By Leslie Rose
This article is written to try and inspire students, graduates, or anyone generally having an interest in the Legal Sector, who may be trying to achieve a goal. Whether your goal is securing a Training Contract and qualifying as a Solicitor, or to qualify as a Barrister, passing an exam, or even just finding your first legal job. No matter how big or small your goal, this article is for you.
I will use my own story, as it is a fair reflection of how you can overcome and use disadvantage to your advantage.
I come from an area of Liverpool that suffers from socio-economic disadvantage, was born into a small working-class family with two sisters, my mother, and my father. I was born with a congenital birth condition known as cleft lip and palate resulting in me being deaf in 1 ear and having numerous operations as a child. I suffered from anxiety through most of my childhood and still do as an adult. I have a facial disfigurement from palate repair, and I have experienced my fair share of bullying. Growing up whilst being different is not easy. I knew I was different, but I was also made to feel different.
When you read about children born with cleft lip and palate they are usually associated with lower self-esteem, low confidence, and speech problems. There is a stigma around them being underachievers and being socially excluded.
Looking back now as an Equality and Discrimination Solicitor, I realise I was probably harassed under s26 of the Equality Act 2010, if my cleft lip and palate were to be classed as a disability, then I surely was discriminated against. (I have found cases to support that in some instances CLP is a disability).
I was relatively okay at school, college, and university when I could get through passing exams and keeping myself to myself. But in most forms of social setting, I would want to disappear under a rock. I even dreaded speaking in University or LPC tutorials as I was still affected even that late on in my life.
I managed to get through University with a 2:1 and completed my LPC. Whilst I was never truly comfortable with social settings due to my cleft lip and palate, and anxiety connected to looking different, I did start to believe there may be more to me.
Being born different whilst it made me an easy target, it also fuelled me. Everything I succeeded at meant more to me, purely because I was not supposed to achieve it. Small things others took for granted, I appreciated more.
I had a suspicion that when I finished my LPC, I was going to struggle, my grades were not the highest and I was different (at least in my head). Sure enough, this struggle materialised in real life. I do not blame my cleft lip for having a difficult career in law, as in truth it was a multiple of things.
My career in Law was difficult because of a multitude of factors (none being necessarily more important than the other) such as:
My Lack of experience
The fierce competition
My own mistakes
My average to good grades
My cleft lip and connected issues
Poor conditions in workplaces
I worked in 8 law firms before I eventually secured my training contract and qualified as a Solicitor.
One thing I will say however is that every time I failed in Law I wanted to stand back up. I wanted to show that people born with cleft lip and palate can succeed in a profession that demands good listening, intelligence, and advocacy.
Some people think it is a weakness being born with a cleft lip and palate. But I wonder whether I would be the same compassionate Equality and Discrimination Solicitor I am today without it?
Would I be as resilient with the same desire to stand up and be counted? Would I still have been there 8 law firms later when I finally secured my Training contract?
This is what I mean by overcoming and using your disadvantage to your advantage. Some weaknesses are in fact strengths.
My mentality was that each time I failed if I stayed down then every person with cleft lip and palate was staying down with me. For me, I had no choice but to stand back up, because I knew that what I was fighting for was a reason bigger than myself.
Just as I talk about people with cleft lip and palate, I could equally say the same about social class. I felt like I had to do it, and stand back up, to show working-class people can also succeed and overcome.
We all have some disadvantages.
All I am trying to say is you can use disadvantage to your advantage. Things can break you, or fuel you.
I would like to open a law firm in the future that promotes Equality and Diversity and displays disability in a positive light. I personally feel disabled people can experience prejudice/barriers in the Legal Profession. I am a member of the Law Society Lawyers with disability division and would like to see more done to support disabled people in law.
Remember, if I can do it then so can you!
What is the disadvantage that may fuel you to success?