Being different can be an advantage

Jamila Hassan is a barrister at Goldsmith Chambers, specialising in immigration and human rights law.

Born in Somalia and raised in Kenya and Sweden before completing her education in the UK, Jamila Hassan’s childhood was unlike that of most of her peers. Besides being multi-lingual and multi-cultural (she is fluent in Somali, Swahili, Swedish and English), Hassan knew from a young age that she was committed to social justice. She worked with female refugees in Kenya and volunteered with community organisations in Sweden and the UK.

While she was in Sweden, she founded an award-winning organisation that worked to empower marginalised individuals. Her unique life experience has shaped her career. Hassan is a barrister at Goldsmith Chambers. She specialises in immigration, human rights and public law, with expertise including judicial review and family law.

However, being different has not always been easy as Hassan discovered during her journey into the profession. Those from non-traditional backgrounds encounter a variety of challenges due to their socioeconomic backgrounds. Hassan considers passion and determination to be key to overcoming obstacles. She also discovered the importance of having role models. Hassan credits the mentorship she received from High Court judge Dame Linda Dobbs for helping her navigate her way through Bar school and pupillage.

Hassan is of the view that the Bar, and the legal profession as a whole needs to evolve, if it is to represent the diverse society that our justice system is an integral part of. As a mother and a working woman, she is lucky to be part of a supportive team, which has enabled her to develop her practice and achieve work-life balance. She understands the challenges and would like to see a comprehensive programme established to support pupils and junior barristers with care commitments.

At the end of the day, Hassan believes that being different can be an advantage.

“Ask yourself, what can being different do for me and what can I bring to the table as someone who is not the same as everyone else?”

That is her advice to aspiring lawyers from non-traditional backgrounds.

Written by Nasteya Mahamud, First 100 Years Student Ambassador

Claudine Adeyemi has been busy not only with her career as a real estate litigation lawyer since qualifying three years ago. She has also been actively making a difference in her community by supporting young people from non-traditional backgrounds in their journeys to become working professionals.

In 2014, she set up The Student Development Co, a non-profit organisation that provides youth with career-related support and advice. More recently, Adeyemi and her team launched a mobile application, Career Ear, to extend their reach to more young people. The application gives young people a platform to pose their career-related questions directly to professionals.

Adeyemi was driven to help others like her because she understood the challenges faced by young people who lacked the resources and networks to achieve their potential.

Her own journey to becoming a lawyer was fraught with obstacles. Her mother passed away when she was young and she subsequently left home due to a difficult relationship with her father. While studying her for ‘AS’ Levels, she lived in a dirty B&B and was hospitalised in between her examinations due to the poor living conditions. Despite her challenges, she achieved excellent ‘A’ level results and went on to graduate from University College London with a law degree. She qualified as a solicitor at Mischon de Reya in 2014 and is now an associate in the real estate litigation team.

Adeyemi’s dedication has earned her recognition in her legal career, her entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to diversity. She was highly commended by the Law Society in the Junior Lawyer of the Year category and was awarded the Judges Recognition award in the Women4Africa in 2016 and the Rising Star in Law award with WEAreTheCity. For work on The Student Development Co, she received the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and the Precious Awards, which recognises women of colour in business.

Her story inspires me because it proves that you can achieve anything you set your mind to.

Written by Ndifreke Ekaette, First 100 Years Student Ambassador

Charlotte Ray (1850 – 1911) was the first African American female lawyer in the United States. She became the first female admitted to the District of Columbia Bar, and the first woman admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia. Ray deserves to be remembered because she fought to overcome the countless obstacles set in her path due to gender inequality and racial discrimination. Her admission was used as a precedent by women in other states who sought to be called to the bar.

Ray attended the Institution for the Education of Coloured Youth in Washington, D.C., one of a few places where a black woman could attain a proper education. Her father, Reverend Charles Bennett Ray, was an important figure in the abolitionist movement and firmly believed that his daughters, as much as his sons, should have access to education.

Upon graduating, she taught at Howard University. Shortly after, Ray decided to apply to the law programme at the University, deliberately using her initials in applying for the course. The reason for this is unknown but some have suggested that this was a tactic that she had used to hide her gender, since the university would not tolerate female applicants. She successfully secured a place in the programme.

At Howard University, Ray was described as an ‘apt scholar’ during her law degree. She received her degree in 1872 as the first woman to graduate from the Howard University School of Law. In the same year, she was called to the D.C. bar. By this point, Ray had already created history for women, especially black African women. However, Ray continued to break old norms to become the first woman to argue cases in front of the US Supreme Court.

Ray decided to open her own law firm, specialising in commercial law. She had a passion for law and the intelligence to solve many disputes. However, the prejudice she faced meant that she could no longer hold onto her business. Few clients were willing to have a black African woman to represent their case.

In 1879, Ray became a teacher in New York and got married. She continued to pursue her passion to change the world and was actively involved in the women’s suffragette movement. Ray decided that it was not only her own life that need to see change but the generations of women after her who could not lead the same lives plagued by inequality. Ray was also adamant that women of ‘colour’ achieve a legal status, and pursuing these objectives by joining the National Association of Coloured Women’s Club.

In conclusion, although Ray only had been in the legal profession for a few years, she became a role model for African American women lawyers. She was a trailblazer who not only paved the way for women’s entry into the legal profession but fought for a more equality society free of gender and racial discrimination. For these reasons, Ray’s story should not go unheard.

Written by Nadia Dileone, First 100 Years Student Ambassador

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