In collaboration with the Muslim Lawyers Hub.
We partnered with the Muslim Lawyers Hub to allow legal students and professionals the opportunity to share their experiences with diversity.
At Simply Law, we aim to raise further awareness around diverse experiences within the legal industry.
In this article, we interview Jalal Amin, a Part-Time LLM student at BPP University, in his final year of study. Jalal kindly shared his experiences, challenges he has faced, and tips for aspiring law students.
Why did you pursue a career in the legal industry?
As a Bangladeshi-ethnic, born and raised in Newham (one of the highest poverty rated boroughs in the UK), pursuing a legal career is far from the norm. I come from a family where there are a handful of university graduates, and no actual qualified professionals e.g. Doctors, Engineers etc, let alone any Lawyers.
And yes, that’s from my whole extended family. So there were really two options for me after school/college: to either start working and go into any job; or I could go to university and study to become a professional in a particular field.
I owe a lot to my father who advised me and pushed me to look into the legal industry and become a Solicitor. At first, I was apprehensive, but I looked into the industry and it started to make sense to me that this is a field where I can enjoy, and truly make a difference by helping my community both directly and indirectly.
What path have you taken to study law?
My path into law hasn’t been the most straightforward. After completing my LLB at Queen Mary University of London, I actually wanted a break from studying law (as all Law students can relate!), so I found a job in the education sector as an Admissions Officer.
A year into working, and I felt it was time for me to get back into studying law. However, as for many students who come from a background like mine, funding the LPC was difficult to do.
So I looked at alternative routes to become a Solicitor and managed to find the CILEx route, a route leading into becoming a Legal Executive and eventually a Lawyer, which was a more affordable route for me. I enrolled onto the CILEx course, and completed the year whilst still working full-time.
However, instead of continuing the CILEx route, I found an LPC course that I could get funding for, which was the LLM Legal Practice (Solicitors) degree at BPP University. It is recognised by the SRA as an LPC, and since it is a Master’s degree, I was eligible for postgraduate student loan. I enrolled onto this course on a part-time basis, which I am currently completing alongside working full-time as an Admissions Manager.
What challenges have you encountered?
I have had plenty of challenges during my experience, but the main one would be that it has been a lonely road for me. No family members to look up to who are in academia or in the legal industry. Seeing my friends working and living their lives without having the worry of studies at the back of their minds.
Not being able to make classmates as my whole course is done online and in my own schedule due to COVID-19. Also, coming from a lower socio-economic background and my specific situation, it is essential for me to work full-time in order to afford to live and save for my future.
Studying part-time and working full-time is no easy task, it is very difficult in fact. There are many factors in my life which make it difficult to pursue a legal career, and it sometimes feels like I’m running uphill, or swimming against the current.
Many students will relate to these challenges, but I will tell them what I tell myself: it’s your journey and no one else’s, the difficulties will only make you stronger and build you to become that person you want to be.
What 3 tips would you give to someone from a diverse background who wants to study law?
- My first tip is to search for and connect with groups/societies specific to your background. There are plenty of societies with people from different backgrounds who are in the legal industry, they organise events, provide opportunities and give advice, and so can be very helpful for you and will also look great on your CV!
- My second tip is to really think about what area of law you would like to pursue. Particular areas of law may have a link to specific ethnic, religious or social groups that are facing issues in society. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with going into the high-paying areas like Company or Commercial Law, but you do have the opportunity to turn your legal career into one where you can do great work for your community in other areas of law.
- My final tip would be to realise that you may be one of few people who pursue law in your family or community, but do not let this deter you, rather let it push you to become a role model for future generations in your background. A mindset shift is essential before anything.
Who do you aspire to be like and why?
I have many role models; some I look up to more than others.
But I will pick one to discuss as he very much relates to the issues of society and diversity, and that is Malcolm X. He is very well-known for his time as young, fiery human rights activist, however for me the role model of Malcolm X came during his last few years on earth after leaving the ‘Nation of Islam’ and after completing the Islamic Pilgrimage (Hajj).
The thing I admire about this Malcolm X in particular was his uprightness, and vigour to seek the truth no matter what it cost him, and to sincerely make a positive change to society with wisdom, righteousness and care for others. I believe having a mentality and spiritual-state like this will give a person like myself not only a meaningful legal career, but a meaningful life.
Why is diversity important in the legal sector?
Diversity is important in the legal sector as first of all it would accurately reflect the diversity we have in our society. With diversity in the legal sector we will have representation for those from diverse backgrounds who may not have that representation elsewhere.
Having different people from different walks of life in the legal sector is essential to make sure the different issues we face in society are addressed properly and are given its importance. Who else would be better to address legal issues that affect a particular diverse background, than a qualified person who is from that background themselves, right?
What changes can be made to improve your experience within the sector?
I would say more initiatives and incentives from firms (especially Magic Circle firms) to employ aspiring lawyers from different backgrounds. It is not that these firms are not employing fairly, but I believe these initiatives would change the perception that many students from diverse backgrounds have where they feel like the legal sector “is not for them”.
I also believe that not only in this sector but for the professional sector in general, there should be an understanding from colleagues and managers that people do have different cultural and religious values and requirements. I think this conversation needs to be had openly in offices, so people who are from different backgrounds are not hindered if they do things ‘differently’.
These changes would show that the legal sector is not only allowing people like myself to be included, but actually inviting us to do well and succeed.
What are your goals and plans for the future?
To become qualified as a Solicitor and eventually open up my own firm or be a partner in a firm, mainly focusing on areas that would benefit the people in my community. It may sound idealistic, but a career in law doesn’t need to be confined to the amount of money you make, it can be made into a career where you find a fulfilment in helping others in their day-to-day lives and become a role-model for future generations.
Having children, nephews, nieces, cousins, and other young people in your community looking up to you as a positive role model who has paved the way into the legal profession or other professions, is priceless.
What are your hopes for the future of the legal industry?
Coming from the background I come from, I sincerely hope there are more young people from the high poverty-rated boroughs and areas who see the legal industry as an industry that is for them. An industry where they can flourish and do well for themselves, become lawmakers, judges, barristers, solicitors, and bring about positive change to society.
I hope the legal industry can be become more accessible to people of different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, where they are more involved and understanding of the law that governs them.
There have been changing attitudes towards this direction, but there is still a way to go and the only way the positive change can continue is if we continue to represent ourselves as belonging in the legal industry of the UK.
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