How the Diversity Access Scheme kickstarted my legal journey
Bethany Hall shares her personal experience of hardships growing up, and how the Diversity Access Scheme gave her the opportunity to pursue a legal career.
Securing a career in law is undeniably challenging. However, those considered to not fit into the stereotypical mould of a lawyer can face a further set of challenges.
For me I found the difficulty from the get-go of my undergraduate degree. I had no idea what a training contract was, and I began to wonder whether my background would deter my chances of becoming a solicitor.
Then I was faced with the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the realisation of the Legal Practice Course (LPC) fees. I was placed on furlough and had no way to save that much money, while still trying to pay rent, living costs and bills.
From that I applied for the Diversity Access Scheme (DAS), which offers funding for people from disadvantages backgrounds while receiving mentoring and work experience opportunities, and it was the best decision I ever made! This has made me want to help and encourage others from a diverse background to use their adversity and diversity as a tool for success.
I am the first generation of my family to attend university and have lived on council estates my entire life.
My parents separated when I was ten, which led to my dad moving to the Isle of Man, and my mum becoming an alcoholic while suffering from various mental health problems.
For two years everything was very uncertain. I witnessed a lot of violence inflicted on my mum, which led to me looking after my siblings and mum to ensure we were not harmed – there were a lot of late nights.
We were placed under child protection and had to live with my grandmother on two occasions, due to my mum leaving and not returning.
We were given the choice of going into care or living with my dad in the Isle of Man, so my siblings and I moved from Leicester to the island and have been there ever since.
Wanting to study
My experience left me with many questions about my childhood. Why did I never get to participate in the proceedings that led to me being moved overseas?
How did the men who inflicted violence always get away with it? Why was I prohibited from speaking to my mum and grandma for a year? This thinking led to me wanting to pursue a career in law, to help people who are in the same situation as I was in.
I received offers to study law at the University of Surrey and the University of Kent, but the cost for accommodation would have been too much, so I began my studies at the University of Portsmouth, which had more affordable student accommodation.
Funnily enough, I am glad that I could not go to the others as I loved my time at Portsmouth.
Although my family were not in the financial position to help me through university, I did not qualify under the Isle of Man government for any maintenance assistance.
I had to work part-time at a bar during my undergraduate degree, and with the money saved from my part-time job back home, I was able to fund myself through the majority of my degree.
My final year of my undergraduate took place during the pandemic and I was placed on furlough. Although this meant I could focus on my studies more (and partake in volunteering), the financial reality kicked in and I truly believed that my chances of becoming a solicitor was over.
After doing some research I found the DAS, which was the solution to my issue of funding the LPC.
The application process
I waited until a few days before the closing date to apply, despite knowing about the scheme months before it opened having convinced myself that I would not be chosen.
However, words of encouragement from my housemates led to me applying. I think I must have rewritten my application about ten times before submitting. After all, this was going to determine my future and it is hard to not come across as trying to get a sympathy vote (we have all seen those X Factor auditions).
Receiving the email that I was shortlisted for an interview was very exciting but extremely nerve wracking. The day before my graduation I received the call from the Law Society telling me that I had been awarded with a scholarship.
I was so happy and shocked that I did not realise that I could not actually hear the details of what they were telling me, as I was on the train and the signal was terrible.
The scheme so far
Having such a highly respectable association recognise my capabilities in becoming a solicitor gave me the boost of confidence that I really needed! Those past few years of writing out training contract applications, but then not sending them due to my lack of self-confidence are definitely over.
So far I am three months into my LPC and, although very challenging, I am enjoying it and very grateful to the Law Society for funding me.
The DAS partnered with Kingsley Napley for the Brandusa Tataru-Marinescu Award for Diversity and Inclusion. I very happily became the awardee after a separate interview with two of their partners.
As part of the DAS, due to Kingsley Napley’s sponsorship and the award, I meet with the partners every month for mentoring and have been partnered with a newly qualified solicitor at the firm.
Their advice and encouragement just add to what I have already been given by the DAS and I love meeting with them. On top of this, I am due to undertake a weeklong placement in 2022 at Kingsley Napley which I am very excited for.
I am very keen to help and encourage those from a diverse background to use their adversity as a tool for success in the future. I am hoping to gain a training contract in a firm that celebrates diversity and to utilise my career as a solicitor to right the wrongs in society.
For those who are thinking of applying next year, make sure you do!