I am mixed race; my father is from Ghana and my mother is from the UK. I was born in the UK but grew up in Tanzania. I spent my formative years there and came to the UK aged 12 for secondary school and university, but regularly travelled to Tanzania over that period. I have therefore had a lifetime living and working across the overlapping boundaries of different countries and cultures. That grounding has been a real asset to my career in law.
I find being a lawyer so rewarding and enjoy the intellectual challenge. It was at university where my interest in law was solidified, but I had an interest in it going back over the years, which I think stemmed from my father who worked as a quantity surveyor in the construction industry, which is very litigious.
I grew up with law in the background – hearing my dad grappling with contractual issues. At University I hadn’t fully decided on my career path, and studying law with politics allowed me to learn and develop in other areas.
With hindsight, while there were some limits to who to approach and speak to about a possible legal career, my dad’s professional background gave me good early insight, support and understanding in relation to a similar profession. I was certainly in a very fortunate position compared to many other aspiring black lawyers.
I think when I was training I was keeping my options open as to where to specialise – but I have ended up the sort of law (construction disputes and international arbitration) that my dad would have been involved in. That subconscious influence may have played a part. I was always interested in my practice being international, and it’s great that I have been able to achieve that too.
I think challenges come as part and parcel of the industry, and not something I shy away from. During the course of my career, there have been minor hurdles, but they were always possible to overcome. Going back to my initial steps into the career, I applied for training contracts out of university but I didn’t get any in the first round of applications which I think is fairly common.
I was lucky enough to get a position as a paralegal working at (what was then) Wragge & Co in Birmingham, which gave me the opportunity to gain an impression and experience of the nature of the work and make further training contract applications at the same time. I then trained at Wragge & Co and moved to Mayer Brown a year after qualifying and have been in the same specialism and same firm for 16 years.
I think the burning issue really now is the dearth of black lawyers in the most senior positions – I am speaking as a black partner at a City law firm, but looking around I don’t see too many other black lawyers in the same position. Of course, the statistics also bear that out.
That identifies a big part of the problem and raises the questions of why that is and what are the factors feeding through to it. While I certainly don’t have a ready answer, I feel that the development of a genuinely inclusive environment within firms is vitally important to working to remedy this.