I recently had the immense pleasure of interviewing the delightful Arooj Zahra Sheikh, creator of the “An Aspiring Barristers Journey” blog and BPP University law student. I was very impressed by her maturity, knowledge and insightful tips. Every law student should follow her blog, even if you aren’t interested in applying to the bar. Arooj provides so much useful information that anyone studying law would benefit greatly. To top it all off, she is highly charismatic and funny – I have no doubt that the bar would gain a star!
Rachida, founder of Rama Publishing (R): Hi Arooj, could you please introduce yourself?
Arooj, creator of the “An Aspiring Barristers Journey” blog (A): Hi, my name is Arooj and I was born and brought up in Kenya. I started my Law degree in Malaysia, and then transferred to Cardiff University in Wales for my third year, where I graduated with first-class honours. I am currently undertaking the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) at BBP University in London after receiving a full scholarship from the Inner Temple. Transferring in my third year was difficult in terms of studying the course, as well as how the system here works generally. So, I wanted to share what I learnt, and continue to learn on the BPTC so students wishing to pursue the bar are more informed - that’s why I set up the blog.
R: What is your greatest source of inspiration?
A: I can tell you without the slightest hesitation that it is my mother. She was married at sixteen and divorced by twenty-five, with two children to care for. Even with such a challenge and with no formal education, she managed to start four successful companies and showed me the meaning of passion and dedication. She has the most phenomenal work ethic, and it is something I have tried to emulate. I will never be able to thank her enough for the sacrifices she made for my brother and me.
R: Why did you want to become a barrister?
A: There are three reasons for this:
- My personality traits – During my time in high school and law school, I partook in debates, mooting competitions and national and international Model United Nations Conferences. Through these experiences I realised that I thoroughly enjoy public speaking, research, and analysis, so pursuing a career at the bar was a natural step for me.
- My work experience – I did an internship at a solicitor’s firm a few years ago, and I worked on a very exciting case that was sent out to a barrister to defend in court. This was frustrating because I had put in work into the case and would not get a chance to voice my own arguments. I knew then that I wanted to be in a position of receiving cases rather than giving them to others to argue.
- The nature of the bar - I like the flexibility that a career at the bar offers. Since barristers are self-employed, they have ultimate control over their own practice. However, my biggest motivation comes from the idea that I will be working hard towards building my own reputation.
R: What would you tell your first-year law student self?
A: I would tell her that when you start a law degree the entire process will feel overwhelming. This is because law transforms the way you think. It’s perfectly okay for nothing to make sense at first, but hang in there because it will start to fall into place, and when it does, you will start to see the whole world differently.
I would also tell her that it’s important to keep a balance. You need to be able to make the most of your university life because it will only come once, but you also have to understand that every work experience you undertake will be immensely rewarding in the future. For example, when I was studying in Malaysia I had a three month break between academic years. Instead of taking the time off as a holiday, I did work experience at a law firm. At the time I remember finding it incredibly difficult having to go to work everyday and I felt like I never got a break. But, looking back, that was the most rewarding work experience I did. It helped me with my undergraduate degree subjects, when applying for the BPTC, during the BPTC and even the Inns of Court Scholarships! The point is, you may feel like you can’t see the fruits of your labour in that moment, but trust me, every sacrifice you make counts and you will see that eventually.
R: What are your top three tips for success for those wishing to pursue the bar?
A: My top three tips for success for those wishing to pursue the Bar would be:
- Stay motivated - The BPTC is a very intense course. There will be times that you feel completely overwhelmed, this is natural. You need to be mentally prepared for the workload. I would recommend focusing on the end goal rather than the process of what you go through.
- Be able to adapt – You must understand that sometimes things don’t always go as you would have wanted them to. It is important to be able to embrace any uncertainty that comes your way and adapt to any kind of situation.
- Don’t forget extra-curricular activities – Academia is important, but it is not everything. It’s equally important to demonstrate that you are committed and dedicated to pursuing a career at the bar. To do this, I would recommend doing mini-pupillages, some pro-bono work, and getting involved in mooting competitions. All these activities will also help you develop your communication skills which will be helpful once you apply for pupillage.
R: How do you learn your cases? Do you have a technique that you think others might benefit from?
A: The key is to understand the judgement itself. I know this may sound obvious, but many overlook this point. I take the time to understand the facts of the case and how the judgment was reached. I also find out who the judges were and look at their analysis, which also helps explain their judgment. I then proceed to write detailed notes on the case. I create a summary of the case’s keywords and important arguments. When revision time comes, I have the work half done already and can remember a lot about the case.
R: What would you tell a student who might be scared to pursue a career at the Bar of England and Wales for whatever reason e.g. socio-economic background, accent etc?
A: “Your ambitions are not capped by arbitrary factors” – my friend Tommy Seagull said this to me once and it has stuck with me ever since. When I was in the process of applying for the Inns of Court Scholarships for the BPTC, I attended a course fair and was told not to bother continuing with the application because I was not from here, I had no UK based work experience at that moment (since I had just transferred from Malaysia to Cardiff), and I was a Kenyan citizen. If I had paid attention to these comments, I would have not applied, and today I would not have a full scholarship for the BPTC. The point of this example is to tell you that no one should ever be able to dictate what you should or should not do with your life. You should be proud of your identity, and if you want something, go out there and get it. If I could, you can.
We highly recommend that you check out Arooj’s wonderful blog for more information on her continuing journey.