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Meet the lawyer

Sanna Mazhar

Sanna Mazhar

University: University of Law
Degree: LLB
Year of qualification: 2019
Position: Solicitor
Department: Medical negligence

What attracted you to a career in law?

Law has always been something that has stuck in my mind since being a young child. Funnily enough, I completed a profile at primary school which asked what I would like to be when I am older, and to my surprise when I saw it some years ago, I did actually write ‘lawyer’. So I guess it has always been a goal of mine. However, what attracted me the most was the ability to pick the meaning of words apart. I have always had an avid interest in reading and loved English literature at school. During my lessons we picked apart the meaning of the books we studied and really focused on the meaning of individual phrases and words, and how that changed the perspective drastically within the book. This therefore inspired my passion to understand the law and even more so litigation. I like challenging views and using a reasoned and well-prepared answer to argue and persuade someone to understand my views. Law gave me the perfect opportunity to use this passion every day in my working life.

Why solicitor not barrister?

Becoming a barrister, although appealing, didn’t offer me the opportunity to connect with clients on the same level that being a solicitor allows. As a solicitor I am part of the client’s journey from the beginning and until the conclusion of the case (hopefully a successful one!). I am able to liaise with the client and offer them a professional yet caring approach to the litigation process, particularly as I deal with medical negligence claims. My clients often come to me having been through significant trauma, so it’s very important to understand that they are emotionally and physically affected by the events that have occurred. I relish the opportunity to be able to take the case on and work towards providing them with the answers they deserve. For example, when I have a case which involves a delay in diagnosis of cancer, obtaining answers as to why the cancer wasn’t diagnosed sooner is so important for the client. I am able to take the professional legal steps to allow them to get the answers that they deserve.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

I know a lot of people will fill out as many application forms as possible with the hope of getting through to the next stage with at least one firm. However, I soon realised after speaking with fellow students and friends working in law firms, that the best approach was to research the firms thoroughly and then select two to three that really interested me. I sat down and did some self-reflection to really think about the type of firm I saw myself working for. This made it easier to ensure that my applications were targeted to the firms most suitable to me and helped me prepare a better application for each one as I had a genuine interest in the firm.

How much work experience had you had? Why is it so important?

I was lucky enough to obtain work experience through family friends and I also had access to firms’ ‘insight days’ at university. I therefore had the opportunity to see whether commercial law was for me or whether I was more suited to personal legal services. I think work experience is really important as it allows you to see what the work is like in practice. I know, from my own experiences, that some areas of law that I had studied either during my LLB or the LPC were very different in practice. Experiencing the ‘real’ day job in an area is crucial in deciding what route you want to go down and also the type of firm you would like to apply for.

What do you think made your application successful?

Applications are a minefield at the best of times. However, I think my application was successful because when I applied to Irwin Mitchell, I had finally found the type of firm I saw myself working for and I think once you find that firm, your application flows more successfully as a result. I had taken the time to self-reflect and decide that I saw myself working in personal legal services and in a firm that had clients at the forefront of the business. Irwin Mitchell was a perfect fit for that desire. I think my enthusiasm in wanting to work at the firm came through within my application.

Which departments did you train in?

I trained at the Leeds office within three departments: asbestos-related disease, family law and medical negligence. Each area provided insights and brought its own challenges. It was great to experience such different teams within the personal stream at Irwin Mitchell and see first-hand how although the work is different, the key core values of the firm resonated within each team.

Please discuss a specific deal/case that you were involved with, outlining your role in the matter.

During my time in the asbestos-related disease team, I was predominantly assisting the head of the team and partner, Ian Toft. Ian settled two landmark cases during my time in the team, both of which received significant press attention. I was really lucky in that I was present at the joint settlement meetings, I helped to draft and prepare the instructions to counsel and I attended conferences with counsel, the medical experts in the case and also the clients. It was a brilliant time to be in the team and I was grateful to have been a part of cases which have changed the legal framework for Asbestos claims, especially when those affected are living with the disastrous consequences of the negligence. The outcome meant that the client was covered within his settlement agreement to receive monies from the defendant in the event that future treatment becomes available for his mesothelioma. Therefore, this covered treatments that are not currently known and may become available in the future. It was great to see the benefit Ian’s hard work paying off to result in a landmark outcome.

How does the qualification process work at the firm?

