Alumnus of the Month
Afsor Ullah is our Westminster City School Alumnus of the Month for June 2021. Afsor left Westminster City School in 2005. He is now a legal director.
Please tell us a little about yourself – where do you work and how did you get to this role?
I left Westminster City School in 2005 having completed my GCSEs and then later my A Levels at the Sixth Form. I achieved the highest grades in my cohort with three A grades (which would have been the equivalent to A* under current criteria) and managed to secure an offer from University College London to read law. After finishing my three-year law degree, I then completed a post-graduate Legal Practice Course for a further year, after which I then completed a two-year training contract with a law firm to qualify as a solicitor for England and Wales.
I currently work in the London office of firm called Shakespeare Martineau and specialise in the areas of Islamic finance, real estate, real estate finance and banking. My firm is a top 50 firm in the UK by revenue. We hold several rankings in both the Legal500 and also Chambers and Partners; the two most authoritative rankings for law firms in the world. My firm has offices nationally and we advise many household names.
What are some of your proudest achievements since leaving Westminster City School?
I think completing my law degree with a 2.1 and qualifying as a solicitor are definitely my proudest achievements. There were many bumps along the way and, at one point, I contemplated a career in teaching, as I spent three and half odd years working in a school in between graduating and qualifying. I am, however, grateful that, in spite of the many challenges I faced, I persevered to chase my original dream of becoming a solicitor in a top law firm.
What advice would you give someone looking to follow a similar career path?
The legal industry was described as being hugely competitive and overcrowded when I embarked upon it; I can only imagine that it has become even more competitive now. If you genuinely want to read law at university, and qualify as a solicitor, then you need to make yourself stand out from the crowd. There are no shortcuts, for most, to studying hard to get good grades and then to graduating with top marks across the board. The law degree itself is challenging and by no means an easy feat.
The next step will be to ensure you target your applications carefully to the firms you want to work for, do good research and, if possible, get a mentor to help you. Planning is crucial. Networking is also important in this industry, so people get to know who you are. Finally, work experience and internships are not to be underestimated, so you can demonstrate that you have awareness of what it is like to work in a firm.
The above is not a roadmap by any means - bumps along the way, trips and falls are normal for anyone chasing their dreams; you must persevere and work hard if you want to reach your final destination. There were many times I turned my back on law, with each rejection from a firm or when I got tired of reading or times when a career in law just seemed to difficult; I am glad that I remained determined, with the support of my family, friends, teachers and mentors, of course.
How have your experiences at Westminster City School contributed to your life and successes since leaving school?
I was a prefect during my time at Westminster City School and the early responsibilities that came with this role have greatly contributed to developing my leadership abilities. I also took part in the Debating Society where I first began to learn the art of persuasion and argument, skills that are key for any good lawyer.
The values and ethics of Westminster City School, of hard work, aspiration and achieving greatness in all things we do, still resonate within me in all that I do. The School was also supportive in establishing a Muslim Prayer Room where we held afternoon and Friday prayers; the concept of not compromising on faith, beliefs and values was instilled within me during my time at Westminster City School and I continue to hold unto this in everything that I do.
Can you describe one of your fondest memories from your time at Westminster City School?
We filmed a student movie during Sixth Form (the footage of which shall never be revealed!) which was great fun. I helped write the script and direct the movie, and I also starred in it. The film was a prequel to the original Matrix movie and I starred as Morpheus (yes, I had to shave my head for the role!). We had a very modest budget and filmed over the course of two months, while post-production was about another month. It was a real team effort with other students being involved in filming, sound effects, costume design, fight choreography and we even had an original soundtrack produced by one student who had studied music. The film was screened in school to students on a large projector screen with a sound system and it was also screened at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. I am pleased to say that none of the original stars from that movie pursued a career in acting, though the student who produced the soundtrack has continued a career in music!
Professionally, I have in a short space of time, thankfully, gone up the ranks in my current firm from solicitor to associate and now to legal director. The next step, for me, would be to either become a partner in my current firm or to pursue other opportunities for progression.
At this point in time I guess I am more focussed on my family – I have two little girls to look after and support my wife as well, so I am already very busy outside of work! The sector I work in, Islamic finance, has seen huge growth in recent years and that has not slowed down by this global pandemic. For now, I am looking forward to continuing to support this industry, and my clients, with their growth ambitions.
We love hearing what our alumni have been doing since leaving Westminster City School. Each month, we are inviting a member of our alumni community to share their story of life after Palace Street. If you’re an alumnus who would like to take part, or you’d like to volunteer an alumnus that you know, then please drop us an email.