SPOTLIGHT

Spotlight shares advice to future lawyers and details the persons journey into the law.
If you want to nominate someone for a future spotlight, please do contact us on info@leedslawsociety.org.uk

Chloe Branton 
Family Law Practitioner 
Park Lane Plowden Chambers

Tell me about yourself

My name is Chloe Branton and I am a family law practitioner at Parklane Plowden Chambers. I was born and raised in York, and went to my local comprehensive school, before going on to Lancaster University where I studied law (2015-18). I completed by BPTC LLM in Leeds (2018-19), and always wanted to stay in Yorkshire. I work predominantly on the North Eastern Circuit. I became a pupil barrister in 2019, and a tenant in 2020. I am autistic and dyspraxic having been diagnosed as a teenager. I would therefore consider myself to be a disabled barrister. I feel my experiences as a working-class, disabled woman and carer to family members make me an effective and empathetic lawyer.

What made you want to study/enter into law?

As well as being disabled myself, I grew up helping to care for my younger sister who is severely disabled. There is only around 2 years difference between us age wise, and I have always been protective of her. Seeing the struggles my parents went through to ensure she received the care and support she needed as a child was what got me interested in a legal career. They still inspire me today with their commitment to ensuring she receives that support. I grew up having social care involvement in my life as a result, and that got me interested in seeing what social workers do. That research led me to look at the concept of public law care proceedings. The legal system around that really interested me as a young teenager, and I decided from then on that I wanted to pursue a legal career. I also found law itself interesting, and knew I wanted to study law at university.

What was your journey into law like?

I have always been academic and enjoyed studying at school and university. I particularly enjoyed my family law and health care law modules at university, and also liked taking part in mooting competitions. I was interested in either going down the academic route or entering practice. Mini-pupillages, vacation schemes and inn scholarships helped show me the reality of life as a lawyer and confirmed my interest in practising in children law. Support from my parents, practitioners, and my inn was crucial for me to become a barrister. The cost of completing the bar course is very high, and without a scholarship from the Inner Temple I could not have done it in 2018.
My journey wasn’t easy, I had care commitments to my sister and then to my mother who became unwell during my bar course exams. I was also plagued with self-doubt, and still struggle with imposter syndrome to date. As a young working-class girl with no connections to lawyers through family, I felt I had to work hard to forge those connections, get good results, and make it into the profession. I hope to return the favour to aspiring lawyers, and now give back as a mentor for students interested in a career at the bar.


What advice would you give junior members of the profession?

Coming from a ‘non-traditional’ background is actually an asset for you in your career, and you should highlight those skills that your unique circumstances give you to show why you would make a great lawyer when interviewing. Once you join the profession, continue to use those skills to be the best advocate you can for your client, but remember also to advocate for yourself and the wellbeing of other colleagues.

What is next on the list of goals?

I hope to continue to develop my career, and potentially look into judicial roles in the future. In my practice to date, I have had the opportunity to write articles for the Family Law Journal, and to speak at family law conferences and provide talks in chambers. I find that these opportunities mean I get the best of both worlds with my court practice and the chance to still research and present on topics that interest me. Therefore, I hope to continue to take part in those activities alongside my regular court practice.

What has been your career highlight to date?
 
In 2022 I undertook a Pegasus Scholarship to the YSA to experience the family justice system in various states for 6-weeks. I acted as an ambassador for the Bar of England and Wales during my placement and had the opportunity to observe advocacy in various areas of law, from district court to supreme court level.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I have received some great advice over the years from friends, family and colleagues. I remember receiving some great advice from a barrister at my inn relating to applications. They advised that I should always remember that interviews are a two-way process. An applicant for a role should view the application process as a chance to see if that firm or chambers is right for them. Linked to this, they also advised that you should be yourself because you should want to be accepted or rejected based on an authentic representation of yourself rather than putting on a persona of what you think the firm or chambers is looking for in a candidate.

What is something I wouldn’t believe about you?

