I wanted to pursue a career in law ever since I was a young girl. As the only child of immigrant parents, and knowing they never felt ‘at home’ and didn’t have the confidence to speak up in certain arenas, I felt it was my duty and responsibility to represent them. As a housing and property solicitor who also undertakes legal aid work, I can now be a voice for many other vulnerable members of our society, who also don’t feel they belong or are unable to fend for themselves, by giving them the same access to justice as anyone else.
When people think of legal aid lawyers, they sometimes picture second rate service lawyers. This is completely wrong. Legal aid lawyers are incredibly focused and determined, and those in housing and property law are changing lives every day. Those of us acting for clients whose landlords are seeking possession of their homes, are often people’s last hope for keeping hold of their homes and a lifeline for their families. In order to jumpstart my mission to help others, I worked hard to get my qualifications as early as possible, but it was not an easy journey. I secured my training contract in a high street sole practitioner firm during the 2008 recession, and my employer told me that I could not be paid due to his financial struggles. With the support of my family, I qualified and moved to a housing and property specialist firm where I was first introduced to legal aid.
As a young ethnic woman, I faced other challenges such as being told that living with my parents meant I couldn’t understand my clients and that I was too young to be doing my job. In the early years of my career, I found I had to grow up fast to face the truths and sadness that many people endured day to day. This drove me even more to succeed. Within my first two years of qualifying, I progressed to supervising my own team of paralegals, solicitors and a trainee solicitor. Over the following years, I also exceeded not only my own financial targets but those of every other employee in the firm. For me, passion, commitment and ability is not dictated by your race, gender or age – but by you. In the past decade, there have been a handful of clients whose stories and lives continue to travel with me.
These clients have made me stronger and more passionate about not only wanting to excel in this profession, but in supporting and mentoring others with similar stories and backgrounds to me, to also excel. Such people, who are passionate about the law and dedicated to effecting change and helping those less fortunate, should not have to worry about their background and what people may think of them. I am fortunate to still have relationships with many of those I have mentored over the past 10 years – from junior team members to paralegals. As an industry, we need to do more to make it a welcoming profession.
People have misconceptions about lawyers and what we do. When I was made partner at age 29, the youngest partner ever at the firm, it was a great achievement for me, but it also demonstrated to my mentees that you do not have to be white, male or upper class to be a partner. In my new role as diversity champion at Hodge Jones & Allen, there is so much more I can now do for others in our profession. I hope to bring about positive change so that we all feel included and can welcome more enthusiasm and fresh energy into the profession.
I want everyone to know that you do not have to fit the image of what someone believes a lawyer should be. Shine the best version of you and that will be the best for your client.
Bahareh Amani is a partner at Hodge Jones & Allen hja.net...