Director in the insolvency team, London

I enjoyed watching reruns of American drama The Paper Chase, which followed the lives of law students. However, following a Careers Day at school, and a solicitor stating how rewarding it was helping people resolve issues, I was inspired. My family have a medical background and though I too wanted a career helping people, I decided to follow a different path.

Monica Kapur

My route to qualification was not easy. I received hundreds of rejections with no feedback, and I was incredibly frustrated at not being able to get my foot through the door. I decided to take matters into my own hands and stopped applying. I enrolled with an agency to get office work, requesting roles in legal firms where possible. After temping for five months in various non-legal environments, the agency called and told me a receptionist role at a barristers chambers had come up for three weeks. I accepted immediately. When I started, I slipped into conversation that I was a law graduate. This led to me asking for and obtaining a mini‑pupillage. I received a glowing reference from a barrister I was shadowing and attached that reference to the next batch of CVs. From the 100 CVs I sent out, I received one response and interview. That resulted in my first paralegal job, followed by a training contract.

My first role was in criminal law and involved attending the magistrates’ court and, shortly after, the Crown court. While I loved the theory, I did not enjoy the reality of attending prisons daily and being on call for police stations as a duty adviser. I switched to civil law as I felt this field suited my personality better. It allowed me to get to know my client and their business, but also have the flexibility to establish a long-standing working relationship.

I chose to specialise in restructuring and insolvency, as it encompasses so many other areas of law. The crossover with corporate and property, for example, meant that I felt challenged on a regular basis. You learn a great deal working with knowledgeable clients (insolvency practitioners) which, coupled with the opportunity to network with them, means every day is interesting and challenging.

'As a trainee solicitor, I volunteered at the university to help on open days and eventually became a mentor to students…To me, it was important to inspire the students to follow their dreams and not give up'

When I was growing up there were very few minority ethnic women in the legal profession and I knew it was going to be a challenge. I needed to make my CV stand out. I took part in the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme at school to help me develop skills, such as leadership, teamwork and communication, but also confidence and independence. I achieved the gold award and after meeting Prince Philip, I championed participation in the scheme given that I had gained so much from it. This led to me being selected as one of the faces of the award. Achieving the gold award stood out on my CV as something different and when attending interviews at firms, they could see I’d developed perseverance, dedication and the ability to work with a team to achieve a shared goal. I also developed the ability to stay calm in a stressful situation in order to resolve a problem within a limited time.

While I was a student, the University of Law in Birmingham offered a mentoring scheme for minority ethnic people. My mentor gave me so much encouragement and support that I knew if and when I qualified, I wanted to give my time to help others who had struggled like me. As a trainee solicitor, I volunteered at the university to help on open days and eventually became a mentor to students. This led to a role as a part-time lecturer/examiner. It wasn’t just the importance of teaching a subject, but giving examples of how the theory applied in real-life cases. To me, it was also important to inspire the students to follow their dreams and not give up, despite the volume of assignments and the stress of trying to get a job.

I hope my students learn never to give up on their dreams and ambitions, irrespective of their backgrounds and challenges they may face. I learnt the art of patience from my students, and never to forget where I came from, but also the importance of kindness and encouragement. A few positive words can help someone more than you realise.