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Meet the lawyer

Raj Malhi

Raj Malhi

University: Keele University  
Degree: Law  
Year of qualification: 2022
Position: Associate 
Department: Employment 
Pronouns: She/her 

What attracted you to a career in law?  

I had the opportunity to study law when I was doing my GCSEs. In year nine we had after-school classes – one of my friends told me they were going to the law classes with an external tutor in which you could gain a GCSE in law, so I decided to go along too. I really enjoyed studying it and so continued with law at college. It ended up being my best subject.  

I was also given the opportunity to attend the local magistrates’ court with my law class and remember sitting in the courtroom and loving the buzz of interactions between the judge and barristers. It was fascinating, and until then I’d always had an interest in law, but it wasn’t until I saw it in action that I was certain it was the career for me. 

Can you talk us through your work experience? 

The first work experience I completed in the industry was with a local solicitor that my parents work with; I was really lucky to have that connection. It was at a high-street law firm, where they dealt with cases such as immigration and conveyancing and I sat alongside the solicitor for one week. During this time, we’d speak about live cases, and I’d observe client meetings, which gave me a great head-start and fantastic level of insight into the legal world.  

In addition, my university had a specialist programme called the CLOCK programme, which trains students over the summer holidays to then sit in family court and assist members of the public with divorce and child proceeding applications. We were called ‘legal companions’, and our role was to attend court and assist members of the public with filling out legal papers and advising them on the process involved. This experience was why I decided to become a solicitor and not a barrister. I really enjoyed the advice side of the work and wanted to be completely involved from the start of the matter. It was an amazing opportunity, and the programme has just celebrated its 10th year of success.  

How does the qualification process work at your firm?  

It’s a great programme. You first apply to be a legal assistant and then you’re allocated to a particular department so, for instance, I was allocated to the employment team in 2018. The contract lasts six months to begin with. Throughout the process you have regular reviews and once you come to the end of your six months the firm decides whether to renew your contract for another six months. At your nine-month review you’re then told whether you’ve been successful in securing a training contract. At this point you’ll be notified of your training contract start date and will continue to work as a legal assistant until your training begins. As I had not completed the Legal Practice Course (LPC) prior to commencing my role at Freeths, upon receiving an offer of a training contract with the firm, I was then also enrolled onto the LPC course at The University of Law. As this was a two-year part-time course, I studied and attended university at the weekends while also working five days a week. With the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam, the study element of the legal assistant programme will be slightly different.  

What do you wish you’d known about being a trainee before you started that you do now?  

The main thing I’ve learnt is that you don’t need to know it all. I put so much pressure on myself, as I know a lot of aspiring lawyers do, thinking I had to know everything before starting a new seat because otherwise I’d look unprepared. However, the whole point of a training contract is to learn. I had great supervision, was given the opportunity to learn and was encouraged to ask questions. If I did make mistakes, these were always approached with an attitude of “here’s what we can do differently next time”, rather than any level of disappointment that I didn’t know the correct approach.  

Understanding this before commencing my training contract is definitely something I wish I could have told my former self.  

How did you get into employment law and what might you do in a typical day? 

I was actually allocated to the employment team when I started with the firm as a legal assistant, and I’m so glad that this was the role I was assigned to. The work I do in a typical day varies a lot but mainly I advise both employers and individuals on a range of day-to-day employment and HR issues. This includes representing clients in tribunal claims, drafting and negotiating settlement agreements and drafting and reviewing employment contracts and related staff policies. I’ve also been involved in delivering training and workshops on various aspects of employment law.

Do you have any advice for budding solicitors contemplating a career in law?  

First, I’d say it’s important to take your time. I cannot emphasise this enough, take your time when deciding what type of lawyer you’d like to be, consider the different areas you could enter and think about the qualities you possess and how these may fit into different areas. Not everyone can be a contentious lawyer and not everyone can be a transactional lawyer, so take some time to research what’s right for you. I’d also strongly recommend securing work experience of any kind. While I completely understand that it can be difficult to obtain legal work experience, experience in retail or the hospitality industry is as equally as important. For example, learning how to deal and interact with customers is something you’ll have to do regularly as a lawyer and that previous experience will be invaluable. There’s nothing more stressful than someone shouting at you about the wrong takeaway order but the resilience and communication skills you gain through those experiences will certainly assist you in your career.

What’s the work/life balance like at your firm? 

This does vary depending on the team you’re in but generally,  I’ve had a good work/life balance. There have been a few late nights when we have a lot going on and are working towards tight deadlines, but it’s not a regular thing. The partner I work for is a big advocate of the fact that if you have to work late, those hours shouldn’t ever be the norm and I appreciate that.

What’s the wider company culture like?  

I’m personally involved in the diversity committee and am the representative for my office. We meet regularly to discuss how we can improve diversity within the firm, and run lots of events to bring people together and raise awareness of important topics and religious events. For example, the firm recently celebrated Diwali and Bandi Chhor Diwas. In my office, we bought samosas and Indian sweets from a local store and enjoyed these over lunch. I also contributed to an article for our internal newsletter explaining what Bandi Chorr is, why it is celebrated and what it means to me. The newsletter is circulated to everyone in the firm, and it’s great to be able to share our individual experiences with colleagues nationally. This past Eid we also ordered food from a local Turkish restaurant and some of my Muslim colleagues did a presentation for us about Ramadan and Eid, discussing how they celebrate the occasion and why it’s important to them. These types of celebrations are a great opportunity for employees to share their culture and everyone seems to enjoy them.

We also have a corporate social responsibility group at Freeths which deals with the firm’s charity partnerships and organises events, both nationally and locally. Each individual office has its own sub-group, which meet regularly to plan ways to raise money for charity. We also have a green group, which focuses on the firm’s sustainability practices, a cycle-to-work scheme, and several sports teams such as football and netball.  

Describe your firm in three words: 

Inclusive, progressive and supportive.

What is your dream holiday destination? 

It’s got to be Bora Bora! Ever since I watched that episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians where they took the trip (and Kim famously lost her diamond earring), I knew I had to go someday and it’s definitely at the top of the list.