Women in law Middle East
The following is a recent interview between Women in Law Middle East founder Fatima Jamaluddin, and Sterling Stamp’s founder Ihsane Elidrissi Elhassani.
Q: Why Law?
A: I know it sounds cliché, but at the age of 16, when I finished high school, I did not have a clue what I wanted to study at university. I loved literature, Arabic, French, and English but did not want to make it my profession. I looked around, several members of my family were already lawyers or studying law, so I followed suite. Day one of law school, I understood that it was the right choice for me. Law is the science of life. Day to day concepts that I did not understand or took for granted had their rationale in law and the evolution of legal systems. Every day since then was a light bulb moment.
Q: Take us back to your days at Law School.
A: The funny thing in my law studying career, and I call it a career for reason, it spanned over 2 decades: my teens, early twenties, and mid-twenties. Three different countries and three different legal systems. I did my Licence or undergrad in Morocco. The first year was a shock to the system. Everything was different from high school. Sea of people attending the classes, different method of teaching, attendance not compulsory, sheer volume of syllabuses to go through and the most frightening thing of all the high rate of failure in the first year. There is a tacit numerus clausus at Moroccan Universities between years; out of 3,000 first year students, 200 passed into the second year. On graduation I went to Belgium to do a master’s degree, a new country, a new culture, a new legal system, and an invaluable life experience. Then followed work life and the decision to move to the UK to qualify as a solicitor, a new legal system, a new language, and a new culture. Law has shaped my career and provided me with the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of other languages and cultures.
Q: You have established your own boutique law firm in London. What was your motive behind that, and how did your track record as a legal manager helped you in founding your own firm?
A: The motive behind establishing my own law firm is a desire to create something, something that has my fingerprint. Working in house and for law firms was necessary in order for me to gain the perspective and skills needed to run my own legal firm.
Q: Given you have been trained on legislative drafting, what legislation do you wish to update or draft?
A: There are so many laws that need updating in all fields. The closest to my heart are human rights law, especially women’s rights in our region of the world. Morocco has done some amazing things to improve women’s rights, in particular amendments to the family code. There are still changes to be made to bridge the gap between the sexes, in both directions.
Q: Since the beginning of your practice to date, what are the main changes in the legal industry that you have noticed?
A: I started my law career 20 years ago. The most notable change is that women have access nowadays to higher executive positions in the legal field. I see more women head of legal and partners than before.
Q: Since you are a trilingual legal practitioner, and your law firm bridges Europe to the MENA region, we are interested in learning about international transaction agreements you handle. As such, which governing law and forum are the most popular to be used, and what are other patterns you notice, dealing internationally.
A: English law and the UK are still the most used legal system and forum. I would love to see North African and Middle Eastern countries taking the lead as international legal hubs.
Q: Can you explain the process of qualification you went through?
A: To qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales, I had to have my international qualifications verified by the Law Society, a process called certification of good standing. I then completed an undergraduate law degree in one year, in English; a course called the Graduate Diploma in Law [GDL]. I then undertook twelve months professional skills training; a course called the Legal Practice Course [LPC]. Finally, I deployed these skills under the supervision of a senior lawyer, a period of training known as a training contract. To create a legal firm and receive a license to practice law, I applied and received authorisation from the legal regulator in the UK; the Solicitors Regulation Authority [SRA]. I also applied to the SRA to be recognised as the practice manager. The method of qualifying as a lawyer in England and Wales is changing, the GDL and LPC are being compounded into one national exam known as the Solicitor’s Qualification Exam. We are already speaking with several international lawyers and law students to help with them with this process.
Q: What are your top tips for women aspiring to establish their own law firms?
A: Just do it.