To celebrate Black History Month, we are sharing some inspirational stories from our staff. Here Kishma Bolaji explains why never giving up on her dream got her to where she is today - a dual qualified associate at number one national law firm Shoosmiths.
I grew up in the British Virgin Islands with literally a dozen cousins and loads of aunts and uncles around me. My grandparents played a significant role in my upbringing - my late grandfather was a street cleaner and my grandmother a housewife. Because we were a "low income household", it was generally felt that certain opportunities in life were not open to us, but I never accepted that. I always knew that I wanted more; I wanted to be an example to my younger siblings and to prove to myself and to everyone who thought differently, that my dream of becoming a lawyer would one day be my reality.
After finishing high school I got a job as a legal secretary in a prominent law firm in the British Virgin Islands and then, after securing funding, moved to the UK on my own at the age of 19, having secured a place at the University of Birmingham.
After graduating from Law School I didn't immediately get a training contract. I didn't have any A levels - they are not a standard part of education in the British Virgin Islands - and I had no idea that I should have been applying for contracts in my second and third year of study. Keen to get work experience whilst I continued to apply for training contracts, I joined Shoosmiths as a temporary legal secretary and loved it from the first day. When a paralegal position was advertised in the firm a few months later I applied for it successfully. I now had valuable experience and started to receive invitations to interview for training contracts at a number of firms. I was delighted when I had finally secured a training contract with a local authority but my manager at Shoosmiths refused to accept my resignation and I was invited to start a training contract with the firm that September, purely on the basis of the hard work and commitment I had shown.
After qualifying, I was offered a position in the firm's Medical Negligence team and I have never looked back. It's now been 10 years since I stepped foot into Shoosmiths' doors; going from Legal PA to Paralegal to Trainee to a newly qualified lawyer and then an Associate. I am also dual-qualified, having been admitted to practice in my native British Virgin Islands. I'm so glad I didn't listen to those people who told me that my dreams were too big.
If I were advising a student starting out in the profession I would tell them to figure out what they want to do and where they see themselves long term. It's not just about getting into a law firm; it's about being true to yourself and thinking about what you are aiming to achieve, the type of lawyer you want to be. It may take years to get into the specific practice area you want to be in, but it is definitely worth it when you are doing something you love. There are so many people who end up quitting law altogether because they take a job that isn't right for them. Be true to who you are and never, ever give up!