It was a pleasure speaking to Michaela who is a bar school graduate undertaking a MSc in Human Rights at the London School of Economics. I already knew of Michaela’s success but it was only after speaking to her that I realised the magnitude of her achievements. Her journey is far from over but I have no doubt she will succeed in her ultimate goal of working as a barrister.
Why Did You Choose Law?
Michaela started off by telling me she was born into a “strong Caribbean household” where her family always told her she could “do anything she set her mind to”. She explained that the Stephen Lawrence and Azelle Rodney cases resonated deeply with her as they could easily have been her two brothers. This spurred her on to study law where she could bring about social changes and justice.
How Did You Begin Your Journey?
Michaela explained something I know only too well- it is incredibly hard to break into competitive fields such as Law and Medicine when you do not have any connections into those worlds. Growing up in Waltham Forest with no immediate links to anyone in Law it was Michaela’s hard task to find a way into the profession.
She was fortunate enough to have met a barrister during Black History Month. Her Aunt accompanied her at the age of 16 to a local library where a barrister was talking about her career. She remembers the excitement she felt at the time. She was given a business card and contacted the barrister regularly hoping to learn from her and gain valuable advice about how to begin her career.
“I kept contacting her for about 4-5 months…!”
Michaela’s persistence was rewarded when she was invited to attend Brighton Crown Court twice; there she embarked on a “mini-pupilage which is extremely rare at 16!” She describes how she was allowed to speak to the witnesses, go through the evidence with the barrister and sit in court to hear the proceedings. She described how inspired she was; the barristers were eloquent in their use of language:
“They were all articulate and assertive…”
Overcoming Difficulties and Formulating a Plan
From then on she realised that she needed a plan, she needed to be strategic if she were to make it in such a competitive industry. However, during the same time Michaela was experiencing difficulties at school.
Michaela made the decision to move schools in order to focus on her education; she essentially started from scratch at a very crucial time in her life; studying for her General Certificates of Secondary Education (GCSEs). She explained that she had to work exceptionally hard to be moved from the lower or foundation sets to the higher groups, (which she had previously been placed in at her former school) in order to stand a real chance at attaining the higher grades. Despite her efforts she remained in some of the lower sets which made things difficult for her. Michaela also remembers the response she met when she explained her passion was to study Law:
“I’m not sure about that; if you work hard you might be able to go to university.”
She was horrified at being told this, (and so was I at hearing this!) but despite those words she continued to have self belief. She told me that she will always remember those words because they are a source of motivation. I was so inspired when I heard Michaela say how she used these words whenever she lacked self-belief.
Nonetheless, Michaela did not stop, she continued to find ways in which she could gain more experience and understanding of Law. She sent her CV to a wide range of Law firms and chambers for work experience and finally she was invited to Tower Hamlets Law Centre. There, she learnt more about “the basics” from a solicitor’s perspective. Whilst being a solicitor was not what she wanted to do she admits it further added to her understanding of Law and helped to strengthen her university application.
Embarking on a Law Degree and Passing the Bar
Michaela mentioned that whilst at Law school she noticed that there were a large proportion of students from privately educated institutions, in addition to a lack of students from Black and Ethnic Minority (BME) backgrounds. I could relate to this having studied medicine in London. This is an ongoing issue and more needs to be done at various levels to ensure students from state schools and a range of backgrounds have more opportunities to study and succeed in top professions such as Law.
Through her voluntary work with vulnerable people in the criminal justice system, Michaela has been awarded: The Leicester Award for Employability, The Student of the Year Award 2013 and the privilege of being one of only five students in the United Kingdom commended by Members of Parliament for ‘making the world a little better’.
An Exciting Year
After a long journey Michaela took a year out where she embarked on more exciting opportunities. Since she wants to specialise in Human Rights she spent most of the year working for two Human Rights firms-Bindmans LLP and Matthew Gold and Co Solicitors. Two months were spent in Washington DC after she received a further two scholarships to work at the World Service Authority. She explained that it is a non-profit organisation that works with “asylum seekers, destitute Americans…and international clientele”.
“A real grass roots human rights organisation.”
Michaela has so much more planned and is currently studying for her Masters degree in Human Rights as an Anniversary Scholarship recipient. She has already secured a pupilage in Birmingham at St. Ives Chambers which she will commence after her Msc. She told me that it is a requirement to secure a pupilage five years after passing the bar. I could hear the excitement in her voice when she discussed the move but explained that she will only be at the chambers for one year. After that year she might be asked to stay on with that set of chambers but if not she will have to look for tenancy at another set.
Long term plans include establishing a successful common law practice and working in Human Rights, in particular a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) in addition to advisory work. She also hopes to become a judge which I have no doubt she will achieve.
Words of Wisdom
We finished off by Michaela imparting a few words of wisdom:
“You have to retain your self-belief. Don’t let external factors weigh you down. Be strategic and have a plan.”
“You can’t be afraid of hard work…nothing has been given to me.”
Talking to Michaela really inspired me and I found that we have many similarities in our journeys. She shows yet again that even though you may face a number of challenging obstacles in your path it is possible to overcome them. There should be no excuses. Michaela is a focused and courageous individual; she knew what she wanted and she went for it. She persevered and I am sure she will continue to persevere through whatever life throws at her next. She is a shining example of a positive role model and I look forward to seeing the day she becomes a judge. Keep going Michaela!