From taxi driver to barrister: A 14-year odyssey

New to the Parish: Jalil Rizvi arrived from Pakistan in 2007

Jalil Rizvi: ‘I believe my father is looking down on me today and is proud.’ Photograph: Tom Honan

On September 29th last members of the Rizvi family gathered with friends in the town of Mandi Bahuddin in northwest Pakistan to mark an important occasion. Halfway around the world, Jalil Rizvi, who had recently completed his law degree at King's Inns, was being called to the bar in Dublin's Four Courts. His loved ones back in Pakistan had come together to celebrate his achievement from afar. They had also heard plenty about Ireland's outgoing Chief Justice Frank Clarke who would be leading Rizvi's ceremony.

"My mother and family were all so proud, they were saying that the son of Mandi Bahuddin had qualified as a barrister in Ireland. I'd say the whole town now knows who chief justice Frank Clarke is."

Rizvi’s law degree and qualification as a barrister was the culmination of 14 years of hard work, which included many long nights travelling around Dublin as a taxi driver to make ends meet.

Rizvi had just turned 19 when he left Pakistan in June 2007 to study in Ireland. The son of a fruit vendor, his parents took out a loan to pay for their son to study at Ashfield College in Dublin for two years.


'People would say 'can I grab a naggin' and 'a box of John Player Blue' and I didn't know what they meant. But in time, you learn'

“My dad wanted us to go abroad and be educated. He was quite young when my grandad died and he had to take responsibility for his five sisters and his own mother. He would wake at 4am each day to go to work in temperatures of up to 50 degrees. He was so concentrated on us and our future.”

Rizvi planned to study international relations but the agent making arrangements for his Irish visa and study programme in Dublin mistakenly signed him up for hospitality management. Unable to change the course when he arrived in Ireland, he stuck with hospitality and started looking for work.

At first, he was deeply homesick and recalls how his Indian flatmate discovered him crying in their shared bedroom. “I had never been away from my family home, I didn’t know what I’d got myself into.”

After three months of searching for part-time work in a country now grappling with the economic crash, Rizvi found a job in the bustling Centra at the Ha'penny Bridge in Temple Bar. "I was starting to get really concerned as I was running out of money. The rents were still so high because Ireland had been at the peak of making money."

Working night shifts in Temple Bar was an abrupt initiation into Irish nightlife for the young Pakistani student. “People would say ‘Can I grab a naggin and a box of John Player Blue?’ and I didn’t know what they meant. But in time you learn.”

After three months in Centra, Rizvi was laid off due to staff cutbacks. He found another job in a newly opened Superquinn in Ranelagh, where he quickly became friends with many of his colleagues.

Rizvi also met an Irish girl and fell in love. His family back in Pakistan were unhappy with this relationship as preparations were already underway for Rizvi to enter into an arranged marriage. However, his family soon accepted and grew to like his Irish girlfriend and a couple of years later the pair were married.

'I knew Ireland was my home. I'd moved here when I was only 19 so I grew up here. I adopted the lifestyle as anyone else would, I always saw myself as an Irish person'

Around this time, Rizvi started driving a taxi by night to help pay for his mother’s medical costs. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer and the family needed extra money to cover her treatment. “I needed to make the money quickly to help my mother. There was no real money during the day so I worked at night.

He remembers how many passengers made it clear they preferred Irish drivers to non-nationals. "We would be parked at the top of Grafton street and customers would look in your door, say he's a foreigner and move on. When the Halo app came in it was the best thing that could have happened, it made a big difference. But there were still some people who would cancel the journey when they saw your name."

While Rizvi’s mother made it through her cancer treatment and survived, his father died quite suddenly in 2014 after his lungs collapsed. The following year Rizvi’s relationship with his wife broke up. However, despite all this heartache, he says he never considered leaving Ireland.

“I knew Ireland was my home. I’d moved here when I was only 19 so I grew up here. I adopted the lifestyle as anyone else would, I always saw myself as an Irish person.”

Keen to get back into education and take his mind off his personal struggles, Rizvi successfully applied to study for a diploma in legal studies at King’s Inns in 2016, specialising in immigration and asylum law. Two years later he moved on to a degree of barrister in law while continuing to drive a taxi to fund his studies.

'My dad sacrificed everything for us and I wanted him to be happy, even though he's not here anymore'

One night he began chatting to a passenger called Carol Sinnott who ran a solicitors’ practice in south Dublin. “I mentioned I really wanted to give up taxi driving and focus on my career and she gave me her card and told me to contact her.”

When Rizvi’s car insurance expired, he took it as a sign to finally leave taxi driving after eight years driving through the night in Dublin. “I said to myself I wouldn’t renew my insurance, I had to find another job. So I emailed Carol Sinnott and went in for a meeting. The timing was good, someone else was leaving the office.”

Having already spent 16 months doing unpaid work for another solicitor’s firm, Rizvi had enough experience for the role and was offered the position of legal executive focusing on immigration cases with Sinnott solicitors. Rizvi immediately accepted the role and continued his studies part-time at night.

He loved his job and worked on many family reunification and citizenship cases. Having gone through the immigration system and citizenship journey himself, Rizvi empathised with a lot of his clients. “I knew how people felt and I wasn’t just submitting documents, I was acting in their best interests.”

In 2020, Rizvi completed his degree and in September he was called to the bar. He is now devilling for a more senior barrister and looks forward to building his legal career in Ireland. He says the memory of his father helped him focus on his studies during the difficult times.

“My dad sacrificed everything for us and I wanted him to be happy, even though he’s not here anymore. He wasn’t educated because of his circumstances but he wanted us to be educated and I believe he’s looking down on me today and is proud.”

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past 10 years. To get involved, email @newtotheparish