years at the University of St Andrews, two years at BPP Law School and many applications and interviews later. The start of my training contract and my career. But the anticipation in time subsided. No sooner had my colleagues and I started our two weeks of induction and our first week of work proper than we were asked by Mr Johnson to pack up. By the following Tuesday, we had to swiftly adjust to a new way of working from home – the beginning of an unending series of SOS phone calls to IT (we are now great pals), virtual conferences with colleagues, clients and counsel and, all the while, trying to settle in and gain visibility within our teams.
But in truth, these complaints pale in comparison to others. As is true for no doubt all of us, this has been a bewildering time. It has thrown into relief so much about the status quo of the world we live in – inequality in access to basic resources, healthcare and human safety; how intricately but perhaps dangerously interconnected our economies and livelihoods are; and, above all, the amount of work I think we all have to do if we are to come out of this testing time having learnt anything at all. This starts in our own homes and communities, but it also needs to run top-down to change the rhythms we have so passively, and on reflection so disappointingly, become accustomed to.
Put in this perspective, though the start of my training contract has certainly been memorable, if this is my only grievance (it really is), then I am truly fortunate. Even more so because my workplace has been so hands-on and receptive in trying to make this transition as easy as possible.
For what it’s worth, it has also been such an interesting time to join the profession. In the space of just a few weeks, a whole new suite of guidance and legislation was rolled out, and it has been exciting to be part of the team of lawyers trying to make sense of what this means for clients, their businesses and what they need in the way of legal advice – and indeed the creative and remote ways in which this is being delivered (hearings, mediations and so on).
How have you spent your time in lockdown?
Work aside, a lot of drawing and painting. Art has been a real passion of mine for many years, but one that I let slip since sixth form. Though I have always had time to pick up a pencil/pen/ paintbrush, I have equally always been able to choose to do other things. But alas, not this time!
What was your time at the University of St Andrews like?
I studied International Relations and Philosophy with a study abroad programme at L’Institut d’études politiques de Paris (Sciences Po). I had a tremendous time. It challenged me, nurtured me and provided me with so many opportunities. It is also where I made some of my best friends. It is such a special place. I wish I could rewind and do it all again.
How did you transition into a career in law from your non-law degree?
I thought about the types of skills I enjoyed using during my undergraduate degree and the jobs that I felt would allow me to develop them further – thinking, researching, writing. I thought law was a fitting option and began exploring it. I tailored my study abroad programme to specialise in International Commercial Law. Later, I was awarded the Laidlaw Scholarship in Leadership and Research, which I used as an opportunity to further explore the subject. And for the avoidance of any doubt, I also took a course at the London School of Economics in European Union Law. All of this confirmed my interest. Combined with some legal work experience, vacation schemes and the Graduate Diploma in Law, I was offered a training contract at Mayer Brown, which is where I currently work.
How has your non-law degree helped you?
For all the late nights agonising over first- and second-order desires that Philosophy brought me (read Harry Frankfurt at your own peril), it truly taught me how to think, how to structure my thoughts and how to neatly put in writing oftentimes extremely complex arguments. As it happens, the first seat of my training contract is in the Litigation and Dispute Resolution team, where this has been particularly useful.
As for International Relations, it taught me the beauty of different narratives and paradigms and the importance of shifting between them to try and capture a holistic picture of your subject-matter – both qualitatively and quantitatively. Think panoramic views. It is such an important discipline, and one I hope to be able to return to somehow somewhere later in life.
To end, if you have graduated with a non-law degree and worry about your entry to law, don’t. You have something your fellow colleagues may not – a whole other degree in a different field! Don’t underestimate how valuable that may be. If this is you, my advice is to identify that value, articulate it and, whatever you do, do not undersell it. Then, when you’re ready, find an employer that can see the refreshing perspective that you bring and can provide you with the space and tools to let that flourish.
All of it. But a special mention to our spectacular sunsets. You can’t get them anywhere else!