This is a tricky one! I think you would be surprised to know that I do am-dram in my spare time. I enjoy both watching and being involved in theatre performances. In February I was part of a cast performing The Little Mermaid, with roles including ‘dancing fish’ and ‘tap dancing seagull’.  It is a good way to unwind after court and have fun with a group of people with very different work-lives to my own.



Kieran Conlon, Trainee Solicitor Consilia Legal

Tell me about yourself

My name is Kieran Conlon. I am a trainee solicitor at Consilia Legal which is a niche law firm specialising in all aspects of private family and employment law. I hold an undergraduate LLB and postgraduate LLM in Legal Practice having obtained both of them at Leeds Beckett University. I have worked at Consilia for four years now and am due to qualify as a solicitor on 4th July 2024.

What made you want to study/enter law?

At school I was always interested in debating and putting my views across although I have to confess that I fell into the law by accident. When I began my A-Levels I took law because it sounded interesting at the taster day and had planned on dropping it at the end of my AS Levels to pursue sciences at university level. However, I had a brilliant A-Level law teacher (Jayne Fry at Notre Dame Sixth Form College in Leeds) who was really encouraging and her lessons really sparked my interest in the subject. I decided to stick with it and by the time university applications came around, it had become clear that law was the only subject for me. 

What was your journey into law like?

Once I had decided that law was the subject and the career I wanted to pursue, that was when the journey really began for me. It wasn’t the easiest of journeys. At the end of my first year at university, the transplant I had received a few years earlier stopped working and I went back onto dialysis until another transplant became available. I had dialysis 3 days per week for 5 hours per day whilst studying full time for my undergraduate and then postgraduate degrees. My studies were regularly interrupted with hospital stays and a lot of operations but nonetheless I managed to graduate. I then took up a paralegal role at Consilia until, 7 years after I had gone back onto dialysis, I received a new transplant. From that point things became a lot easier and my career has been on the up. I’m now looking forward to qualifying as a solicitor some 10 years after I first began my studies.

What advice would you give junior members of the profession?

The best and most important piece of advice I would give to junior member of the profession is to persevere. It’s no secret that the profession is a tough one and we all face obstacles on the way but the way we deal with them is what puts us in good stead to move forward. I have also found that making connections with other junior professionals has been invaluable. You soon realise that, whether it’s in the legal or any other profession, you all have the same or similar experiences in your work and it can be a comfort and confidence booster to share those experiences and get feedback.

What is next on the list of goals?

My goal is to reach qualification in July and then begin to really hone my skills as a solicitor and explore what more I can do in the wider legal profession by reaching out to as many people and opportunities as I can.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

Be passionate about what you do in a world that tells you to be cool.

What is something I would not believe about you?

Music is the one thing I could not live without, although my taste is a really odd mix of country, garage and 90s rave anthems for reasons I don’t quite understand.

Leo Jones- Rowe Partner, Schofield Sweeney

Tell me about yourself

I am a partner at Schofield Sweeney in Leeds and specialise in Commercial Litigation. I am also Co-Chair of the Board of Trustees of local homelessness charity, Simon on the Streets. I grew up in Darlington in Co. Durham and am a proud north-easterner. However, I have lived in Yorkshire for over 17 years, so my accent now comes with a Yorkshire lilt. I am of mixed-race, with my father hailing from Ibadan in Nigeria and my mother from Co. Durham.  I would say that race is a hugely important factor in making me the person I am today.

What made you want to study/enter into law?

In truth, I actually wanted to be an actor until I was around 17 years old, and spent a lot of my spare time in amateur dramatics. Despite this, I surprisingly found my A-Level in Law to be way more interesting than that of Theatre Studies. I never looked back after that. I immersed myself in learning about the law, which piqued my interest in problem solving, commerciality and debating. Almost 25 years later, I am relieved to say the excitement still remains.

What was your journey into law like?

After my A-Levels, I went on to study Law at De Montfort University and then the LPC at Nottingham Law School. I secured a training contract at DLA Piper, before moving to DWF. I was appointed a partner at 8-years PQE at Schofield Sweeney, and have been here almost seven years now.

What advice would you give junior members of the profession?

