An Interview with Sarah Malik CEO of FCIArb SOL International Ltd. Multi-Award Winning Litigator & International Disputes Counsel
Let’s Start the Interview
The Worlds Times: Explain your background and your Company’s in detail.
Sarah Malik: I am a UK qualified Barrister called to the English Bar in 1999 and practiced in Top 20 Chambers in London until I moved to Dubai in summer 2014. I then headed the Advocacy and Investigations team of an International Law firm, between July 2014 and 2018 at which stage I opened SOL International Ltd in August 2018.
SOL has been in existence now for just under 5 years, it started as primarily a boutique Dispute Resolution Practice which has expanded to cover Private Clients, Commercial, Employment, Tech, Fashion, Sports, and Entertainment work.
The company has gone from strength to strength over the years and has gained international recognition. Last year I was awarded “Litigator of the Year” at the Inaugural GCC Woman in Law Awards and received an honourable mention for “Law Firm Leader of the Year”. In 2022 SOL was named as a “Firm to Watch” in Dispute Resolution: Arbitration and International Litigation by Legal 500 EMEA and in 2023 I was included in ‘The Arbitration Powerlist: Middle East’ by Legal 500 EMEA along with the SOL team.
In addition to practicing as Counsel, I lecture at LLM level at Middlesex University, Dubai and train academies, governments, and judiciaries worldwide I am also a published author and sit on various boards including the Inaugural Advisory Committee to the Dubai international Arbitration Centre and the Advisory Board for Juris Centre for Excellence in Legal Education and Training at Middlesex University, Dubai.
The Worlds Times: What are your goals?
Sarah Malik: My goals are to maintain and grow a legal practice and brand that is unique in its outlook and offers competitive pricing for excellence in legal delivery. I aim to grow all individuals within SOL to the best of their potential and to provide a platform for the next generation of lawyers to attain success worldwide.
The Worlds Times: What do you feel is the biggest strength of SOL right now?
Sarah Malik: The biggest strength of SOL at the moment is its uniqueness in the market. We have never followed traditional or the big law approach and the disruptive way in which we operate has gained traction and recognition internationally. SOL work together as a team, we do not compete against each other, each person brings something to the table which is valued, and collectively we have smashed and exceeded every goal that we set for ourselves.
The Worlds Times: What was the path you took to get to where you are today?
Sarah Malik: I undertook a traditional legal path completing the LLB in the UK followed by the BVC. I qualified as a Barrister and have been in practice since 2000. I worked at all court levels in the UK for 15 years before I came to the UAE. I worked in Chambers as a self-employed Barrister, and I also worked at an International Law firm in the UAE before setting up SOL International.
The Worlds Times: Why did you start SOL?
Sarah Malik: I commenced SOL because I saw a niche in the market where the world of the bar and solicitors could come together. I wanted to establish a practice which was akin to Barristers Chambers but within a law firm. I saw the need for closer client relationships where the CEO/Founder was easily accessible and involved in all matters from inception to end. Clients are sophisticated and chase results, relationships, credibility, and integrity.
The Worlds Times: What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome during the journey of your leadership?
Sarah Malik: We overcame the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time the pandemic hit, SOL was only one year and 5 months old. However, we were able to grow, and we were able to retain staff and as a start-up survived what was a global catastrophe.
Other challenges have been to ensure as a start-up, we have the correct foundations, the correct structures, and the correct hires to build with the vision of a growing organization, keeping onboard the ethos, the values and the commitment to excellence that we promise to our clientele.
The Worlds Times: Give us one word that describes you the best.
Sarah Malik: Disruptive
The Worlds Times: What do you value the most about SOL vision?
Sarah Malik: I value the authenticity, the realness, the fact that we say it as it is, and we are not there to sugarcoat information to clients or to be silenced to make others comfortable. SOL’s vision is to provide excellence within a balanced and disruptive environment where everybody works hard but plays hard equally. We do not subscribe to the vision that lawyers are not entitled to be human beings and real. That ethos in itself resonates very highly with our clients.
The Worlds Times: What are the strategies of SOL and how do you stand unique from your competitors?
Sarah Malik: The strategies of SOL are integrity, consistency, honesty, no surprise bills, working as a team with our clients as opposed to our clients viewing us as unreachable or unapproachable. We treat our clients with the same respect we treat each other. We are open, honest and say things that sometimes clients may not want to hear but always with their best interests in mind. We are extremely solutions oriented and want the best for our clients even if that means we do not take the work and refer it elsewhere where we know they will be better looked after depending on their specialism. We are unique from our competitors because we are not bound by the red tape and bureaucracy that often is associated with law firms. We undertake the same work, present at the same panels and, sit next to all of our competitors; we just do things differently.
The Worlds Times: What are the key values which helped you to overcome the challenges in your path? Tell us something about your memorable incident in your leadership?
Sarah Malik: I say what I do, and I do what I say. I stand by what I do, I am disruptive, I stand by authenticity and being real and standing alone if I have to. I am a big believer in tough love and will push people to their full potential and be straight with each individual. I push people out of their comfort zones to test them, to challenge them and to ensure they excel in what they do.
I have had to stand up to various comments about having a predominantly female team, and this seems to be an issue to many people which we find amusing. We have called out comments both on social media and at public events, I have also stood up to bad behaviour, attempted discrimination from other individuals which I found amusing given my personality and my ability to stand straight and speak back.
The Worlds Times: How do you see the company changing in two years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?
Sarah Malik: SOL has had international interests in terms of buyout. There will come a time when we are likely to expand internationally or may well, at some stage, become part of a bigger set up who shares the same ethos. I always move ahead of the times and seek opportunities for change amongst the path not well trodden before others venture down that path.
The Worlds Times: What benefits are your clients getting from SOL in this competitive world?
Sarah Malik: SOL is built on family principles and that is how we treat our clients. We genuinely care about the end result and providing a solution. Our clients are able to access our services at a competitive fee compared to our counterparts and with the same level of professionalism and ability. SOL provides openness and transparency in dealing wherein we pride ourselves in telling our clients the bottom line even if that involves saying “you don’t have a case” or “you don’t need lawyers don’t waste your money”. We would rather refer matters to others if they do not fall within our specialism because we care about the outcome.
We do not take on individuals or matters or cases if we cannot assist and we are the first to tell them they don’t need lawyers. By doing so we have gained a reputation of straight-talking and integrity, credibility and our brand is our reputation.
The Worlds Times: Would you like to say anything else to our viewers?
Sarah Malik: We are heavily invested in the next generation of lawyers and believe in knowledge sharing. This is a duty that is on the shoulders of every lawyer to always give back and help others where they can. We strongly believe in mentoring and sponsoring the next generation of lawyers and we have sponsored the education of the foundation programme for lawyers in Kazakhstan. We very much clap for each other’s success and for every other lawyer’s success openly. I believe in individuals being recognised for all that they do and to raise them to have confidence in themselves and to empower them to see what heights they can achieve. one message to all viewers is that if we all worked collaboratively, with each other and worked together as a profession to assist where we can, this will make the legal space a better place to practice and easier for younger lawyers and the next generation to break the mould and grow as they should.
Connect Sarah Malik on Linkedin