Whitney Joseph, social mobility ambassador

Social mobility ambassador Whitney Joseph shares her experience of entering the profession, including the challenges she faced and how she overcame them.

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 lifelong 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 leading 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.

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.

Whitney's advice:
I would advise anyone with a serious medical condition to think carefully about what additional support you’ll need before pursuing a career in law and not to be afraid to request it. For those from a minority or state school background, be persistent with your applications and where you lack academic qualifications or work experience, find new and innovative ways to demonstrate the alternative skills you can bring to the profession. Be confident in your ability to bring a different and unique skill set and perspective to the role.
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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