As Schofield Sweeney’s Training Principal, I really enjoy dispensing advice to our junior team members, whether they want it or not. Such advice includes:

(1) keep an open mind on areas of practice (I, erroneously, presumed I would be a Corporate lawyer… until doing a seat in it demonstrated that I much preferred corporate disputes);

(2) build and maintain your network from the very start of your career (your biggest client in the future might be a school friend from the past);

(3) always ask questions (there’s no such thing as a ‘stupid question’);

(4) absorb things like a sponge in the office;

(5) work with as many team members as you can to expose yourself to different clients, specialisms and ways of working; and

(6) you’re now in a privileged position – give back to society and support others!

What is next on the list of goals?

At the risk of sounding slightly corny, I want to use my position and experience to help others. I love seeing my junior colleagues blossom and develop into renowned lawyers in their own right. I also find my voluntary work to be hugely rewarding. At present, I am supporting a charity which helps the most vulnerable in society. When my tenure ends there, I would like to get involved in social mobility initiatives.  Having grown up in a deprived area of the north east, this remains a cause very close to my heart.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“Don’t change for anyone” (thanks, mum!).

What is something I wouldn’t believe about you?

I once emphatically lost a dance-off against Game of Thrones’ star, Maisie Williams.

Zira Hussain, Barrister, Broadway Chambers

Tell Me About Yourself?

I am part of the expert legal team in Broadway House Chambers, having practised exclusively in family law with a particular focus in financial remedies.  I also undertake children work and accept instructions to sit as a Private FDR Judge. 

Being a working-class, state-educated Pakistani Muslim female has given me life experiences which enable me to have a better understanding of my client’s needs and a high degree of empathy.

As the daughter of illiterate, working-class immigrants, and having spent my formative years living in rural Azad Kashmir, I did not learn to speak English fluently until the age of nine. This has inevitably given me a certain amount of resilience and determination.

I have practised exclusively in family law since completing pupillage. While my expertise extends across all areas of family work, my preferred area of practice is financial remedy. I’m fortunate that my chambers, Broadway House Chambers, has an outstanding reputation for financial remedy work and many of my colleagues in the family team are leaders in this field. Being part of such an expert team means there is collective sharing of knowledge and experience, which can be invaluable.

What made you want to study/enter law?

I’ve always had an inherent sense of justice and a desire to be intellectually challenged. This, coupled with my love of debate, made law the perfect subject for me to study and later enter into as a career.

The impact that working in family law can have on the lives of individuals is invaluable, particularly those who are vulnerable and need support for their voices to be heard. Being fluent in Urdu and Punjabi has also enabled me to connect and advise with those I represent to build trust and confidence in the legal process. This has aided me in my focussed efforts to safeguard vulnerable people in ethnic minorities.

What was your journey into law like?

I studied A-Level law, which unlocked my interest in the subject. Originally, I wanted to qualify as a solicitor, but towards the end of my degree my parents encouraged me to apply for the then Bar Vocational Course. Initially, I was very hesitant. At that time (the mid-1990s), the Bar was dominated by white, middle class men, and I didn’t think I stood a chance, despite the fact I knew I was more than capable. 

It is to be noted that recently, the Women and Equalities Committee found that many Muslim women face triple discrimination when trying to enter the workplace.  They face a penalty for being a woman, for being from an ethnic minority background and for being Muslim.  It also found that Muslim women are the most economically disadvantaged group in British Society.

I received incredible support, advice and guidance from my tutors at the University of Huddersfield which made a career at the Bar possible.  There were only three students from my cohort who went onto study the then Bar Vocational Course.  I was the only female.  There are two of us who qualified and continue to practise at the Bar.

What advice would you give junior members of the profession?

If you are coming from a diverse or atypical background, it is important to remember that these personal factors can benefit you in your journey into the law profession. Building a strong sense of resilience and empathy is essential for this field, and these qualities and past experiences can provide a strong foundation.

Considering what you’ve achieved already, what are your next goals?

