I’ve always seen a career in law as a way to defend the underdog, those without the ability to articulately defend themselves. Unfairness and injustice always seemed to be handed out to those from certain socioeconomic backgrounds in greater measure.
I found it extremely difficult to secure a training contract. The process of submitting application after application, most of which were not even acknowledged, was very demoralising. It is so important that students are mentored and supported through the process, which is why organisations like Birmingham Black Lawyers (BBL) are so important. Most of my applications were, frankly, below par and were rightly rejected. It is imperative that support and assistance is provided to students as they seek to enter the profession, creating a network of professionals they can rely on for mentorship and guidance through a difficult process.
I joined Shoosmiths as a temp legal secretary after completing the LPC because I had not secured a training contract or a paralegal role. Thankfully the firm saw my potential. I was soon considered for a paralegal role and then eventually offered a training contract. Shoosmiths is a brilliant place to work. The client contact I had from day one meant I was able to work independently and confidently with clients quickly into my training contract. I qualified as a solicitor just as the country was getting to grips with a recession. I was fortunate to have been one of only a few trainees retained on qualification that year.
Imposter syndrome is real and often rears its head whenever I consider putting myself forward for a new role
Medical negligence was not an area of law I had considered before joining Shoosmiths. I always thought that, with my offshore jurisdiction background (British Virgin Islands native), I would be a corporate lawyer. However, at the beginning of my training seat in medical negligence I knew that this was my calling. I get to be a supportive and empathetic human being as well as a fierce advocate.
The key changes that have been implemented during my (still relatively short) career relate to the cost of litigation and the argument as to who should bear responsibility for those costs. As a claimant medical negligence specialist, my view is that it should not be the responsibility of the injured person to fund the cost of litigation which has arisen only because of negligent treatment. The commercial reality, though, paints a different picture and I appreciate that a balance must be struck.
Birmingham Black Lawyers was founded in 2011 by myself and three colleagues. We shared similar experiences of isolation during our legal studies, often being the only black student in lectures and study groups. BBL aims to improve diversity within the profession, and encourage a greater degree of integration and participation by established black lawyers within the legal community. We host seminars, and social and other events throughout the year to facilitate networking between black legal professionals at various stages of their career. As a result of the opportunities we create, students have gone on to secure mentors, work experience, training contracts and other employment opportunities.
Sadly it is still the case that ethnic minority representation in firms is low. The opportunity for black people to engage with others from similar backgrounds and cultures within the organisation is a rarity. BBL has hundreds of members, most of whom are university and postgraduate students. We take seriously our responsibility to provide a platform for change and the promotion of diversity. The events of 2020 and in particular the Black Lives Matter movement have further fuelled our determination to do all we can to support aspiring lawyers to achieve their goals no matter their circumstances.
I sometimes do not know how I stayed motivated over the years it took me to secure a training contract. There were many times when I felt that it would never happen and I was ready to give up. So many of the students we speak to through BBL share that experience. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to share my story and encourage them to keep moving forward. Imposter syndrome is real and often rears its head whenever I consider putting myself forward for a new role or embarking on a new opportunity. Luckily, I now have the confidence to motivate myself to ensure that I take the very advice that I give to our student members: be bold, be confident, be yourself.