Interview with former Banking & Finance City lawyer, Mouhssin Ismail
Can you briefly summarise your career as a lawyer?
I thoroughly enjoyed working as a Banking & Finance lawyer for two city law firms.
The opportunity to be involved in high profile deals with well-known companies was something that I found exciting and enthralling.
Whilst the hours were long, the skills and knowledge I developed during my time in the commercial and corporate world were extremely useful, especially when I decided to switch careers and qualify as a teacher.
I routinely advise the young people I teach to work in similar environments.
The exposure one gets to high quality work, incredibly intelligent and dedicated individuals not to mention the technical knowledge and transferable skills all come in very handy if they decide to switch professions.
What are you now doing to earn a living?
I’m currently Principal of the Newham Collegiate Sixth Form Centre (NCS) & Director of Standards for the City of London Academies Trust.
I set up the NCS in 2014 to support students from less privileged backgrounds access some of the most competitive universities in the U.K. and abroad.
As Principal, you have the mandate and authority to design an ambitious curriculum that elevates the educational offer, providing young people with opportunities they may not necessarily have enjoyed in a state comprehensive.
I am also responsible for driving up standards across the Multi Academy Trust (MAT) by reviewing the schools’ sixth form offer, bringing together experts to share best practice and enhance the professional capital within the MAT.
I also support the MAT’s executive team with school reviews and I work with Principals from the other schools to improve student outcomes and attainment.
What made you decide to change from practising as a lawyer?
It was the realisation that my state comprehensive education did not allow me to ‘compete’ with my more privileged peers.
It’s important to stress that whilst I had the academic profile to access some of the top city firms, it was the broader ‘knowledge rich’ and extracurricular provision that my peers enjoyed by virtue of the fact they attended either a fee-paying school or a grammar school.
Due to these schools having a significant concentration of highly able students, significant family support and routine exposure to ‘cultural capital,’ the schools curricular offer was more ambitious, rigorous and extensive.
Having seen this disparity first-hand, I wanted to try and remedy the situation as far as I could and provide young people from less privileged background with a similar academic diet to the one enjoyed by their privileged peers.
How did you decide on your current line of work?
I believe strongly in the power of education and I have seen how it can be a real vehicle for social mobility.
If I was going to make a real difference to improving the life chances of young people and support students from a similar background to mine, the most effective way was to become a Principal and provide the type of education I think is necessary to elevate young people from less privileged backgrounds.
Once I knew this was my ‘calling’ the rest was pretty easy, I applied for a PGCE, secured a teaching role and then actively worked to position myself to be able to secure a job that provided me with the autonomy needed to lead a school.
What was the most difficult part of your career change?
The drop in salary and the loss of ‘prestige.’
Many of my friends and family thought I was crazy for giving up a job that I had worked so hard to secure.
For many, working at a high-profile city law firm is the pinnacle of years of hard work, dedication and commitment; over time more accolades and titles are acquired as well as the financial compensation to match.
To be clear in my mind ‘why’ I was taking this step was important and being able to articulate this passionately and cogently to those around me was an important process, even though they didn’t truly comprehend the decision.
How has your life changed now that you’ve changed career?
It’s rewarding going to ‘work’ knowing you’re making a positive difference to the lives of many young people.
Seeing them succeed and achieve exceptional and life changing outcomes is extremely heart-warming.
Also working with like-minded professionals who are passionate to help the next generation creates a real sense of camaraderie in school and being able to lead them is an honour and privilege.
I also really like the challenge of devising, implementing and reviewing school wide initiatives to assist secure strong academic attainment and outcomes.
This requires working closely with other professionals to improve their leadership and classroom teaching skills.
Teaching really is a ‘human business,’ one which requires you to forge strong and meaningful relationships, building trust and developing in others the resilience to tackle the challenges they may face.
To witness first-hand the sense of accomplishment students feel when they celebrate with their teachers on Results Day, knowing the struggles they may have gone through, be that socio-economic or academic is the real reward of the job.
What do you miss and what don’t you miss about being a lawyer?
Apart from grappling with the actual law which I have always enjoyed, I really don’t miss much about being a lawyer.
As Principal, I am required to have a broad overview of a number of legal areas to be able to do my job effectively and having a legal background really helps with this.
What advice would you give to any lawyers who are contemplating a career change?
- Be sure why you want to leave the legal profession?
- Discuss with friends and family and seek out many opinions, but be clear in your mind they may not know what being a lawyer actually involves.
- Can you financially afford to leave and are you willing to alter your lifestyle, at least in the short to medium term to make the move?
- At the end of the day, do what you think is right for you, it’s important that your chosen occupation gives your fulfilment. In the end, if it doesn’t work out you can always go back into law, so why not take the risk, it may be the best decision you have ever made.