In addition to continuing to build a first-class family law practice, I aim to continue to empower and inspire BAME women in the legal profession, especially at the Bar.  I am currently mentoring two aspirig BAME female barristers.  I also want to ensure that legal services are readily available to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in society and there is access to legal aid for such cases.

Best advice you’ve received?

My amazing tutors at the University of Huddersfield taught me one’s tenacity, hard work and a hunger for justice can determine professional success within law.

Something I wouldn’t believe about you?

I was the quietest person in my class at school.  I was encouraged to do drama and the theatre arts to come out of my shell, and by heck did I come out of my shell! That’s what has made me into the strong personality that I am today. https://www.broadwayhouse.co.uk/people/zira-hussain


Ingrid Munyaneza
, Chartered Legal Executive, Gordons LLP

Tell me about yourself

My name is Ingrid. I moved to the UK at the age of 11 and I live in Bradford. I went to high school at Belle Vue Girls’ and then to Keele University after sixth form. I graduated in 2010 with an LLB in Law with Economics. I currently work at Gordons LLP as a Chartered Legal Executive.
 

What made you want to study/enter into law?

I chose law because  it is very diverse in terms of areas of practice and also to deviate from the medical profession which is dominant within my  family.
 
What was your journey into law like?

 I started applying for jobs within the legal profession during my last year of university. I was offered a position as a Remortgage Assistant at Enact Conveyancing  where I embarked on my Legal  career journey. I then joined Gordons as a Conveyancing Assistant and chose to go down the CILEX route in terms of qualification.  I had to show hard work, commitment and determination for the firm to be behind me through my qualification.

How, (if at all) has your race and/or gender influenced your experience of the law?

I believe that I have been very fortunate in that Gordons as firm is committed in ensuring that employees from all backgrounds have the same level of support in respect to career progression.

 What advice would you give junior members of the profession?

Be inquisitive and try to explore  different areas within the profession.

 Considering how much you have achieved so far, what is next on the list of goals?

To reach out and inspire a wider younger generation especially those from ethnic minority.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

That there is no failure in life but merely lessons.

What is something I wouldn’t believe about you?

I was in care from the age of 12. I also play the drums.

Itohan (Itee) Odekunle
Commercial Solicitor, Senior Legal Counsel,Director of Leeds Law Society
Anixter Limited

   

Tell me about yourself

My name is Itohan Odekunle and for my day job I am a practising solicitor of the higher courts of England and Wales. I am also privileged to sit as a director of the Leeds Law Society. My life job is being mum to two amazing children who push me to hone my conflict management and strategic negotiation skills on a daily basis and wife to a delightful husband who helps me see the funny side of life.
 
What made you want to study/enter into law?

I was a busybody growing up and really liked knowing about ‘stuff’. I was also quick with a comeback and so it was always said you’d make a great lawyer 20+ years later here I am! More seriously though, I have always been drawn to an understanding of why and curious about how the world as I knew it functioned. Law allows me an insight into how the world works, I am able to solve problems, make a difference for people and improve the status quo. In many ways the pursuit of my legal career has been a journey of self-discovery.
 
What was your journey into law like?

I had a fairly traditional if slightly longer journey to qualification. I took a gap year prior to going to University and worked at Rolls Royce which gave me an interest in business. I then studied law at Durham University, went to Law School at Sheffield University at which point I secured a training contract to train at Addleshaw Goddard. Securing my training contract at LPC stage meant that I had to wait 2 years to start my training, fortunately Addleshaw’s offered me a role with their pensions team as a Pensions Trustee Administrator in the lead up to my training contract. My training contract was brought forward by 6 months, so I was only in that role for 18 months.

How, (if at all) has your race and/or gender influenced your experience of the law?

