Name: Zaqia Rashid

Organisation: TLT

Role: Head of public inquiries and public law

Based: London

Year qualified: Scotland 1992; England and Wales 2007

What’s your most vivid memory from being a trainee?

My most vivid memory is working on a Fatal Accident Inquiry in Scotland which involved the suicide of a female prisoner in HMP Cornton Vale. I was representing the Scottish Prison Service along with a senior colleague. Half way through the proceedings my colleague had to take a sudden leave of absence due to the deaths of two close family members in tragic circumstances. It was sink or swim time for me and I recall that I worked hand in hand with counsel to ensure all of our witnesses were given the legal support they needed and pastoral care from the Prison Service, but at the same time that we dealt with the prisoner’s family with compassion and care.

The prisoner had a hereditary disease which she was convinced had been passed on to her young child. The matter was further complicated as this was about the seventh suicide in the same prison and staff were becoming somewhat numb to the trauma around such events. At a very junior grade I learnt how to project manage a large piece of litigation quickly and efficiently and how to manage witnesses who are probably at one of the worst points of their professional lives with compassion and care.

Tell us about a sliding doors moment when your career could have gone in an entirely different direction?

I think I have had two sliding doors moments in my life. The first was when I had been accepted at university to study optometry. My elder sister is an extremely successful ophthalmic optician with a number of practices and my parents wanted me to emulate her success. I spoke to my father and told him I was interested in becoming a lawyer. His response was one line which was, ‘I’m happy for you to become a lawyer if you become a judge.’ I then went on to study law.

The second sliding doors moment was when I was accepted for a judicial post while I was working in the Government Legal Department (GLD). I was encouraged by the then Deputy Treasury Solicitor to stay in the department to pursue further opportunities there and I turned down the judicial role. Sadly my father passed away six months later. He never got to see my achievements at GLD or in my current role as head of public inquiries and public law team at TLT, but I feel that every success I have had, every goal I have achieved, every good decision I have made, he has been watching over me and guiding me.

 What’s the hardest question you’ve ever been asked at interview, and how did you answer?

The hardest question I have ever been asked during an interview was probably not during a job interview but during a security clearance interview. I was asked the cricket test question which was ‘If England and Pakistan were playing a test match, who would you support?’ I deliberated extensively about how I should answer and then the interviewer, as he read over his notes, said ‘I’ve just realised you grew up in Scotland so I will rephrase that question to ask whether you would support Scotland or Pakistan.’ I tripped over myself to answer ‘Scotland. Without a doubt.’

 What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do?

Aside from the normal bits of advice such as be ready to work hard, be a team player, I would stress two things:

  1. The first is, never ever let anyone tell you what you are capable of achieving. The answer to that question is probably something that you don’t even know yourself; and
  2. Use your life experiences to do the job. Remember how people made you feel with their words whether positive or negative and keep that in mind when you interact with others. When people aren’t behaving in a manner which is nice or kind, remind yourself that you don’t know their story.

Tell us about ONE former colleague who you miss, and why? (It doesn’t have to be a lawyer)

There is one colleague who I miss and I think of him often. His name was Alfie (Alfonso) Proto. He joined my team in GLD by sheer accident. Two new members of staff were joining on the same day and by accident they went to the wrong teams. The team leader, who was a very canny man, obviously saw something in Alfie immediately and refused to hand him back.

I then had a 12 year working relationship with Alfie. He was a qualified lawyer who worked in an administrative grade. He taught me that there are some things you can not buy from an employee – they have to be earned. He showed me levels of loyalty that I would never have expected. Although he held a relatively junior grade, his advice was always wise and spot on and sought after by me and the team. He was the first person in my life to teach me to watch a person’s actions rather than to rely on their words.