My Experience of SAL Mentors by Hamsana Vamadeva

My Experience of SAL Mentors by Hamsana Vamadeva

As an attorney-at-law in Sri Lanka, I specialised in human rights and commercial law for several years. Through my master’s degree in International Trade Law, I met my husband. I completed the Bar Transfer Test in the UK, before my daughter was born. I was anxious to qualify as a barrister in England and start work again but securing a pupillage was a significant challenge.

Conscious time was ticking and my bar course qualification would expire if I did not start pupillage within the next couple of years; I sought advice on next steps. I had already spent considerable money on my education in the UK and was only able to pick up paralegal or legal research roles. I felt increasingly unsatisfied in these jobs.

At the beginning of 2018, I met Chamali Fernando. Chamali is a civil law barrister. At the time, Chamali had just joined the committee of the Society of Asian Lawyers, which runs a brilliant mentoring scheme.

SAL Mentors help those starting their legal careers, established practitioners looking to transition to a new area of law, cross-qualify from solicitors to barristers or vice versa, but also, people like me who – have significant foreign experience and – want to transition into legal practice in the UK.

Worried about competing against the newest graduates, hot-off the press and full of ideas and energy, I explained my situation to Chamali. Her very first comment was I had unnecessarily placed negative values on my skills and qualifications.

Chamali says “figure out what makes you stand out in a competitive market place.” Chamali is direct and told me to change my mind-set and begin to value my experience. It was then that I narrated the positives of my foreign experience.

The BSB had awarded me a reduction in pupillage time reflecting my relevant experience in Sri Lanka. Instantly, Chamali reminded me that I would be an asset to a set of Chambers as I am ready to hit the ground running.

I asked for some pointers on my CV. Without hesitation, Chamali agreed but gave me an immensely tight timescale.

I am grateful to Chamali and the SAL mentoring scheme for their guidance. There is no charge to be mentored by SAL. Some SAL mentors will consider your CV and provide verbal feedback. It is important to ask someone to look at your CV, but how many people actually reach out?

One of the key problems with my CV was that I had used terms instantly recognisable in foreign commonwealth jurisdictions but needed to tailor the terminology to get through the first sift of candidates in England. I had detailed every element of my work experience regardless of its relevance to my application. Chamali encouraged me to list the most relevant experiences, which demonstrated my focus on practising in my legal area of choice.

I secured two pupillage interviews last year and texted Chamali for some ideas on how to prepare. I received a series of text messages in reply and took the advice on board. By now my mind-set had begun to change. My daughter had started nursery. I felt less tired and able to focus on me. Being called for an interview was a huge boost. Although, initially unsuccessful, I considered it a good experience and it truly helped me prepare for the interview with the second set of chambers, which was successful. I really recommend SAL Mentors.

Hamsana Vamdeva

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