As I sit here in my padded office chair (lawyering isn’t just in the courtroom!) reflecting on my career journey, I think back to that 21-year-old Pakistani Scottish girl graduating in 2004, fresh faced and full of Legally Blonde misconceptions of the legal profession (and life generally…). Little did I think I would become director of a boutique law firm by 2018!
I had very narrow goals at that time. I came from a middle class immigrant family where my parents had worked hard to afford sending me to a private school. Having this privilege brought with it the obligation to perform academically. I would study Law at a prestigious university and move on to train in a reputable law firm and then work in an internationally acclaimed law firm in their commercial property department. I ticked all the boxes. The perceived success story. Something however became slowly apparent to me. Working in a corporate commercial setting did not give me satisfaction I had aspired for. It did not leave me feeling like the Erin Brocovich I thought I was going to be.
Before I could figure out what to do with this realisation, the recession hit the UK in 2008. Like Dorothy, it came like a hurricane and blew me straight out of law and left me hovering in the sky, not sure where I was going to land. Specialising in property law, there was no property work so what now? All I knew then was law.
I wandered aimlessly for the next 2 years through an eclectic set of part time jobs keeping busy and keeping afloat. The barrage of criticism from everyone that my degree was meant for better things, didn’t bother me. I began developing softer skills in a call centre. I was walking on The Yellow Brick Road without knowing it yet
The misconceptions engrained in everyone about grandeur had washed away for me. For the first time I felt like I was learning about myself and coming out of the mould I have been caste in. I started to feel more comfortable in my skin. My creativity led me to makeup artistry and successfully running a bespoke floral and gift company while I continued to work in the call centre. Although this had tapped into my passion and creativity, I knew something was amiss.
A change of role within the call centre took me to the HR department. Here I started to make a difference and combined my skills. Taking bad situations and using influence and expertise to support the business and its people. It felt like the coming together of academia, soft skills and my personality. Being able to make a difference was like someone had switched on a light and suddenly I could now see The Yellow Brick Road that would lead me to the Emerald City. I found the passion I had been missing in the law career I left behind.
As a walked down The Yellow Brick Road I gained the courage, confidence and built the intelligence I needed to deal with people, their stereotypes and their judgement. Most importantly, though I won the hearts of the people I worked for. I learnt being a people person is valuable. I could advocate, negotiate and build relationships. I became known as the diplomat. Someone who could diffuse a confrontation with ease. So I started my HR Masters and found myself loving the business aspects of HR as well as the legal.
I progressed up the ladder quickly but over time that niggle caught me again. I was passionate about law, hence the Law degree but HR had led me down another path. Which route was I taking? Ah, well by now I knew there was no straight path in anything and I believed you can have it all right? So, I started applying for employment law jobs. Despite having abundant experience in in-house blue chip companies, I couldn’t secure an interview. Insecurities began to creep back into my mind. The legal profession has always been conservative and traditional in its interpretation of a good employee and a good fit. I didn’t let this phase me. These tests are to determine how much you want something. I guess, the Lord paves a way.
Looking at my network I sparked an old connection which led to an opportunity to work with her firm. This was the kick start I needed and with that the fire was in belly, the support here restored my confidence not only in myself but in the profession.
Juggling part time legal work, a Senior HR role in a charity, raising two toddlers and pregnant with third one on the way was demanding to say the least! Excited to secure my first role as employment lawyer, I continued to gain experience and the skillset required to practice employment law.
A year later I took the plunge and set up my very own law firm. Two years on, I have since presented in employment tribunals across the UK and advised clients from all industries.
I have also been able to use my property background and experience to advice businesses on their commercial property needs.
I had followed The Yellow Brick Road to an employment solicitor role. However, when I reached my Emerald City, I realised that the answers didn’t lie there. I was still trying to conform to the mould I had thought I had broken out off. I had the answers on me the whole time. I needed to realise myself, what I wanted in life and the spark I was after in order to find my way home.
Running a business, is not quite what I had imagined. It has come with its own set of challenges. I now practice the law, accounts, act as the IT helpdesk, manage the social media, business development and oh yes; still a full time mum. All the skills I acquired through my journey are now in full blown use. Often I have moments where I think it would be so much easier just to work for somebody. But where’s the fun in that? I know now that where I am is home and this is where I intend to stay.
So, to sum up when you begin your journey… don’t take anything that happens as a failure. Each experience is merely a step towards the discovery of yourself. It is the journey on that Yellow Brick Road that gives you growth and then ultimately allows you to find your way home.
By Ramiza Mohammed