Imran Shafi – breaking down barriers

March 2, 2021

This article was originally posted by Business Live.

Exchange Chambers’ new silk, Imran Shafi, has broken down barriers and challenged stereotypes to realise his ambitions.

Growing up in Rochdale, Imran’s dad worked as a bus conductor, while his mum was a machinist.    He went to his local comprehensive school and was the first member of his immediate family to go to University.

“I never thought about a career in law when I was growing up,” he says. “I came from a working-class background. Law was something for white, middle-class men who went to private school.”

Following University and Bar School where, like all aspiring barristers he found the huge cost of training tough, Imran successfully navigated the fiercely competitive pupillage process to secure a place at a London Chambers.  His heart however was set on a return North.

On moving back to Manchester, he spent ten years at a city-centre Chambers before briefly moving to Leeds and then onto Exchange in 2012.

Imran initially specialised in immigration and crime, but since joining Exchange has focused exclusively on heavyweight criminal defence.

Ranked as a leading practitioner by The Legal 500, he is praised for his “encyclopaedic knowledge which he deploys for the vert great benefit of his clients”. Several of his cases are also listed as authorities in Archbold and Blackstone’s.

Imran is grateful to his fellow members at Exchange for their advice and guidance over the last nine years.   “From day one, I knew it was the right Set for me,” he says.  “We hold strong beliefs about the way in which we work and are committed to equality and diversity.  It is crucial to our standing as a leading set of Chambers that we excel in this.”

Imran is “relishing the responsibility of being a silk”. Moving forward, he is planning to further develop his publicly funded criminal practice, while increasing his privately funded work.

As a new silk, Imran also believes he has a responsibility to help people from all backgrounds to pursue their ambitions at the Bar, by acting as a mentor and tackling the profession’s challenges head on.

He is particularly concerned about the impact of legal aid cuts and rising training costs on the justice system, agreeing with the Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association when she says that the system is “literally on its knees and needs help”.

“We have had years of savage cuts to publicly-funded work,” says Imran, who became a Recorder in 2020 and also sits on Exchange Chambers’ Main Board.

“The viability of a career at the publicly funded Criminal Bar is under threat.   Those from less privileged backgrounds will be unable to enter the profession and this will impact on the diversity of the judiciary.”

Imran also believes that the Covid-19 pandemic poses a serious threat to the diversity of the bar. Latest statistics show that barristers from ethnic minority or mixed backgrounds are disproportionately affected: around one half (48%) are currently experiencing financial hardship and 72% have at some point during the pandemic.

He says he is “disappointed but not surprised” by a recent report from the Bar Standards Board that found barristers from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups are likely to earn less than White barristers.

“There is a long way to go before the Bar is fully representative of the people it serves,” he says.  “Racial undertones, stereotypes and attitudes still exist but the tide is beginning to turn.”

Imran believes the death of George Floyd and the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement has “turbo-charged” the Bar’s diversity drive and there is “no turning back”.

He is also proud of Exchange Chambers’ commitment to equality and diversity, with members active in the community acting as mentors to aspiring barristers of all backgrounds.

“It is when large, successful Sets like Exchange come forward that we start to see positive change at the Bar,” he concludes.  “People’s perceptions – that a barrister is a white middle-class man – are steadily beginning to change.  We all flourish in an environment that promotes diversity, equality and inclusion.”