My path to law started off well – I completed my LLB at SOAS University and the LPC at the College of Law. I started applying for training contracts during my second year of university. After the LPC, I worked in law firms local to me securing three years of experience, with three promises of training contract offers that all fell through. I took a career break to have my family during the 2008/09 recession.
I experienced many hardships in my life that I mention below, not for sympathy, but merely to show you that whatever difficulty you are going through, there is always a lesson to learn from it. I’ve always envied those who have been able to stay in their careers and work their way up. If I had done so, I would have secured that training contract earlier, become a partner, a head-of, or even started my own firm by now as others my age have done. I returned to the legal arena four years ago. So, what did I learn along the way?
1 Find your reasons to keep you persevering
I was overwhelmed by the responses to a short LinkedIn piece I recently posted, and the amount of people that replied used the word ‘perseverance’. I certainly did persevere but that’s because I had reasons to. Firstly, I worked hard for my qualifications and didn’t want all those years (and money!) to be wasted. The dream was still there – I still wanted to qualify as a lawyer and achieve my life ambition. For myself. For my parents. For my kids. I wanted them to know that this is what life is about – if you have a dream, you keep going until you get it no matter what comes in your way and no matter how long it takes to get there.
2 Make yourself employable
When I started applying for roles again, I reached out to recruitment agencies. I was laughed at, ridiculed and told it would be embarrassing for them to put me forward for a role. They would not consider someone more than five years out of the marketplace, and I was almost double that. I never understood it – I was someone with three years of legal experience and years of life skills but they would rather take a university graduate with no experience than take a risk on me. Only one agent was at least nice enough to give me advice – “make yourself employable” he said. So, I did – I searched for roles online myself while making myself more employable – I applied for courses and volunteered at a charity. More doors opened for me and when I went for interviews, I was able to demonstrate my dedication and drive to return to the workforce.
3 Change your mindset and remain positive
I’m a big believer in everything happens for a reason. Rejection is never easy to take and for someone who has been applying on and off for the past 17 years, you can imagine how many rejections I encountered along the way. Rejection affected me more when it was from an organisation I really wanted to be part of, or when I worked so hard preparing for the interviews and reached the final stage only to not get through.
It’s tough and its only human to question yourself. But looking back now, every rejection led to where I am today. This was the path I was destined to take and I doubt the opportunity would have been as great if it was given to me years back. Always know better things are out there. If you do receive feedback on why you were rejected, use that to look forwards and don’t look back.
4 Don’t underestimate your life skills
During my first-round interview at my current place of employment, they asked me what I had been doing the last few years. I said I was “just a mum”. It was only when one of the interviewers looked at me and replied “that’s the hardest job in the world” that I realised how much I undersold myself and underestimated truly the hardest job. I had learnt as a parent transferrable skills such as organisation, multi-tasking, working at speed, time-management, empathy, and so much more – all skills required in any profession. I also raised an amazing son who is autistic and he has taught me so much about people and how the human brain works, which has enabled me to work well with people at all levels.
5 You don’t have to know it all
I also realised that I don’t need to know it all. I don’t need to memorise the law or make up that I worked somewhere for the sake of lengthening my CV! It’s about commercial awareness, your experiences and showing who you really are.
6 Don’t be afraid to disclose your hardships
From the death of my father at 12 years old to having a premature first baby to caring for my husband who had kidney failure to donating my own kidney to a stranger: life has certainly thrown a handful at me. When you are in difficulty, there is nothing else to do other than embrace it and wait for the light at the end of the tunnel.
I know many people at work do not like disclosing their personal life. However, the first thing I did with my line manager was tell him what I was going through in my personal life and that I may need time off if my husband receives a kidney transplant or I am called to donate. I’m so glad I did because when the time came, my line manager made it so easy to concentrate on my personal life. Don’t be afraid to let people know because it shows them that despite these things, you are committed to your work.
7 Adapt yourself and don’t limit yourself to one area
I always wanted to specialise in family law. But sometimes life takes you in a different direction. At my current place of employment, I worked in areas of law I never anticipated, but they have opened up doors for me and I am hoping to specialise in one of these areas – so don’t be afraid to try something new.
8 Develop a thick skin
Many a time, I have heard the nice tone people have with me on the phone and then when they see me in person, they are taken aback and change their tone. I even once walked into an interview and literally had the word “oh!” spoken straight out. Discrimination and unconsciousness biases are real and are still out there. I am a woman, a working mother, a Muslim and I wear a headscarf. I have learned to ignore any negative comments that come my way and I am fortunate to be part of an organisation where great things are happening in the diversity and inclusion space.
9 Find your niche
Why should they pick me? After all, there is always someone else who can do the same job as me. I had to find my niche, something that makes me stand out from the rest of the crowd. For me, it was talking about what I’ve been through in my life and how I got here. They will never forget the girl who has fought 17 years to land her dream job, would they?
10 Network and reach out for help
I’m not a big fan of social media but LinkedIn really has been a great resource for connecting with professionals in the same field as you. People are willing to help, so always reach out for it.
11 Ensure you have a work/life balance
I’m lucky enough to work for an employer who values a work/life balance. Don’t feel like you must work all hours to earn success. Working hard goes without saying and you will need to give your job more that 100 per cent but I’m a big believer that you can still do that within the time you have. Quality over quantity always.
12 Surround yourself with the right people
If you take anything away from this article, take away this – surround yourself with positive people and people who will help you grow and genuinely want you to succeed. Take out anything and anyone negative from your life or anything that is holding you back. Find people who are like-minded to you and share your passion. The energy around you will rub off on your drive and ambition.
13 Create your own luck
There is an element of luck in life generally but luck can come in many forms and you can certainly create it for yourself by creating your own opportunities. I’ve learnt that things happen when you’re in the right place at the right time so put yourself out there as often as you can. Explore every job website, look for in-house as well as private practice and review your CV often so you can give yourself the best chance at creating your own luck.
14 If you don’t ask, you don’t get
If you are already working in an organisation, be proactive. By that I mean get involved in initiatives outside your department and let people know you are there. Be bold – ask for that promotion or that pay rise if you feel you deserve it. I’ve learnt that seniors like people who make themselves visible and are seen to be adding value.
15 Enjoy the journey
Despite everything, it can get really exhausting fighting for the dream. There are many times where I felt like I had all the odds against me and life didn’t seem fair. But these emotions can prevent you from enjoying and excelling in your current role and the journey itself. If you are feeling down because things are not working out, whatever you do, don’t let your negativity show. Instead, excel at the job you are in now and if you still haven’t secured a job, know that you are becoming an expert in knowing what to expect in interviews and how to answer them which many mentees would benefit from.
I can honestly say if I had moped about my circumstances and didn’t enjoy my role wholeheartedly and give it my all, I would not have been offered the training contract at all.
16 Always be yourself
I could never study with someone because I always felt like they would know more than me and it would make me panic. I learnt that when I overprepare for an exam, I didn’t do well. Similarly, when I overprepared for an interview, I would panic that I didn’t get to say everything I needed to. When I didn’t overprepare, I was more myself and that’s what got me where I am today.
17 Build a rapport with someone senior
It takes one person to change your life. Find out who that is, and get to know them. Find something you both have in common. Don’t be afraid of people’s titles – they are still people. For me, the legal director of my current employer was that one person who made my dream come true. She saw my passion and drive and rewarded me with this opportunity and I’m glad to say I started my training contract January this year on secondment at another great firm. It took a while to get here but I am here and for that, I am truly proud and grateful. If it can happen for me after so long, it can happen for anyone.
Rawa Hussain is a trainee solicitor.