“I was expected to become a secretary”

The odds were stacked against me from the start. My family emigrated when I was two years old to the UK from India. We lived in a communal estate and had little money. Due to my cultural background, I was expected to become a secretary, get married early, and focus on being a housewife.

But I was a rebel. I wanted to study and learn. The turning point came after I finished my GCSEs, when I enrolled in a secretarial course. I burst into tears. The admissions tutor said to my dad who was with me, “You really shouldn’t make him do that, you know.” I think my dad took pity on me and allowed me to go on and do bins.

My parents initially refused me permission to enroll in university. I worked for a few years as an office clerk after completing my A-levels. My experience of not being able to study further because I was an Asian girl really instilled in me a strong sense of fairness and justice, and a determination to prove that I could succeed academically.

My parents finally gave in. I was allowed to study at the local university – but living away from home was out of the question. My dad suggested I study law since I wasn’t interested in medicine or math. I found that I liked the whole philosophy of it. It was about justice and fairness and affecting the outcomes of people’s lives. Because of my background, I have a deep empathy for anyone struggling – financially, with their identity or cultural expectations.

Hard work isn’t everything. I have worked very hard for my career, but personality also makes a difference. If you tell me I can’t do something, then I’ll try to do it. It also feels natural to speak up if I am being discriminated against or if I see someone else being treated unfairly.

I’m just trying to be a good human being. In 2016, I became the Bar’s social mobility ambassador, which was a real turning point for me. I started going out and talking about a lot of things – especially wellness and anxiety, because a lot of lawyers won’t get help because we work in a ‘keep going’ culture.

I took a step back from my daily work as a lawyer. My interests have evolved from legal justice to helping people through social mobility, wellness and mindfulness. I also focus on ecological issues that affect the health of our planet. My firm supported me to follow these passions by refocusing my career. I have taken on the role of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Ambassador and work closely with our D&I team.

I think we need to sell change better. There’s a lot of talk about changing the legal industry, but we can’t expect firms to change just because it feels “right.” We have to find a better system than the one we have. This means better collaboration and communication and exploring different models. Strategy is also critical to success. In my firm, this includes offering alternative routes to qualification, such as our Basic Legal Assistant Programme, CILEX, Graduate and Graduate Learning Routes. We work with external partners and local educational institutions to promote these pathways to inspire the next generation of lawyers.

The new generation of lawyers gives me a lot of hope. In the UK it’s hard to rise when you’re a migrant, but many Asians don’t accept that they have to stay low. They are enterprising and ambitious, and they have a lot of pride. That’s why they so often set up their own law firms. But the playing field is being leveled now and it’s thanks to a new generation of lawyers pushing and firms like mine leading the way.