As lawyers, we know that a healthy, success-oriented mindset will help you navigate your career path, but have you ever considered the unique character strengths that you are building at the same time?
When I think about truly inspiring solicitors, Riyaz Hazi is at the forefront of my mind. He’s a qualified solicitor and chartered accountant, and he currently works as a commercial lawyer for the UK government.
Riyaz has an incredible attitude; he’s determined, adaptable, creative, strategic and phenomenally good when it comes to tactical thinking. He’s been registered blind since he was 11 years old, so he’s also deft at finding quick, unique, high-value solutions to any problems he or his clients might face.
You can hear our full conversation on YouTube. In this blog, we’re going to dive into how Riyaz optimised his unique skills to scale the career ladder, and we’ll touch on the five reasons why he prefers to work as a government lawyer rather than in a private practice.
Given that being a lawyer requires heaps of reading and writing, I was keen to find out how Riyaz optimised his skills and helped the sector to overcome any concerns they might have had about his lack of sight.
How to overcome obstacles creatively
Riyaz: “One of the key challenges I faced was a lack of work experience, and most students are given administrative tasks which are a lot more difficult to do as a blind person.
I approached a local law firm and was totally honest with them. I told them that typical tasks such as filing would be difficult for me, but I could attend client meetings, take notes, and carry out basic legal research as well as any able-bodied person. They gave me the opportunity and I stayed there for two years, which gave me plenty of experience to talk about in other interviews.”
Riyaz is quick to acknowledge that going blind at such a young age encouraged him to grow in ways that support him to be an exceptional lawyer.
Riyaz: “If you place yourself in the shoes of an able-bodied lawyer, most of the issues that they face will likely have been experienced by someone else in their law firm, so it’s easy for them to seek advice. But most of the time I am the first or only visually impaired person they’ve employed, so I've always had to solve problems myself and think of novel solutions.”
Building a compelling case for employability
Riyaz had also spent his youth acquiring plenty of other life skills by playing goalball, a team sport designed specifically to level the playing field between athletes with and without vision impairment. During the ear-hand coordination game, participants compete in teams of three and try to throw a ball (that has bells embedded in it) into the opponents’ goal.
At the age of 12, he was invited to join the Great Britain under-19 squad and became the third youngest member. He went on to join the goalball men’s squad at 17 and played international tournaments. However, over time, he realised that balancing his career and international sport was too much of a challenge, so he chose to focus on his career; goalball became a leisure pursuit.
Riyaz optimised all of the skills he learnt from the sport and applied them to his legal career.
Riyaz: “When I played goalball for Great Britain, I was the captain for some of the tournaments. In turn, this meant I was able to speak about my leadership skills in something unique, and present myself in a positive light in interviews.
One of the key functions of a corporate lawyer is to provide commercial solutions to clients’ problems, so you need to be able to think about things differently; goalball and my visual impairment gave me the vital skills to be able to do that in a way that an able-bodied person perhaps couldn’t.”
How to pave the way for increased diversity and inclusion
Riyaz hopes that by proving his skill set in the legal sector, it’ll encourage more law firms to actively welcome diversity.
Riyaz: “A lot of city law firms don’t actively want to discriminate against people, but if they see two people and one is able-bodied and the other has a disability, then they naturally tend to gravitate towards the able-bodied person. Sometimes it’s because they’re not sure what sort of adaptations they might need to consider, and everyone wants an easy life. There’s a natural bias but you just need to get up and keep going; there’s no other option.”
The data around diversity and inclusion shows that there’s a tendency for firms to focus more on ethnicity and gender disparity; disabilities don’t have the same level of attention. At Fuel+Move we’re passionate about helping lawyers expand their mindsets so that when we see a trait or characteristic that is “different to how we are”, we recognise that that can offer enormous benefits!
Riyaz: “Diverse teams are more effective because you can tap into different experiences, different mindsets and bring something different to the table, which is key within any industry. If you have people from different backgrounds in your team, you’re more likely to be effective and come up with better solutions.”
Advice to help legal firms be more diverse and inclusive
Although Riyaz is delighted to be a trailblazer in terms of showcasing his capabilities, he also offered some great advice to leaders in law.
Riyaz: “It helps to look past what a person can’t do and focus on what they can do. I was once given the task of putting visual markers on a document, and there were hundreds of people within the organisation clearly much better suited to that task. However, if you asked me to lead a contract, I can excel at that. All good leaders look at the team they have and strategically place people to get the best out of them.
On the other hand, if you have a disability, be upfront about your needs, because the institution that you’re working with may not have dealt with a disabled person before, and nobody knows what you can and can’t do better than you. Being open about your needs also engenders confidence. There are times when you will have to work harder and do more to be seen as capable as your able-bodied colleagues and I don’t see that changing, so it’s better to get used to it.”
Riyaz’s attitude is admirable, and it’s clear that having trained with law firm CMS and worked at Ernst Young as an accountant, he actively pursued and opened up a whole new world of opportunity. Having carefully weighed up his choices he decided to work for the government, listing five main reasons.
5 reasons why working for the government is better than a private practice
The quality of the work assigned to you is higher.
There is greater responsibility.
There is less focus on administrative tasks.
There is no expectation to be working all the time; holidays are holidays.
By the time you work out the differences in salary, you earn approximately £4 per hour less (which he said is a small price to pay given that the work is more rewarding and less stressful!).
Riyaz: “Being employed by the government means a lot more high-level technical work instead of administrative work. There’s more opportunity to draft, negotiate and liaise with the client on the project. There’s an unwritten rule in private firms that you shouldn’t plan anything during the week that you can’t cancel, but we’re not expected to do that here; overall, working for a net £4 per hour less doesn’t seem like a bad deal to me!”
I hope you’ve found these insights from Riyaz inspiring, both in terms of how to approach working with someone whose skills and talents differ from yours due to circumstance, and why working for a higher salary isn’t always the mark of success! It seems that Riyaz has found the elusive work-life balance we all seek!
At Fuel+Move we support lawyers to take charge of their personal and professional life by making ordinary changes that help bring extraordinary results. If you’re passionate about being part of a vibrant community committed to thriving without sacrifice, you can find out more about our training programmes here (and that includes game-training to help you become the best possible leader!).
Riyaz is a Dual Qualified Solicitor and Chartered Accountant – Commercial Lawyer for the UK Government
Riyaz Hazi can be found here:
Parul is an experienced international lawyer, demanding client, disruptive consultant and thought-provoking non-executive director and board advisor.
She's advised law firms and big global brands like Nike, Speedo and Manchester United, as well as supporting inner-city social change programmes, startups and scale-ups. Fuel+Move is born of her passion to improve interaction with the legal sector and achieve a better experience with better outcomes for its stakeholders.
Parul Patel can be found here: