Before I go into the details, let me start by introducing myself. My name is Yasmin Khan-Gunns and I am a 25-year-old Family Law Solicitor working at BLM in the City of London. At this point you may be thinking about the origins of my surname; this was a question that surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) I was asked a lot at SOAS. In short, my mother was born in what can only be described as a jungle in Tanzania and her surname is ‘Khan’. My father was born in an 8-bedroom house on Wandsworth common and his surname is ‘Gunns’.
Let’s start with the question every interviewer has asked me without fail, ‘‘why law?’’. Well, I can’t say that I have always dreamt of being a solicitor and that it was a life long passion of mine, as in reality, this is very rarely the case.
Instead, through GCSE, A-levels and everyday life, I realised that I was good at drafting, writing, analysing, building rapport, public speaking and negotiating (usually with my parents). My A-level teacher suggested that I study law at university and cutting a long story short, I did. I also did some work experience to not go in blind. I did a work placement at Lewis Silkin LLP in Commercial Litigation (Year 11) and shadowed a Judge at Croydon Magistrates Court and Uxbridge County Court (Year 12).
Now, going back to what feels like a century ago, I finished my A-levels in June 2012. I obtained an A in Psychology, A in Philosophy and B in English Language. I was disappointed, as I knew I needed three A’s to study Law (LLB) at SOAS at the time.
I wrote an email to SOAS explaining the situation. I explained that whilst I had not met their AAA requirements, I had been working four part-time jobs throughout my A-levels and had gained invaluable experience and transferable skills from this. I worked as an Office Assistant at a local Estate Agents, a Crèche Supervisor at my school’s crèche, a Tutor at Explore learning Ltd and an Arts and Crafts Childcare Assistant at Iced Gems Events and Parties Ltd. Thankfully, SOAS agreed and I started the LLB in September 2012.
I remember the first day of my law degree like it was yesterday. The ethnic diversity was striking and inspiring. I had come from a tiny Sixth Form in Bromley (12 in my year), to a university with students from more than 133 different countries. That said, I felt strangely at home.
It didn’t take me long to join numerous societies, from Indian Dance to the Hummus society (I hear that you now have a Pizza society which I am very jealous to be missing out on). It also didn’t take me long to stand in line for my free Hare Krishna lunch, chuck bags of colourful powder at random students during the Hindu Holi festival and use the pizza vending machine (yes, I love pizza). Have you seen a camel being walked outside the main entrance yet? I have. A normal day in the life of a SOASian one would say.
Getting back on track, I obtained a 2.1 at SOAS. In my first year, I studied The Legal Systems of Asia and Africa, Criminal law and Introduction to Law and Legal Processes. In my second year, I studied Public law, Tort law, Property law and EU law. In my third and final year, I studied Family law, Company law, Commercial law and Equity & Trusts law.
The Family law module stood out to me the most. I loved how real-life, personal and human it felt. I clearly remember that on one particularly sunny day we were studying outside Vernon Square. We were learning about divorce and the lecturer said ‘‘there is no such thing as a common-law marriage’’. I was shocked, as my mum had always told me that she had a common-law marriage with my dad. Then I thought, how many other women in England & Wales mistakenly think that they are married. It was at this point that I finally knew I wanted to 1) become a solicitor 2) become a family law solicitor 3) educate people.
Realising that I wanted to be a solicitor so late was not ideal. I had not applied for any training contracts and so I had not secured funding for the LPC. I did, however, complete a two-week vacation scheme at Thomson Snell and Passmore in Kent in 2014 and volunteered for a short period at Camden Community Law Centre in the same year.
During the summer of 2015, I debated long and hard about whether I wanted to commence the LPC in September 2015 and pay for it myself, or whether I wanted to wait until I secured a training contract and funding; £15,000 is a lot of money.
I remember the day I came to my decision. It was mid-August and I was sitting at my aunt’s house asking my family their opinion (the LPC was due to start in a few weeks!). My uncle came through the door having drunk a bit too much. I asked him what he thought. He said that I had got this far without a break in my studies and so I should just ‘‘go for it’’. He thought that if I didn’t, I would change my mind about pursuing law altogether. In hindsight, he was probably right. The next day I submitted my application to study the LPC and Masters in Law, Business and Management at the University of Law in Moorgate.
The first day of the LPC was an eye-opener. I walked into a room with various other students and handed over my NatWest debit card; £3,500 disappeared from my bank account just like that. My part-time jobs during A-levels came in handy. Thankfully, my dad paid for the rest and I am very grateful to him.
I enjoyed the LPC. It was very practical and the focus was on real-life problem solving rather than theoretical essay writing. I chose the Family law elective, along with Employment law and Advanced Real Estate. I obtained a Distinction in my LPC and a Commendation in my Masters.
Slater & Gordon
During the LPC I applied for a few training contracts but I was unsuccessful. I realised that I needed more substantive legal work experience on my CV. So, when I finished my LPC in April 2016, I applied for an Employment Law Legal Assistant position at Slater & Gordon in London. I got the job and started in July 2016.
A month later, an Equity Partner from Hanne & Co (a firm I had interviewed at in Battersea) called me. She told me that whilst my training contract interview was unsuccessful, the firm wanted to offer me a Paralegal position in the family department so that I could build up my experience. Although it meant taking a pay cut, I was over the moon and handed in my notice immediately.
I started working at Hanne & Co in September 2016 and I loved every minute of it. Three months later, during the firm Christmas party, I was offered a training contract to start in January 2017. It was the best training I could have asked for.
I did an 18-month seat in the Family department with the above-mentioned Equity Partner. I then did a 6-month seat in the Residential Property department. I was also a member of the Marketing and Business Development committee, Head Trainee Solicitor and Deputy Chair of the Charity committee.
I qualified as a solicitor in January 2019 and was offered a newly qualified (NQ) position in the Family department, which I accepted. I worked in a team with the above-mentioned Equity Partner on a caseload predominantly focused on divorce, matrimonial finance and property disputes between unmarried couples under TLATA 1996, with assets typically ranging from £500k to £2million. I also had my own small caseload of divorce, matrimonial finance, cohabitation agreements and pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements.
I left Hanne & Co in June 2019 to join BLM in the City of London. BLM is a specialist insurance risk and commercial advisory law firm and are ranked as 40th in The Lawyer’s top 200 UK law firms.
Making the move from a small law firm in Battersea, that I loved working at and had so many good friends in, to a large law firm in the City, was a very difficult decision. Again, I consulted my family. Half of them told me that it was important to be happy in a job and have a good work-life balance. The other half told me to think about my career progression and the wider benefits of working in the City for a large firm. Thankfully, I made the right decision. I am happy at BLM, have made good friends here and have an excellent work-life balance.
I joined BLM with a Partner and our first job was to set up the Family department in London from scratch, which we have now done. Our caseload is similar to that at Hanne & Co, except it is more complex and nearly all of our cases have an international element, which is where studying ‘The Legal Systems of Asia and Africa’ comes in handy. The clients are also typically high net-worth individuals with circa £2-£15 million. They range from business professionals and property entrepreneurs to British nobility and Vice Presidents of international corporations.
So that’s my journey so far. I am now 1.5 years qualified and certainly looking forward to 2021!
In my spare time I am committed to helping aspiring solicitors on their family law journey. I do this through my Instagram account @londonfamilysolicitor. If you are interested in family law and would like some guidance, feel free to contact me on this and I would be more than happy to help.
Yasmin Khan-Gunns is a Family Solicitor at BLM in the City of London and SOAS alumni. She qualified in January 2019, having undertaken an 18-month seat in family and a 6-month seat in property.