Firm: CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang
Role: Trainee solicitor
'My camera represents the time I spent taking part in a documentary about my health condition, sickle cell. Before then, I had never spoken publicly about it. Speaking up about the issues sickle cell has caused me has made me go so much further than I would have.'
My ambition to become a solicitor was inspired by my love of legal studies. However, my ambition to qualify as a solicitor has been challenged at every stage.
As a black, state school educated female, a significant personal barrier I faced has been the low expectations impressed on me by my tutors and teachers. This was particularly true during secondary and further education. Despite achieving above average grades, I was constantly warned that I would only ever have a limited choice of career paths available to me, all of which required little to no academic qualifications. The lack of work experience opportunities made it particularly difficult to break into the legal profession when competing with students who were afforded previous experience in City law firms through school placements.
Attending a local state school wasn’t something that I had previously considered to be a barrier. However, when I applied to university I realised I was at a significant disadvantage as my grades were not as strong as those who had received more support at school. I quickly found my chances of attending a top Russell group university were limited. As neither one of my parents attended university, the support they could provide me in my higher education was limited. Instead, I had to rely on contacts I made through networking to provide me with guidance and advice.
I later found that not having attended a top university created further obstacles. Many firms predominantly accepted students from a select number of universities for their vacation schemes and training contracts. I found attending open days and assessment days difficult, as I would often be the only person of Caribbean descent attending and felt intimidated by the majority of other students from more affluent backgrounds.
Whilst all of these obstacles have made my entry into the legal profession a challenge, by far it’s been my life long diagnosis of sickle cell disease which has been the most significant barrier. Living with sickle cell means frequent hospital admissions and a life-long dependency on daily medication. As my condition is easily aggravated, my parents and my hospital consultants were keen to deter me from entering a profession which can be stressful and demanding. It took support from my hospital consultants and doctors to help me get through university. Throughout my studies I also suffered a number of serious sickle cell crises, requiring extended hospital stays and led to missed exams and missed deadlines. My grades, particularly at university and law school, suffered. Nevertheless, I was persistent with my applications and relied on extenuating circumstances to justify my exam results where necessary. I was eventually fortunate enough to secure a training contract.
Learning to balance my health condition alongside the fast pace of my training contract has been challenging. Although the profession is slowly taking steps towards becoming more diverse, there’s still work to be done, particularly in terms of improving attitudes at senior levels. Whilst there is a great focus on diversity in recruitment, there also continues to be a problem with retention. The focus on diversity should not end after recruitment and more effort is required to make the profession more accepting of diverse candidates at all stages of their career.
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