That’s an interesting question. My race and gender are integral facets of who I am and not something I would ordinarily isolate when assessing my experiences. However, society puts much stock in these distinctions and I have over time become conditioned to recognise that differing standards often apply and as a result certain expectations and preconceptions are attached to these labels.
 In simple terms when I turn up, I turn up as me with all the nuances that come together to make me the person that I am, of which my gender, race/culture are just a part. However as early as when I mentioned to the careers counsellor during my A Levels that I wanted to be a lawyer I was told “that’s a really difficult career to break into for people of colour” and “really demanding on women”.  I have heard these statements in differing guises over my career and I have probably said it to a fair few people that I have bee privileged to mentor and/or support along the way.
The result is that I have consciously made an effort not to internalise any negativity around the idea that it’s harder for me to succeed in my career because I am a woman of colour. Instead, I have developed a life perspective that whilst there may be challenges along the way to meeting my career goals social constructs are only as powerful and effective as I allow them to be. If I believe I can do or be something, the fact that others may disagree shouldn’t dissuade me from pushing for it. I may need to do a bit more to ‘prove’ myself but that’s ok as in the long run I am better for it.
Now I am not suggesting that the status quo should remain, and I just work around it/ accept it.  Rather, I often choose to walk through it and challenge and influence the change I want to see.  I engage with the inequities I see whenever I can and strive to leave organisations I am part of better at recognising the intrinsic value in the wholistic individual rather than prioritising certain ‘types’ over others.
So when I speak about my journey with other women of colour thinking of joining or making their way through the profession, I don’t gloss over the challenges they may face. Instead I encourage them  (as I do myself) to think of why I am in the profession, once clear on your why its harder to get swayed by external factors, you build resilience and find ways to push through.


 What advice would you give junior members of the profession?

Be clear on why you want to practice, the role is as rewarding as you demand of it! Those already within the profession will invariably have worked incredibly hard to get where you are. The risk is that if you are not clear on your why then you’ll burn out and be disillusioned. Remain committed to your ‘why’ if you joined for the ability to make a change never settle in a role where you don’t feel like you are making a change.
What you do is almost as important as where you do it so select a firm, team, organisation that you are proud to be associated with. If all your colleagues make you cringe or miserable then chances are you need to think long and hard about whether you want to stay in an environment that stifles you. I have found that you learn more from people you respect and look up to than those that you simply report into. Constantly ask if your environment is growing you and just as importantly, if you are positively impacting your environment! Remember no matter how junior you are you have something to give so make sure you learn how to give voice to your inner change maker!
Never stop being resilient, the profession can be demanding and if you let it, you can be overwhelmed and lose sight of yourself. To have a sustained and rewarding career you need to be resilient and that requires balance. Great reviews/regularly hitting ever increasing billing targets are great BUT you can’t define yourself solely by how well your career is going. Find your tribe outside of the profession. Some of my greatest breakthroughs at work have come from skills I have honed outside of work, from surrounding myself with people that inspire, excite and support me. A hard lesson I learned a few years ago is that no matter how instrumental you make yourself to your clients and firm/company every ‘professional role’ is 100% replaceable. Now more than ever technological advancements mean that the world is coming up with more efficient ways of doing things people did in the past – so don’t just be an output person be a people person develop relationships, understand your clients and think outside the box whenever possible!
 
To anyone thinking of joining law, our world is changing and the usual reasons for studying traditional subjects such as law no longer hold true. If you are looking for status and wealth, honestly take up gaming or open a YouTube channel following your passions. If however you have a genuine desire to join the profession then buckle up, take as many opportunities that come your way, don’t give up on your dream and when you finally qualify and find yourself in a position to encourage others give selflessly of your time, paying it forward is the greatest privilege of any career.


 Considering how much you have achieved so far, what is next on the list of goals?

Oh dear this one is tricky!
I want to give back and make lasting change in lives of young girls and middle-aged women who may feel that they have missed the boat or have been dealt an impossible hand. Every human is perfectly unique but our society is not always kind  or balanced and some intentional intervention is required to balance the scales. Empowering women to  find their voice and thrive in their chosen paths in life is a driver and I need to pay more attention to doing this.
I also want to get back to writing and expressing all the thoughts rattling around in my head and heart.


What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Failing is fine as long as you always fail forwards – if you are unafraid to fail you are unstoppable. I am still working on embracing this truth!

What is something I wouldn’t believe about you?

