In interview with...

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Baljinder Singh Atwal, Legal Advisor
West Midlands Police

Baljinder Singh Atwal is a well known figure within the Birmingham legal community and a serial networker! Prior to being appointed as Chair of the Birmingham Solicitors’ Group (“BSG”) last month, Baljinder was the PR Officer for the BSG and the PR Officer for the Birmingham Trainee Solicitors’ Society before that.

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Congratulations on your recent appointment as Chair of the BSG! It’s an interesting time to lead a networking group. How are you finding it so far and what are your plans for the coming year?

Thank you! It is a pleasure to be involved with WTL. It definitely is an interesting time for all elements of professional life. In an ideal pre Covid world I would have enjoyed meeting my new committee members in person and hosting our welcome event which has traditionally been at a local Birmingham venue. Despite the obstacles we have continued to press on and so far so good. We have a fantastic new committee of 10 qualified solicitors from 10 different organisations. All of them are passionate, talented and each brings something different to the table.

We had our first committee meeting virtually and we have put together a schedule of events for the next 6 months. Without giving too much away, we are thinking outside the box for our events and we have a great line up which will keep up interaction with all our members despite the national lockdowns. We will continue to put on events and make sure we interact and support as many junior solicitors as we can in our region. I am fully aware of isolation, loneliness and depression amongst many other things on the rise because of the lockdown. As an organisation we still want to bring people together and make a difference.

Networking is so important in law (as we’re reminded from a very early stage!). What would your advice be to aspiring lawyers on how they can continue to build their legal network given the limitations we’re facing as a result of Covid?

As Covid has given us all a lot of challenges, we need to rise up and see what opportunities they also present. Professional social media platforms are now super important. For any aspiring lawyer, make sure your online presence is professional and up to date. Use your spare time to update your CV, connect with people in your field, do some deep research in areas/fields you are interested in and start consuming content relevant to your career aspirations - podcasts, blogs, videos etc. I have also seen a lot of free webinars/seminars which are accessible to all by a number of different organisations - so get involved, sign up, ask questions and increase your knowledge.

There is some really good content online which is being produced organically by legal professionals and aspiring lawyers for the next generation. A lot of this content is created in such a well organised and easy to digest manner that it is easy for any professional or student to gain an understanding into the legal profession. When I was a student there was not much online in terms of gaining an insight into the profession - the only way to learn more was attending a law fair or managing to talk to a legal professional (if you managed to have a contact through family/friends).


How has networking helped you in your career?


For me, networking has enhanced my experience as a professional and widened my network. For example organising and playing football for firms has allowed me to meet and interact with colleagues and other professionals I would never have met before (not to mention great exercise and time away from the desk!). I think networking really starts before a professional career - whether it is school, college, university or a social club. It is literally meeting other people while you are pursuing a passion or a hobby. During education this is easy as this time is allocated in your schedule naturally so it does not seem like a chore. However in the professional world it is often the case that you need to make a conscious effort to put the ‘networking’ in your diary.

Aside from meeting other professionals it is also a perfect way to exercise your skill and ability for those soft skills you are not necessarily taught in education or even your professional day to day job. Things such as organisation, team work, time management, communication and even public speaking are all things you can pick up and improve on through networking. I think networking often provides a safe place or environment away from your day job where you can really build on your skills.


What one thing do you wish you knew before starting your legal career that you think would’ve helped so much now?


Looking back at my journey from student to trainee and then newly qualified, I think understanding the business side of how a law firm really works - basically how a law firm makes money. As a student it isn’t really talked about for some reason but I assume there is no fancy or attractive way to talk about time recording and billing!

For anyone that does not have substantial legal work experience behind them I think the whole time recording and billing process can seem quite alien. The journey as a law student is all about case law and solving unnecessarily complex legal problems. However in the commercial legal world it is all about how long you will spend on a matter and how much the client is paying. I think somewhere in the legal education system this needs to be addressed.


What would your advice be to those looking for training contracts in the current market?


With almost anything in life, if you want something enough and are willing to work hard for it, then you will achieve it. Life will always throw things in your path, but it’s all about how you respond. You will no doubt face rejection and days you do not want to pursue certain goals but let the obstacles motivate you more and always have a positive attitude to all aspects of your life. Practically keep building on your CV and make yourself as employable as possible. The unwritten rule that firms use when selecting candidates is, 1) can I work with this person and 2) can I put this person in front of a client - keep these in mind!


Finally, how did you decide which area of law you wanted to qualify into?


For me it was a combination of 1) what I had experience in and 2) what I enjoyed the most. I think people who have spent time as a paralegal and/or done work experience will have the most balanced view on qualification as they will have the experience and knowledge of what they enjoyed and what they did not. A key piece of advice I was given by several contacts was to choose the area of law (or work) as opposed to a team or firm. The theory behind this was that teams and firms often change with time but the work does not!

For more information about the Birmingham Solicitors’ Group, check out the following:

www.birminghamsolicitorsgroup.org
Twitter: @BhamSolsGroup
Instagram: @bsg_events
LinkedIn: Birmingham Solicitors’ Group