Career choice: Consultant (non-law)
Name: Yasmin Sheikh
Level of PQE: 13 years
Current position and immediate former position: Disability consultant, coach, trainer and public speaker. Formerly associate at Clyde & Co LLP.
Why did you go into the law in the first place?
My father was a lawyer so he was a huge influence on me. I was lucky enough to have had excellent work experience at chambers and solicitors' firms which gave me a taste for the law.
My father and I would also bore my long-suffering brother and mother about the law, justice, court cases going on, and any other subject, which we always had an opinion on.
My father also comes from a traditional background where law is seen to be a good, solid and respectable profession. Did I mention he was a huge influence on me?
What was your first job as a qualified solicitor?
I accepted a job in a small family firm in London, and lasted less than a week. I resigned on the Friday morning and was on my way home by 9:30, after telling my boss that this was not the role for me. I had seen about 20 clients during that week, met a client before I had met the team, and took work home with me every night.
Soon afterwards, I took a position as a locum solicitor at Medway County Council, and enjoyed my time there for three months. Following this, I joined Thompsons Solicitors and fell into specialising in personal injury law, which is ironic given the turn my life took in 2008.
What was your reason(s) for choosing your career path?
In 2008, I sustained a spinal stroke, which meant I had to use a wheelchair. There was no warning and no accident, and it turned my life upside down before I had even turned 30.
I started to question everything about my work and what it meant to me. This significant life event put a sharp focus on what it was I wanted out of a career.
I stuck at it for six years after returning to work after an 18-month absence. I felt being a lawyer was not for me anymore. I was a different person through my experiences.
I started getting busy outside of work and did things for the disabled community that gave me more purpose and fulfillment: fundraising, organising charity events, public speaking, and mentoring and coaching people with disabilities.
What steps did you take to make that move a reality?
As I said before, I volunteered to do things outside of work. I had contacts in the disability world which led to many opportunities.
I didn't realise it then but I was networking and building contacts for my current role. I attended various diversity events at the Law Society, made key contacts, and even became a committee member of the Law Society's Lawyers with Disabilities Division.
I was also approached by my former employer to co-chair a disability network, and I made a point of getting to know people in different departments. I also stepped out of my comfort zone and offered to do public speaking around my areas of expertise and experience concerning disability at work.
How easy or difficult did you find the move?
The biggest battle was an internal one, as I had to justify to myself leaving a safe, secure and respectable profession.
I was also worried about what other people would think about my leaving law to set up my own business.
Being a lawyer sounded much more impressive than my current job title, and in the beginning I had hang-ups about my identity and felt like I imagine many retired people must feel when they tell people what they do now. But once I was confident I could bring a lot of value to organisations and their staff with disabilities, then the move was an easy one.
What do you consider to have been the key factor in enabling you to make that successful move?
The key factor was confidence. I had to prove to myself that I was able to forge a career out of what I knew.
How did you find the transition after you made the move?
It felt strange for about the first year not going into an office, sitting with the same friends at lunch, talking about a funny programme on television the night before with my work roommate. Oh yes, and not actually doing the work which someone else had given me to do. It also felt liberating to work to my own timetable and to be creative.
What do you most enjoy about your current role?
I enjoy the flexibility and total freedom over the work I want to do. I am passionate about disability issues, and I am lucky enough to be able to package that passion, experience and expertise to help organisations, which is fulfilling and rewarding.
What did you learn about how to make change effectively and what would you have done differently?
I learnt to ask people for help, be open and seize opportunities even if it seems a little daunting. I would have done things differently by doing more of this.
What are your three tips for a successful change in career direction?
- Be confident in your abilities. You don't have to be a lawyer for life. We all have untapped skills.
- Grab opportunities. It's like owning a new car: you suddenly see lots of people driving the same car. The opportunities have always been there, but you need to open your eyes more, as they can lead you to some weird and wonderful places.
- Be kind to yourself if you do miss some aspects of your job. I miss some things about my old job - the office banter, the familiarity and social side. However, my current role offers much more. It gives me flexibility, utilises my creativity and ignites my passion. Missing some elements of your old job does not necessarily mean you've made the wrong decision to change direction. I often carry out an exercise which helps me keep on track: I list the three most important things I need to get out of my career, and then I generate the options to achieve this. This ensures my values are congruent with my work.