I am inspired by stories from 100 years ago. I followed in the footsteps of my grandfather – who worked in the legal sector as a high court lawyer in India. He died when my mother was barely two years old and never existed except in my head. He was born in the 1890s and traveled to the UK in the 1920s from India, before returning there to practice law. His story has been passed down through generations of my family.
My grandfather faced a lot of discrimination. Sometimes he ended up doing a lot of pro bono work that was forced upon him. He often took cases with little chance of being paid. Many people at the time would have thought that defending the rights of tenants against landlords, for example, was a poisonous gift. But he would still fight his customers’ corner. It has always stuck with me and I have adopted it as the foundation of my business mantra 100 years later.
The first time I entered the court, the bailiff asked me if I was lost. Back then, everyone was so used to seeing white lawyers and judges. Discrimination still exists but things continue to improve.
I was graduated and trained in a firm run by two black partners. My mentors were great people you could learn from. There were few ethnic minority businesses then and they had to work 10 times harder than their industry counterparts.
My mentors were also tough master builders. They had high expectations of themselves and that really influenced everyone who worked for them. They had a real determination to reach the top and that was reflected in the culture of the company – we were taught the importance of preparation, playing to our strengths and thinking on our feet – so that we could all maintain confidence in the face of competition. They gave me the solid foundation to grow as a lawyer, the confidence to be ready to fight and not give up, and ultimately to start my own firm.
My advice to beginners is: listen and experience as many parts of the law as possible. Approach companies large and small to learn more about the profession. Go to meetings, attend webinars. Small businesses can give you a good understanding of what this world and profession is like. Experience will show you the best path for you.
Adopt the right mindset and you will go far. Experience is one thing, but remember that in this industry – especially if you’re a member of a minority ethnic group – you need a good mindset. You need to be optimistic about your prospects. Pushing and pushing is definitely worth it. Develop this trait. Once it’s in your psychology, it will help you a lot.
There is inspiration there. I look to people leading by example, like I. Stephanie Boyce, the Bar’s first black president, and Lubna Shuja, who will take over as president in October. Such success means a lot to me. It shows me what can be achieved if you have the right mindset.
If Stephanie or Lubna can do it, then we can all do it. If you encounter discrimination, please don’t stop. Needless to say, I didn’t do it just because of my demographics. We now have a growing number of models that show that the roadmap is not impossible to pass.
Remember: it will happen for you. Not in the time frame you first thought, maybe. But when you make the note in your own mind, you realize all the blood, sweat, and tears are worth it.