Past is ever-present for BLP man
9 May 2011 | By James Swift
Law firms are forever looking for ways to entertain and impress clients.
What this usually amounts to is a nice meal and a night out to some sort of event - the more obscure, the better. But surely few firms can offer clients a guided tour of the British Museum by one of their own lawyers.
Berwin Leighton Paisner, however, can, thanks to Tariq Rasheed. Rasheed is a senior associate in the firm’s banking and capital markets team, specialising in derivatives. He is also a volunteer tour guide at the British Museum.
“I have given tours to clients – senior people at financial institutions - and they’ve loved it,” says Rasheed, speaking in the cafe in the museum. “It’s quite a different type of entertainment from taking people to sporting events as firms usually do and I think we’ll do it again.”
Rasheed has just finished giving a brief tour - known as an ‘eyeOpener’ tour - of the Museum’s Assyrian collection. It is probably one of the museum’s more obscure tours. Not as many people are familiar with the Assyrians - a Semitic civilisation that existed until around 600BC in what is now northern Iraq - as with the ancient Romans or Greeks.
A varied bunch of around six or seven tourists showed up for the tour - not bad for a sweltering hot bank holiday - and Rasheed led them through the collections, speaking in-depth about two huge, winged, human-headed lions before moving on to a section of stone panels depicting military victories.
“There are usually around five or six people in a tour,” says Rasheed, “although I’ve had as many as 25. One time, just a single guy showed up. He was pretty polite to begin with and stayed and listened, but after a while he just said he’d had enough and left.”
Rasheed started giving tours for the museum five years ago when he was training to become a lawyer with Linklaters, although at first he found it difficult to convince the museum that a practising lawyer could make the commitment expected from a guide.
“I used to come to the museum to take free tours. One day I turned up a little early and got into a conversation with a guide,” recalls Rasheed. “The guide said the museum wanted people who were serious about it to give tours.
“So I sent an email enquiring about becoming a tour guide but they weren’t keen at first. It took me six months to get them to take me on. I think, historically, volunteers have usually been people who are already retired.”
Unperturbed, Rasheed, who had no background in history, began the six-month training required to become a tour guide while completing his training contract. He has since found a crossover between the skill sets required for both jobs.
“Lawyers are good at accumulating information and moving from one area to another,” he says. “What was most difficult was making a proper script that kept people engaged. Doing these tours keeps your public speaking well-honed. I’ve been doing this for a while now and can see if people’s eyes have glazed over. If that happens I try to change tack and raise my game.”
Although Rasheed had never studied history his father’s job as diplomat meant he had something of an itinerant childhood, growing up in eight countries and getting a taste for soaking up new cultures. That said, he is firmly committed to lawyering, and does not see working at the museum as anything more than a sideline.
“I’ve always had a passion for history and would have liked to have studied it at university but as I was quite practically minded, I decided to study law,” says Rasheed. “It’s probably the same for a lot of lawyers.
“I love private practice and see myself staying in it indefinitely - I have no desire to leave the law. But doing these tours is the perfect outlet for me.”