Tan Ikram, social mobility ambassador

I'm not a stereotypical judge. I'm from a very ordinary background – my mum was a factory worker and my dad was a postman. I worked as a mobile phone salesman before I became a solicitor.

I'm passionate about social mobility and am involved in initiatives aimed at improving diversity in the legal profession.

I have to confess, I drifted into the law as I actually went to university to study engineering.

However, while studying at Wolverhampton Polytechnic, my eyes were opened to the profound role lawyers play in society and I suppose that’s one of the reasons that drew me to criminal law.

It seemed to be something which was close to the world I lived in. I could always empathise with ‘ordinary people’ and argue their corner.

I was in the debating society at school and even then I enjoyed the argument and had views on far too many issues!

I grew up in Slough. My mum worked in a factory where they made Jammie Dodgers and my dad was a postman.

I always used to wonder whether someone like me, from my humble background, could make it to the top in the legal profession.

But I did make it: first as a solicitor, then as a partner in a regional firm and then as a judge.

I was fortunate that there were grants when I went to university, meaning I didn't have to pay any fees.

Professional exams, however, were not funded and when it came to that stage, I worked as a mobile phone salesman to finance my studies.

I didn't actually attend classes for my professional exams (just a revision programme), as in those days you could self study and just pay to sit the exam. So I bought a load of books, revised and then paid for and took the exam.

I left my job as a mobile phone salesman and became a trainee magistrates’ clerk and completed another exam to qualify as a solicitor.

I didn't have to do a training contract because I had accumulated relevant experience. This would not be possible today.

Looking back, I was very lucky that I qualified without having to fund my degree or do a course for my professional exams.

Very soon, I was in private practice in Slough. I quickly established a strong client base and progressed to equity partnership within four years of joining the firm.

As it grew, I fought proposals to recruit only from the ranks of elite universities and always felt ‘very ordinary’ compared with others.

I wanted to be the voice of people like me within the firm and saw the opportunity to continue fighting for justice when I saw an advert for judicial office.

In those days, I had no idea how to become a judge and honestly thought it was for clever barristers from posh universities.

I didn’t see any role models or judges from my ethnic background and I certainly thought that judges weren’t from Wolverhampton Poly!

I absolutely love practising criminal law. The subject matter is fascinating and you get to meet the most interesting people. If you want to do something that will truly captivate you, then do criminal law.

I would not have wanted to specialise in anything else and have enjoyed every minute of my career so far.

I have taken risks throughout my professional career. I have always had to fight my self-doubts about whether I was really good enough.

No one should think they would not fit in. Success is not about where you started or the label on your education.

If someone like me can make it, then anyone can.

Tan's advice

Law is competitive. You need to think about what you can bring to a law firm and how you can add value to that firm. You should try your best to get good grades but remember it also goes beyond getting high marks.

Think carefully about what else you have achieved and how you can demonstrate this to future employers. You need to bring something from outside the classroom and you also need self-belief.

Contact the ambassadors
If you want to ask an ambassador a question about their career or route into law, email ask.an.ambassador@lawsociety.org.uk and include their name in the subject line.

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