Overcoming and Using Your Disadvantage To Your Advantage

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

  • Social class

  • 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.

Final Thoughts

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?