That the highlight of my day is watching The Context on BBC and if Christian Fraser is presenting perfect cap off to the day! Yeah, I know, boring! my kids tell me all the time that I need to learn to have more fun!
   

Suzzie Onyeka Oyakhire PhD,

Senior Lecturer, Leeds Beckett University

Tell me about yourself

My name is Suzzie Onyeka Oyakhire. I hold a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Benin Nigeria where I graduated with a second class in the upper division. I have a LLM (International Law) and a Doctor of Philosophy in Law (PhD) both from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, I am qualified to practice law as a barrister and solicitor in Nigeria. I am a Senior Lecturer at the Leeds Law School, Leeds Beckett University. I have a passion for teaching and enjoy imparting knowledge on people in and out of the classroom. I am organised and I like to meet and interact with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. This gives me an opportunity to learn about different cultures and new things which I find interesting.

What made you want to study/enter into law?

Interestingly, my earliest influence was from movies with court room scenes and John Grisham novels which I watched and read in my teens. I was fascinated by the idea of getting justice and the whole process of examination and cross examination especially in movies with a criminal law context; these were my first source of inspiration. Eventually, I realised that I had more interest in the teaching of law, and so very early in my undergraduate days, I nursed the desire of being in the legal academia.
 
What was your journey into law like?

I think I figured it out early enough that not only did I want to be a lawyer, but I especially wanted to be in academia. Nothing good comes easy so I have had to work hard to get from one stage to the next.

How, (if at all) has your race and/or gender influenced your experience of the law?

My race and gender have made me more conscious of the hegemonic structures on which the legal profession is built.

 What advice would you give junior members of the profession?

Trust the process, be open to criticism and take it one step at a time.

 Considering how much you have achieved so far, what is next on the list of goals?

I am open to more collaborative research that has real life impact on people especially in improving their interactions with the justice system.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Nothing good comes easy.

Last months spotlight was Hitesh Tailor, Corporate and Mergers & Acquisitions Lawyer (Legal Director) at Clarion Solicitors

What made you want to study/enter law?

A career in law can often be daunting for people from Asian backgrounds; they often don’t have people to look up to nor people to whom they can relate which means that law is often disregarded as a serious career choice. I remember my parents, who have always been supportive of my life choices, expressing concern when I mentioned studying law at university and pursuing a legal career as they were aware of other Asian parents’ children who were very bright but had faced difficulties when trying to secure jobs after completing their law degree and did not want the same to happen to me.

I was the first person in my family to go to university.

What was your journey into law like?

After graduating from Northumbria University I was able to secure a training contract in a large international law firms which gave me a fantastic breadth of experience and an excellent platform to develop my career. I have been working in the legal profession for over 15 years and BAME representation at all levels is still poor and is not representative of the society we live in.

What advice would you give junior members of the profession?

Looking at law firms from the eyes of people from the BAME community, I can understand why they see entering the legal profession as something that is not for them and, in all honesty, it is often a question I have found asking myself even though I have been in this profession for a number of years.

Although it does take time for diversity statistics to change, the legal profession as a whole has so much to do in making sure that a career path in law is open and inclusive to people from all cultures and ethnicities and it is refreshing that Clarion acknowledges that we all have a part to play in this which is very much is the Clarion way. It is not just one person who can make a difference to the firm’s diversity and inclusion but we all do, however, if I can inspire or dispel any misconceptions people (from the BAME community or otherwise) who feel that they may not fit in at Clarion (or the legal profession), I feel that I am making a positive contribution.

Considering how much you have achieved so far, what is next on the list of goals?

Since joining Clarion in 2018, Hitesh has become renowned for his expertise in corporate law, finding an appreciation for owner managed businesses where the growth of a business means so much more to the founders. Having a personal connection with his clients, and with the industries that they operate within, is a real strength of his, and he has a particular fondness for corporate matters in the retail, technology and ed-technology sectors.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

It’s a famous quote which has stuck with me: “Don’t count the days, make the days count”.  Make the most of each day whether at work or in your personal life. Achieving something every day, even if it is small, gives you a great positive feeling.  We often set ourselves unachievable goals, but breaking these down and achieving small “wins” really does boost your confidence and overall outlook. 

