Legists Under Lockdown: Meet Nabila Mallick, Barrister
In part 2 of our Legists Under Lockdown series, Barrister of Employment and Public Law Nabila Mallick gives us an insight of how she has adapted and navigated under lockdown, including her predictions of how the legal sector will be impacted by COVID-19.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born in Twickenham, schooled in a large comprehensive of 1500 pupils and attended University in London. I worked to pay university and Bar School expenses, because I did not want to be a burden to my parents. I started practicing on the 15th January 1998, I knew then that I intended to keep practicing for as long as I could and I intended to work hard.
Whilst my work ethic comes from my Parents and my Grandfather, an eminent Professor of Psychology (co-founder of co-ed Government National College now part of Karachi University), I was influenced by the hardworking Barristers I encountered during pupilage at Erskine Chambers, like the Supreme Court Judge Lady Mary Arden.
This week I was reminded of the kinds of cases that I had assisted on as a pupil, whilst watching a TV drama on the collapse of the Maxwell empire, I was involved with a number of insolvencies including Maxwell Communications, BCCI bank and Polypeck – which might not mean very much to people, but they were really big commercial fraud cases. I was really lucky to get pupilage at such a set and it was not only because of the active drive for diversity but because they wanted to have pupils who would bring a different perspective because of the diversity of their backgrounds. At the end of my pupilage one of the Barristers, just after I had drafted my advice to Arsenal FC on annual bondholder tickets, my pupil supervisor told me ‘never to give up’ the Bar. I never did and as one of pupil supervisors realized that I would choose law over and above anything, because I simply ‘love the law.’
In 2005, my practice Manager at my previous set of chambers 7 New Square, on reviewing my workload informed me that I had the highest turnover of cases in chambers. I know he was surprised because of the caliber of the other Barristers. In July 2019, Lawyer Magazine listed me at number 1 out of the ten busiest female Employment Barristers at the Employment Appeal Tribunal, in an article focusing at diversity at the Bar. At the beginning of 2020, I won Barrister of the Year at the Modern Lawyers award, shortlisted Sally Penni, who received an MBE, this year, so you can imagine why I never expected to win, I was genuinely shocked when my name was called out but as soon as I had the trophy in hand, I went to the front of the stage and raised it high with a smile of complete satisfaction. This was a year, where Lady Hale achieved the life-time achievement award and LJ Simler was interviewed for the Winners Edition of the Modern Law Magazine.
Soon after I found out that I had been listed for the Leicestershire Barrister of year 2020 award. Just before the award ceremony, we went into lockdown so I don’t know if I have won, but whilst I do not live in Leicester, I do a lot of work there and so I hope I have achieved a strong enough impression for the Judges. I have been shortlisted previously, so even if I don’t win, I know that the ceremony will allow me to enjoy the company of the Midlands community, which incredibly diverse.
How has the pandemic affected you both professionally and personally and how are you adjusting to WFH?
I think, if I were to identify strengths in me, it would be my resilience and ability to adjust to change. When lockdown occurred, my concerns were not over my practice, but like most I re-evaluated my priorities and focused on my family, particularly my parents. I was concerned by my Mother working for the NHS as a Healthcare worker, although she is just 72 years of age and is incredibly energetic, waking at 6am every day, starting her day with meditative prayer, she has underlying health conditions, so I did not want her to be exposed to Covid19, particularly as of March, the PPE equipment was so poor, I led a decision, which my brother enforced to stop her from working, it was difficult, because it upset her enormously. It felt selfish because I was able to continue to do what I love doing.
I adapted to working remotely very quickly, downloading chrome for zoom hearings (safari search engine does not work effectively). My first remote hearing was for a group claim against an unincorporated charity, where I represented 12 employees at the Leicester Tribunal (sitting remotely), that was quite challenging as I had to take instructions from my Claimants whilst the hearing proceeded and since they could not whisper, I was either having to keep an eye text messages on emails as well as being alert to the proceedings. I have also found that High Court judges adapted quickly to remote working and some even seem to be enjoying hearing Judicial Hearing remotely, one opponent a leading silk in public law, seem to be conducting a summer time hearing in the park, which is lets face it, a pretty relaxing way to work.
