Barrister’s best…

Best books, favourite films, top tracks and an essential: Counsel invites barristers to share their cultural influences. In this issue, we talk to Tahir Ashraf, recently named in the Muslim 100 Parliamentary Power List and who also runs 5 Chancery Lane Commercial Barristers Chambers

Tell us about any books that have inspired you

One book that thoroughly gripped me as a budding barrister was Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I heard of it on the radio and like many a case with which I am now involved, there was a great deal of controversy over the accuracy of the facts. So I felt compelled to read it – and what a brilliant read it is.

I am, though, most moved by a poem. It is by Martin Niemoller, entitled First They Came for the Socialists. It resonates with me because my grandfather served in the Second World War on behalf of the British effort against Hitler. As pertinent today as it was when it was written, the poem serves as a reminder that we, too, must raise our voices against injustices and that we owe such a huge debt to our ancestors.

What music soothes your day?

I enjoy various types of music. Whether it is from Britain, across the Pond or, indeed, music from other cultures including qawwali music. However, one of my ‘go to’ pieces of music has got to be Pachelbel’s Canon. The day-to-day rigours of a commercial and Chancery litigation practice are soothed by the piece which has a wonderful uplifting effect on the mind and soul.

Are there any stand-out films that resonate with you in terms of life at the Bar?

I have lost count of the number of times I’ve watched The Matrix of Keano Reeves fame. It has definitely had an influence on my work at the Bar. Neo, the protagonist, does not accept defeat. Only after he has virtually hit rock bottom is he finally ready to believe in the power of his own mind.

By analogy, it is undeniable that life in the legal profession, particularly at the independent Bar, is intellectually stimulating, yet extremely demanding. Everyone feels down every once in a while. For my part, what I draw from it is that I, too, must continue to develop a positive mental attitude, for success, in my view, depends on it.

Batman Begins, starring Christian Bale, has a great line which Thomas Wayne delivers to a young Bruce Wayne who has fallen into a well. Paraphrased, it goes something like: ‘Why do we fall...? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.’ Again I find it remarkably motivational and often find myself repeating it to clients when faced with obstacles.

Similarly, the film Inception has had a dual impact on me. First, by virtue of the storyline itself. Second, that Leonardo DiCaprio who plays the role of the protagonist, has to overcome a number of incredible physically and mentally demanding obstacles – all under the weight of enormous guilt and mental pressure, though in the persistent pursuit of his goals.

Crucially, despite the oft gruelling challenges of life at the Bar, including a lack of work-life balance, the ultimate reward of dogged determination is both lay and professional client satisfaction. Of course, another link is that DiCaprio is heavily involved in climate change initiatives and a great deal of my own commercial and advisory work as a barrister over the last five or so years has included working within the transport sector on fuel efficiency, hydrogen and clean energy.

What special memories do you have of the Bar?

I had the pleasure of meeting Lady Barbara Calcutt, first in 2005 when I was but a fledgling barrister. I spent some time with her around Middle Temple and Outer Temple. She was instantly my adoptive grandmother and she had a profound impact on me.

What’s the one piece of kit, luxury or comfort you can’t do without on a hotel stay-over?

My one piece of kit has got to be my pillow. Without it, there is no getting a decent night’s sleep. Getting over five hours of sleep undisturbed, is to my mind a luxury.

The Muslim Power 100 List recognises outstanding contributions made by influential Muslim men and women on a local, national and international level. This year’s top 100 were drawn from 31,000 nominations across 47 nationalities and are celebrated in The Power 100 Parliamentary Review.

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