What is something I would not believe about you?

I’ve travelled a lot across South Africa which has taken me taken me along many well trodden tourist paths such as to the top of Table Mountain, getting up close to animals on land on a safari and also swimming with sharks in the sea (which is probably not on most tourists check list!).

In August our Spotlight was on Scott Halliday, Senior Associate Solicitor, Irwin Mitchell LLP

Tell me about yourself

I am a Family Law Senior Associate at Irwin Mitchell LLP. I work predominantly in Leeds and London, with clients nationwide. I am 31 years old. I am a gay man.  I am a proud Geordie having grown up close by to Newcastle at the coast in South Shields , the place where many finish the Great North Run. The best time of year for me is summer, I love the heat. I also enjoy reading , art , running and good wine/food with friends. It is a running joke that I am not the best with IT/technology!

What made you want to study/enter into law?

From quite a young age I was interested in politics and debate. I used to write short articles for the local newspaper on random stories examples include: organic farming/battery farming , US elections, war and wider politics. I was only about 13-14 years old. The newspaper had no idea of my age, my grandad used to take the written pieces to the newspaper. I recognise now that they must have thought I was an adult (my grandfather the author), but they never asked. My family and school teachers were aware , they encouraged it.

I needed to focus my mind on something interesting , which was intellectually demanding but had an overt human element. I was useless at science, though it did interest me, but I had no eyes on becoming a medic. Law seemed like a natural fit. It was demanding , interesting and there was always going to be more to learn and understand. It was never going to be limiting in that sense.

I also wanted a career that meant I was focused on using knowledge and my wider skillset to support people. I suppose also there was a sense that law had a prestige. I do not come from a family of lawyers , accountants , medics etc. – I wanted to be part of it and liked the idea of breaking into the professions with shear hard work. It was a challenge and something which was limitless and interesting.

What was your journey into law like?

In many ways my route into the law is on paper highly conventional , but it took a huge amount of hard work and , very often, entering rooms or institutions (and securing scholarships) for the first time with no real experience or understanding , from friends or family, of university education and/or the legal world. I was, I suppose, absolutely set and determined from a young age.

I studied in the north east of England for my GCSEs , then attended sixth form, which included a very long bus ride each day from home, to study my A-Levels. I had a few wonderful teachers. They supported me and inspired me. I then read law at the University of York. I will forever be indebted to the University – the atmosphere , ability to learn/thrive and financial support through scholarships.

I graduated with a First Class LL.B law degree (2013) and secured several really favourable and special scholarships to support further studies around that time. I was extremely fortunate. I was a 50th anniversary scholar at York which meant I was able to live and study in Seoul , South Korea, at the International Summer Institute at Seoul National University , focusing on international politics and philosophy. I was then the Bridge Fund scholar of law and completed an LL.M in international human rights law and practice. The LPC followed , I had secured my training contract whilst an undergraduate in York. I have worked at Irwin Mitchell LLP for now 8 years , spending time over the years in Sheffield , Newcastle, Leeds and London. I am mostly now in Leeds and London.

I recognise the path I embarked on , seems, on first blush, conventional, I suppose it is, but I was acutely aware during my earlier years how hard I had worked and how far I had progressed from those much younger years.  It was a mixture of fake it until you make it , together with huge amounts of work and sacrifice I suppose. It was lots of fun too I should add.

What advice would you give junior members of the profession?

Work hard and develop your craft. At the end of the day, we are legal professionals. We have clients who need a service. We need to be experts and absolutely bring all of your experiences and skills to the table for our clients.  You have to build the mental resilience and intellectual capacity when you are a junior member of the profession to ensure longer term you can ‘go there’ and deliver under pressure longer term. There has to be balance of course.

That all said , cliché as it may sound, crucially, never forget where you come from, why you started on this journey into the law and ensure those values and that enthusiasm stays with you.

