I didn’t grow up wanting to be a lawyer. When I was applying for university in 2015, I considered so many different courses. As someone who generally finds learning exciting, and who had achieved good higher grades, I felt that there were a whole variety of subjects I would probably enjoy (and, hopefully, be successful in). After weeks of attending open day talks on courses ranging from Marine Biology to English Literature and reading prospectuses cover to cover, I decided to pursue a Law degree. I made this choice for several reasons: my love for public speaking, my naïve understanding of what a law career involved, my academic ability, and my desire to help people. Whether this reasoning was correct or not, as I now graduate from the LLB, it is a decision that I am glad I made.
What I didn’t realise when applying for University was that the school I had attended and the place that I had grown up in would impact on my access to university. When I was ready to submit my application, my guidance teacher told me that she would have to add a note stating that the school I had attended was in an ‘economically disadvantaged’ area and that I had exceeded expectations by achieving the grades that I did. I was one of a small group from my secondary school that went to university and it was not until I started my studies and met other people that I realised that this was not the case for everyone.
As much as I wish it didn’t, I do feel that coming from a background with no previous legal experience or expertise has made the process more difficult and that this is compounded by the additional factor of being a woman going into what many see as a ‘man’s job’. I remember at the beginning of fourth year being told explicitly that some people had more access to the ‘network’ and would therefore find kickstarting their legal career easier than others. This is something that is understood by most students relatively quickly in our journey into the legal profession, but having it said out loud can be demoralising.
I have also attended meetings about women in business and women in law, where I have heard stories about small microaggressions which seem to seep through all areas of work. This strikes a personal chord with me. During a work placement, I was told in my feedback that I was ‘assertive’ and that this somehow meant I was not suitable for further opportunities at the company. This felt gendered to me and I was heartbroken by this feedback. The world has taught women to be mild and silent, to be overly apologetic and to shy away from discussing these issues. I have always been proud of my ability to be direct and honest and to speak my mind and share my ideas without fear of rejection. It was a particularly difficult truth to realise that these qualities may not be appreciated or treasured by everyone in my work life. But I haven’t let this critique change my approach to the world and continue to be confident in myself and my abilities.
In my final year of university, I had the pleasure of carrying out extensive group work with some of my peers, although this was cut short by the pandemic. I know a lot of students roll their eyes at group work and before this opportunity I may have been one of them. But this was one of the highlights of my university experience as we all watched each other grow in self-confidence throughout the year. The work taught me that confidence can be communicated silently and that approaching everything with an open mind is a great work ethic to have. Throughout my university life, I have had the opportunity to meet some wonderful, wise and accomplished women, some of whom have similar backgrounds to me and some who have overcome hurdles that I will never face. These experiences have been both incredibly humbling and encouraging, reminding me that so many opportunities lay before me as I embark on what I hope to be a long, enjoyable, and successful career.
Looking back on my four years at Glasgow, I am struck by how much things can change in what feels like such a short space of time. I hope that in the years to come when we are reflecting on 200 years of women in law, or even 150 years, we can see the gaps being closed and women being treated in workplaces and in society as equal.
For me personally, I’d hope to look back and see a career which has not been hindered by the fact that I am a woman or that I didn’t come from a wealthy area. In truth, I would love to be someone who encourages others and makes them feel that they could succeed.
In the wider world, I hope to see office spaces that aren’t dominated by men and for women not to feel restricted to certain areas of practice. I’d like to see boards of management, court rooms and classrooms filled with a diverse range of people, not just one token woman, BAME person, or LGBTQ+ person. I hope that when students are thinking about what university to attend, or what course to study, they are neither hindered by their economic status or the economic status of the school they attended.
I am proud to be in the UofG Law Class of 2020 because I believe that we are living in an era of unprecedented social awareness and change. As we see progress being made in both understanding and implementing equality and diversity throughout society, I am excited to step into a future that will be impacted by these changes.