The pandemic and lockdown renewed my enthusiasm for scrutinizing government decision making , leading me to be instructed by Bushra Ali solicitors on behalf of ten businesses based in Leicester, who challenged the decision to place them under localized lockdown, whilst all the country was coming out of lockdown. There were concerns as to whether the lock down were politically motivated, as all the postcodes were in Labour controlled wards. However the primary concerns were over why localized powers had been allocated to have allowed immediate action on specific areas, why COVID-19 tests were not being shared with the local bodies, the shortness of notice to businesses resulted in costs, as they were getting prepared to open. The proposed challenge received a lot of attention, from BBC, ITV and local Radio – Bushra Ali did a good job of addressing the media, as did the lead businessesmen and women in the challenge. After we received a pre action response, the Prime Minister announced that there would be allocation of powers to local government and the allocation of more funds to Leicester. It was an interesting challenge to have advised and drafted all pre action correspondence on.
Because I have been travelling to court less, I have more time to combine work, with an area of interest psychiatry, In September I completed a certificate in Psychiatry, Mental Health and Neuroscience through Kings College London on line programme. I have been focusing in both my practice field of Public law, which includes Education law and my Employment Equalities law practice, mental health. This has been the biggest casualty of the pandemic, yet the Government , Employers and even the Legal system deny adequate funding for mental health support.
All things considered, what good things have you found or learned during this time?
I have learnt like most Lawyers, that I belong to a profession that is willing to adapt quickly and apply itself to keeping the Legal system running so that those that need redress can continue to achieve. This pandemic does not mean we have to stop the wheels of justice running. I have also learnt that digital platforms are actually useful for lawyers to communicate with each other, whilst at the same time maintaining some presence with members of the public. Although I joined Twitter in 2013, I did not really tweet, until this year, I was frightened off, in 2013, with MOC complaining about my criticism of Israeli action against Palestinians, whilst our practice manager intervened to take my side then, it put me off tweeting. However, I have new found courage in lockdown and now I tweet my protests against the outrageous criticism of Immigration Lawyers by the Home secretary and voice concern over the support by the Attorney General, of international law.
As Barristers, we have rather isolated working lives, but during lockdown, I tend to share jokes and stories with various WhatsApp Barristers group. I have learnt that whilst working and doing a good job on behalf of your client is key to success, it is nevertheless, important to build a circle colleagues, who can derive and give support to. I am still working on what Lady Justice Simler would call my ‘virtuous circle.’
What are your forecasts on the impact of COVID-19 on your profession and the legal sector as a whole?
I am really proud to belong to a profession that dates back to Medieval Ages. It is profession that has adapted itself to the circumstances. In the middle ages a policy called “The King’s Law” became the sole source of legal behavior permissible throughout sovereign lands. Each successive king could change any law he deemed fit but the people were bound legally to adhere to it. In the course of the thirteenth century the amount of litigation in the King’s courts increased considerably, he had to retain someone to represent him generalis attornatusregis (a general attorney of the Crown).The legal profession over the centuries adapted to circumstances, with a growth in the courts and a division of Barristers and Solicitors again. COVID-19 has been a real test, exaggerating the weaknesses in the criminal justice system, which some say is at breaking point because of years of under funding, the civil courts have a huge backload with cases in the Employment Tribunal being listed for 2022. However, that is not to say that where we can we are not undertaking virtual hearings. There is going to have to be proper funding of the court system, but I am confident just as in the past we will adapt and change.
What advice would you give to legal professionals and to those who require legal services during this time?
Had I been asked at the beginning of lockdown, this question, I would have suggested, make yourself accessible, use digital platforms, visibility is key to ensuring that those that require legal services, find it easy to obtain services. However, I found that the profession adapted so quickly and in cases so innovative that they really do not need advice. They have shown themselves, irrespective of their age quite capable of adapting to change and have, as one would expect from this profession ensured irrespective of our own personal worries that we were available to put the needs of other people first to obtain the assistance that might need.
My advice to those requiring legal services, is that they should not hesitate or suffer by themselves, we are continuing to work, just as we did before, just differently. Most people have a smart phone with camera and everyone tends to use email, WhatsApp or texting, so documents can be photographed and sent across easily. In the words of a Judge of the middle ages ‘ leave off your noise’ and ‘‘Get to your business’ – You will find a supportive profession.