Finally, find some close sincere colleagues / members of the profession. Collect them as you go. You will recognise them when you see them. You do not need loads. Hold them dearly. They will support you and ground you and many will enable you as you progress. They are likely to be lifelong friends too.

Considering how much you have achieved so far, what is next on the list of goals?

I have mentored and supported informally several future LGBT+ solicitors and barristers, I really want to see some of them come through and make their own mark. Many are starting out and I wish them well, it is now only a matter of time.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time” Maya Angelou

What is something I wouldn’t believe about you?

I almost certainly have more pairs of glasses than I do socks at home , I must have a dozen pairs now!

Julys Spotlight was Ayesha Smart – Exchange Chambers

Tell me about yourself

I am of dual heritage. My mother moved from Sri-Lanka to the UK for university where she met my father, who was raised in South Africa, and was doing his second degree. I have been immersed in Sri-Lankan culture from a young age and even learnt Bharatanatyam and Tamil (good at the former and awful at the latter).

I’m a keen musician and was taught the piano at the age of 3 before learning the trumpet, alto saxophone and teaching myself the bass guitar. I love water sports and snowsports and enjoy getting away to pursue these activities. I’m also a huge animal lover and spend a lot of time in the Yorkshire countryside walking with my two Northern Inuits.


What made you want to study/enter into law?

Initially, I was passionate about the sciences and my aspiration was to work as a missionary doctor. In hindsight, my strengths at school should have pointed me in the direction of law. During my first undergraduate degree at the University of Leeds I took an elective module which was a little outside the norm for medical science. It was “A History of Medicine”. This module didn’t just involve lectures, but also included debating in group sessions and discussing the practices and theories in medicine throughout various periods. This first sparked my interest in constructive arguments, and I excelled in this module, so when I decided to move away from the sciences, I tested the waters with an LLM in Medical Law and Ethics at the University of Edinburgh. Everything really fell into place thereafter when I made the switch.


What was your journey into law like?

I thought my journey into law would be a difficult one, firstly because there were no lawyers in my immediate family to offer advice or work experience! They largely come from medical, engineering or mathematical backgrounds and so I had to be proactive about obtaining relevant work experience and use the facilities at university and my inn for career support in order to acquire pupillage. However, once I started embarking upon my legal studies things fell into place quite quickly. Initially I wasn’t sure whether the bar was really an option for me, but I applied to Gray’s Inn for a GDL scholarship and was successful. I took this as a sign really that this was the right route for me. In addition, I was fortunate enough to acquire pupillage quite quickly whilst on the conversion course, which meant the pressure of applying was removed when I started the bar course. I was really lucky however, and I know how difficult it is for others of a similar cultural background, gender or social class to find their feet.


What advice would you give junior members of the profession?

The headline really is to be determined and don’t let others talk you down/out of your career aspirations. I’ve always suffered from imposter syndrome whilst at the bar and I would have packed in by now if it wasn’t for perseverance. It does get better with time, practice and making lots of mistakes! I think it is also important to remember that being a good barrister doesn’t necessarily make a good judge, so for those who feel out of place at the bar, or as a litigator, you might still be a good fit for the modern judiciary.

Also do not forget about your own wellbeing – learn to balance the job and your personal life early on. This is something I’ve become more conscious of the longer I’ve been practising, and I wish I had factored it in earlier on in my career. It certainly helps in avoiding burn out in the long run and makes a world of difference in your personal life and to your physical/mental health.


Considering how much you have achieved so far, what is next on the list of goals?

In all honesty, I achieved a Recordership a lot quicker than I expected, so I’m going to spend the next few years really learning the craft and honing my skills as a judge. There are a number of courses that I could take to extend the types of cases I can hear and cross-qualification in other jurisdictions. I then work out if it something I want to do this full time and make the relevant applications. Long term I’m also keen to get involved in the development of the judiciary internationally, particularly in Commonwealth countries.


What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead” – courtesy of Nelson Mandela.


What is something I wouldn’t believe about you?

I’m a big rock and metal fan… but I have never managed to shake off my disturbing love for the Eurovision!