The qualification process is one which allows you to spend 6 months in your final seat in your chosen area of specialism. My own experience was that I had to inform the Graduate Recruitment team of my preference and then we were informed a couple of months before our final seat where we were going to be placed. Once I went into my final seat, as I was previously a paralegal at IM, I was able to apply for time to count and able to then qualify early into the Medical Negligence department on 1 May 2019.

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

To make the most of it! I was so eager and keen to qualify and didn’t take the time to just enjoy being a trainee towards the end. I think it’s really important to enjoy your time as a Trainee and enjoy not having the time recording or billing pressures. You’ll never be in that position again once you qualify so I definitely wish that I would have known that being a Trainee is definitely you’re time to impress but also enjoy.

Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?

I specialise in medical negligence. On a typical day I liaise with clients and medical experts on a regular basis. I love the client contact. My role as a solicitor in the team involves investigating potential cases by way of instructing the appropriate medical experts and then undertaking a thorough review of their expert reports. I also help on the higher value and potentially multi-million pound cases by taking detailed witness statements from the clients and also supporting my senior colleagues with progression of the cases through either expert instruction or counsel instruction. Each day is different and each case is different: whether it is a delay in diagnosis or substandard surgery, the case is always interesting and it is most definitely rewarding to help those who have been through and are continuing to go through hardship.

Please discuss a current/recent specific deal/case, outlining your role in the matter.

I am currently working on a case involving the death of a baby during labour. The case is very sad and very distressing for the parents of the child who are bringing the claim. As the fee earner in charge of their case, I have been supporting them throughout the process to ensure that they get the answers they deserve but to also balance that against making sure that they do not have to bear the burden of getting those answers when they are still dealing with their bereavement. It’s a really sensitive case and it is rewarding to be able to help them deal with this process and also to help them try and obtain closure in very distressing circumstances.

What do you most/least enjoy about your career and why?

My career, although fulfilling and rewarding, can be stressful at times. Sometimes I do envy my friends who have ‘easier’ jobs, however I don’t see them get as passionate as I do when I am talking about my job. So even though it can be stressful, I am grateful that I am enthusiastic about what I do and that I feel passionate about it too. We spend more time at work typically than we do at home, so I am glad that I enjoy being at work!

How involved are you with business development and promoting the firm?

Business development is really important at Irwin Mitchell. As a firm that offers a full service, whether a client’s issue is business related or personal, we are keen to ensure that we are accessible to all. Therefore, we work very closely with local business and charities at each office to do this. In the Leeds office we have close links with the Yorkshire Playhouse as one of their corporate partners – they are opening a foyer named after Irwin Mitchell. We also work closely with local charities such as SNAPS Yorkshire, the Leeds office Charity of the Year which provides services to children with additional needs. I personally work very closely with SNAPS as I am the vice chair of the Irwin Mitchell Leeds charity foundation committee I also work closely with Unique Ways, a parent-carers organisation, helping deliver a legal advice clinic at the charity’s Halifax headquarters.

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

We are a full-service national law firm and we are also considered a ‘superbrand’. As a trainee you are able to access a breadth of areas and experience in order to develop your expertise and skill set. We have a strong, consistent brand that is recognisable across our offices and I think there is a real strength in this as it comes across as well-established and trusted to our clients and applicants.

What skills/strengths do you need to be a successful solicitor?

To be a successful solicitor, you need to be tenacious. Work within the legal sector is challenging and to even get into the legal sector in the first place can be difficult. I remember someone telling me that as a law student, you have to get used to failure and that has stuck with me ever since. So it’s so important to be tenacious and keep going until you get there – and when you become a solicitor, that doesn’t stop.

You also have to be forward-thinking. As a solicitor, you can’t take things at face value. It’s really important to be able to see the bigger picture and when dealing with a case to think about the desired outcome and the steps that need to be taken to get there – but also be flexible and prepare for alternative outcomes because as they say, God laughs when we make plans!

What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?

If you are contemplating a career in law, my advice is to be yourself. When applying for training contracts, it is most likely that the other applicants have the same academic background as you, therefore it boils down to who you are as a person to give you the edge in your applications and ultimately your career.

What’s your signature dish?

A cheese toastie. It sounds simple, but it’s all about the art of cooking. I can make a great toastie on a frying pan with butter on the outside of each side and just the right amount of cheese in the middle. Pair it with some red onion or even make it a tuna toastie and it’s just as delicious.