A conversation with barrister Mohsin Zaidi

Mohsin Zaidi, Barrister, 6KBW

You’ve clearly had a very impressive career thus far – what experience are you most proud of and why?

Being taken on as a tenant at 6KBW was a proud moment after investing so much time and energy into pupillage. I am proud of my time as Judicial Assistant to Lord Wilson and Lord Sumption at the Supreme Court – I can’t recommend the job highly enough to junior lawyers. It is competitive (there are usually several hundred applications for seven places) but definitely worth applying for because it is such a unique experience if you are successful. I cannot think of any other job where, at such an early stage in your career, you are working on the most interesting and complex legal questions facing our society with some of the most distinguished jurists of the common law world.

Do you think your time at UKSC started the genesis of your move into the Bar?

I always wanted to be an advocate but I simply could not afford to fund the bar vocational course or take the risk of not obtaining a pupillage. So I chose instead to train to become a solicitor, which was funded by the magic circle law firm where I qualified, with manageable student debt and a decent salary. Whilst working as a solicitor I applied to the Supreme Court to be a Judicial Assistant. My time there crystallised my decision to become a barrister.

What is the most pertinent issue facing young people trying to enter the legal profession?

To my mind, the biggest barrier to the legal profession is a person’s socio-economic background. If you are from a poor background, even with evident ability, the obstacles which have to be overcome to become a barrister are, in many cases, insurmountable. Given the disproportionate level of poverty amongst the BAME community, these barriers make it even less likely that the Bar will become representative of the society it serves and, consequently, the judiciary too.

How do you think we should address the issue of social mobility?

Socio-economic background is not yet a central part of the diversity narrative and it needs to become an entrenched element – it is equally as important as other diversity issues. It deserves, to a certain extent, a heightened level of attention because the gap between rich and poor continues to increase.

One way to address the issue of social mobility is to review current recruitment practices. I believe that achieving a grade ‘A’ whilst attending a ‘bad’ school demonstrates more potential and resilience than achieving the same grade from a prestigious school. There are now tools that can help with the recruitment of people from lower socio-economic backgrounds by enabling grades to be put in proper context.

What advice would you give to LGBT students who are worried about coming into law, or perhaps other lawyers/barristers who are not out in their professional lives?

The only thing that should matter are your legal skills. It is slightly condescending for me simply to say ‘be yourself’ because everyone faces different internal and external challenges. It is fundamental that you do things on your own terms and when you feel that the time is right. Having support is important and finding someone you can talk to really helps, especially at the beginning. In my experience most people are very supportive.

What did being on the Pride in London board entail?

Mohsin preparing for Pride

As the first General Counsel of Pride In London, I set up the legal function and recruited the legal team. I had invaluable support from CMS, Pride’s solicitors, and in particular from an amazing Senior Associate there called Michelle Kirkland. Setting up a whole new department in my spare time was not easy but it was a great challenge. I recently resigned to take up the position of Governance Trustee at Stonewall but I had a fantastic three years with Pride in London.

How was the 2017 Pride event?

Our 2017 event was fantastic. For a second time the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, led the parade. It was an inspiring moment to see a Muslim man, hand in hand with his wonderful wife (who is a successful solicitor herself), walking at the front of the Pride parade. It was also fantastic to see him running up and down a giant rainbow flag taking selfies with the crowd, particularly at a time when other political leaders find reasons to divide people rather than unite them. It makes me so proud to be a Londoner.

What next for LGBT rights?

At home, we do not yet have equal marriage in Northern Ireland to name just one issue.  Abroad, sadly there are people being persecuted all over the world for being LGBT+. This must change.

The rights that we have already won should not be taken for granted, as illustrated by Donald Trump’s recent revision on trans members in the US military. Even in the UK, our government plays politics with human rights by threatening to repeal the legislation. Positive steps have been taken regarding LGBT+ issues but, unless we are careful, steps can and will be taken in the opposite direction.

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Mohsin Zaidi is a barrister at 6KBW College Hill, specialising in crime and white-collar crime. Before transferring to the Bar, Mohsin spent six years at a magic circle law firm, four of which as a solicitor in the litigation team. He has been a member of the New York Bar since 2010. In 2013, Mohsin was appointed as a Judicial Assistant to Lord Sumption and Lord Wilson at the Supreme Court. Mohsin has recently been appointed as a trustee of Stonewall and is also an associate governor at his former secondary school in East London. 

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