Being a lawyer is what I was born to do. I know this is a cliché but it is true; I just knew I would be a lawyer so never contemplated any other profession. I come from a family who worked in finance, so it was assumed that I would follow suit. I had no desire to become an accountant, and my skills and interests did not lie within a career in finance, I was cut from a different cloth. My family heritage is West Indian and White British. I was brought up in a deprived inner-city Council estate in South east London.
There was, however, an exception within my family, my grandfather Dudley Brown. He came to England from Jamaica in 1959 when he was 16 as part of the wind rush generation. He was a talented jazz musician and an academic. His command of English was exceptional, and he obtained a 2.1 degree in English Language. My grandfather aspired to become a barrister and he began to study law. Sadly, his dream was not to be. He had serious health problems and could not complete the law degree.
Early family influences
Throughout my life my grandparents were my biggest cheerleaders. They had a huge influence on my life, my aspirations, and the decisions I would make. They instilled in me strong morals and told me that I could achieve anything I wanted to. They nurtured my love of literature and I began reading novels. I naturally questioned things which they recognized as a skill and encouraged. This eventually led me to become a lawyer. When I started studying law, my grandfather gave me his law books and course notes; he was full of pride and encouragement and wanted to do everything he could to help me succeed. Without my grandparent’s belief in me I don’t think I would have had the courage and confidence to study law and become a solicitor. From a young age I knew that education was a key factor in achieving success and would allow me to make my mark on the world. I was determined to be someone my grandparents would be proud of.
When I was at school, I remember asking the careers advisor what A-levels I would need to enable me to read law at university. Instead of providing me with the guidance I asked for, the advisor suggested I set my sights on a career that was more achievable, a career in the civil service. The implication was that becoming a lawyer was too ambitious and out of my reach. Her doubts only added to my determination, I wanted to prove her wrong.
Growing up in the 1990’s I distinctly remember not knowing of anyone in the legal profession that looked like me. Looking back, this was a catalyst for me – I knew I wanted to change that. When I went back to university after having my eldest two children, I was determined to be someone who they and other young people who looked like me could be inspired by.
Of course, things have slowly been changing over the years – today we have prominent women of colour like Michelle Obama and Gina Miller who are trailblazers and inspire millions all over the world.
More recently I have been inspired by with a former colleague. She has always believed in me and I see her as a mentor as I navigate my career in law which, at times can be quite daunting. I think it’s so important to have your own ‘tribe’, and I consider her to be a part of that – those you can trust and who desire your success as much as their own.
Diversity and inclusion today
Recently I sat on a diversity panel where we spoke openly and frankly about our experiences within the legal profession. There were four barristers and HHJ Afzal on the panel who articulated their personal experiences so eloquently. I was so inspired and encouraged by them to carry on my journey. I feel it is imperative that the legal sector is representative of society, reflecting different races, ethnicities, social and economic backgrounds, gender identities, sexual orientations, and those with disabilities.
Sadly, my grandad passed away a few months before I qualified as a solicitor – this was devastating for me. However, I want to continue to grow and be the best I can in my profession and ensure his legacy continues.