Alumni profile - Abdullah Alharoun
I realised that going back home and giving back to my community by applying my multidisciplinary education and international exposure, would be the more meaningful career choice. At that time in Kuwait a new slate of legislative reforms were taking place including the laws regulating competition, securities, direct investment as well as new companies’ law.
Why did you study your Bachelor of Laws degree (LLB) at Queen Mary? What sparked your interest in this specific degree? I studied Environmental Sciences with emphasis on Neuroscience at Dalhousie University in Canada which was a broad, multi-disciplinary, and interesting degree. After that I moved to the US and worked as a legal researcher at a Washington DC law firm doing research on climate change and sustainability issues. The issues I came across while exposed to the practice of law in the US made me realise how studying law can open many doors to supplement and further enhance my science background. I believed that studying law would allow one to think more critically, broadly and across multiple disciplines and allow one the ability to act as a strategic advisor and solve complex problems. These factors ultimately influenced my decision to study a Bachelor of Laws degree.
What aspects of your degree did you find most enjoyable? What modules did you like learning about in particular? The period of my study (2010-2013) was an interesting time politically to say the least for my region. Most notably the Arab spring was in full swing and potential systemic changes and political reforms were on the horizon.
As such, my focus was mostly diverted towards what was happening on the ground in the region. Being in London and in Queen Mary, there were many interesting debates on what was happening including questions of what would be (or indeed should be) the legal and societal implications of these historical shifts.
In terms of modules, at that time, I had a set objective to become a private practitioner. So, regrettably, I did not focus on theory heavy classes and the Senior Status degree allowed me to get exactly what I needed at that time to achieve such objective. However, in retrospect, I realise that I should have taken some of the more theory heavy classes as I have had to study them independently after the fact. Practicing law in emerging economies such as those of Kuwait and the region is truly an intellectual endeavour. One is always investigating the disparity between law and practice and engaging in a constant exercise of problem solving and comparative analysis. Being grounded in the theories of the law and legal philosophy is a great tool to supplement one’s practical skills such as negotiation, drafting, rule application and the like.
While I found my time at Queen Mary very fulfilling, I disliked the fact that most classes were solely exam based and 100% of the weight of the module’s grades is decided by a three-hour exam. I, therefore, elected to take a dissertation module which is research heavy and allowed me to be supervised by an excellent professor (Professor Christina Perry) while having the freedom to work independently. I also enjoyed classes which were conceptually challenging such as equity and trusts. Being from Kuwait, the concept of a “trust” was novel and engaging in lively discussions about its history and practical applications was very exciting.
Why did you choose to study at Queen Mary in particular? I wanted to study law at Queen Mary because Queen Mary law school has an excellent reputation globally. When researching schools, Queen Mary law school was ranked very highly in the UK. By then I had spent a long time in North America and thought moving to London would further broaden my international exposure. I was also attracted to Queen Mary’s various law programmes which targeted senior students with prior degrees and some professional experience. The level of discussion within smaller tutorial groups and the focussed thinking and discussion sessions were very generative.
Can you describe your career path up to date and touch on your current role as Managing Partner of a leading Kuwaiti law firm? Prior to graduating from Queen Mary, and after an internship with Ashurst LLP, I was very fortunate (and grateful) to have been offered a training contract to become a UK qualified solicitor with the firm. However, after careful consideration, I realised that going back home and giving back to my community by applying my multidisciplinary education and international exposure, would be the more meaningful career choice. At that time in Kuwait a new slate of legislative reforms were taking place including the laws regulating competition, securities, direct investment as well as new companies’ law.
I wanted to actively engage with these changes from professional and public policy fronts using the medium of private practice among others. I thought my legal education in the UK and the fact that I am from Kuwait, able to speak Arabic and understand cultural nuances, would allow me to both learn from and contribute to the various teams who are engaging and shaping these changes. The legal practice I joined which was set up by my father was well-known. I thought that my international and multi-disciplinary background would enable me to positively contribute to the growth and modernisation of the practice.
I believe that an education from Queen Mary is a building block on which interesting careers can be built. I am a testament to this and the fact that you can have very different and fulfilling careers in choosing to come back home while still practicing in the “major leagues”. Through the work we have done, and the teams and the local, regional and international alliances we have built, our firm is recognised as a leading practice and I, being the managing partner of the firm, was the youngest partner in Kuwait to be recognised by Chambers and Partners. I am very proud of the work we have done and my personal achievements in the past seven years - from being a very junior, trainee lawyer to really leading the firm through team assembly, building alliances, effective matters’ management, perseverance, and a focus on training and quality.
I understand that you came to Queen Mary as an international student, where is home for you and how did you find the experience of living and studying in London? I was born and grew up in Kuwait. I was part of a university scholarship programme to study in Canada. I then spent some time in the US before moving to London. I thought coming to London would provide me with a well-rounded experience. London is undoubtedly one of the most international cities in the world. The majority (if not all) of the reputable global law firms either originate from London or have an office there. It is a global centre of commerce with a great legal tradition. I wanted to be a part of the city, be exposed to the legal tradition and be apprised on the latest conversations and practices.
Living in London was interesting; it had a lot to offer outside of studying in terms of culture and things to do. Being in a big, multicultural city like London, you can be at home and in the world at the same time because of the diverse communities that make up London. The same can be said about the Queen Mary campus which is very international.
What advice would you give to prospective international students coming to study at Queen Mary? Do your research beforehand, both online and by asking people what London and Queen Mary is like. Choose wisely where you live – perhaps consider living in halls for the first year in order to build a community. London is a transient city so it is can be very hard to build a community. Exploring London with your flatmates can provide you with an instant community with whom to experience the city. Also, be sure to get involved in campus activities and societies and try to volunteer within your local community.
How have your time and studies at Queen Mary helped your career and development? When I was in London I volunteered at Toynbee Hall providing legal advice on housing, consumer, and debt matter. Toynbee Hall is an excellent organisation which works to “tackle causes and impacts of poverty here in East London, and further afield”. Without being a law student at a reputable school such as Queen Mary, I would not have been accepted to such position which was a very fulfilling and eye-opening experience. I come from a generally privileged country where homelessness is not a visible issue and working with less privileged communities allows you to: a) check your privilege; and b) discover how can you should use that privilege to assist others.
Reflecting on my time, Queen Mary gave me a lot of exposure to and recognition of different legal trajectories and what a degree in law can equip you to do. In retrospect, there is a lot one can do to set themselves apart from others when studying law. I would encourage current and prospective law students to make the most of any opportunity that comes their way. The work I have done for my dissertation and the guidance I have received at Queen Mary provided me the skills to do a comparative analysis from day one as I apply the tenets of English and Kuwaiti law in my everyday practice. Overall, my time at Queen Mary was intellectually and personally fulfilling.
I understand that through your work you have an internship programme. Why do you think it is important to create opportunities and help others? That is correct, we have an excellent internship programme with three intakes. Over the past few years since it has been running formally, we have had more than sixty interns who were exposed to what a career in law in Kuwait could be like. Practicing corporate law in Kuwait can be sophisticated, we’re not just “a local law firm” handling either local litigation or unsophisticated work, we can match any other law firm in terms of the ability to produce quality, commercially practical work and can procure legal services (through best friend firms internationally) to local flagship companies; or provide international clients intending to do business in, or with, Kuwait with valuable advice.
I have always believed in working with and in the communities I live in, but COVID -19 especially, has given me more time for self-reflection. I have been thinking about how one can be of use and how can one’s privilege be utilised in a way to assist others and open up opportunities.
Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates considering their career options? Don’t let what you studied limit what you can do. We live in global communities. Therefore, mastering multiple disciplines is important. Constantly think about what you’re doing and ask yourself, how is what I’m doing going to affect others? Am I doing it correctly? Am I being true to myself? How can I improve? How can I help others to create and/or preserve value?
Reflecting on our firm, we really do have a community within the firm, we try to avoid billing by the hour because we think you should bill your value and not your time. This allows us to dedicate the most appropriate resources to matters and invest more time in education, learning and building talent. The young associates we have really gravitate towards this kind of culture.
It is also important to learn how to think, what questions to ask, and to develop transferable skills. This matters more than the subject matter of your studies.
Were you involved in any extracurricular activities whilst you were a student? I was part of the Law Society’s Street Law group where we put together reading materials and went to less privileged communities and explained criminal law in layman’s terms. I was a student ambassador for the GCC region and also part of the mooting society and the football team for the Queen Mary law society in my first year - it was a very good group and a very fun community to be a part of.
What was so special about your time at Queen Mary? Lifelong relationships and friendships, both professional and personal, with people from all around the world. Queen Mary promotes itself as an international, multicultural university and this is definitely true. It is really refreshing. The quality of education was also excellent.