‘Challenges get me up in the morning. And by the time I go to bed at night, I want to know I have achieved something’
My dad got me interested in the law. He’s a police officer and I got to hear all kinds of stories, which really fired my ambition. By the time I reached the age of 15, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer – but a commercial rather than criminal one!
I knew little of the corporate world when I was a teenager. What I did know came through the media and TV, which doesn’t give you the complete picture. It was only when I joined the Stephen Lawrence scheme in my first year at Nottingham university that I began to really understand what the City did.
I’m the first in my family to go to university. While neither of my parents went into higher education, they always stressed how important it was to work hard and get good grades. I never doubted they were right.
The scheme has helped me become more confident and ambitious. I wasn’t sure that it was for me at first. But a professor of mine thought I should give it a go so nominated me. The networking was quite daunting at first but I soon got used to it. The difference between me now and before I joined the scheme is like night and day.
I had assumed that the corporate world wasn’t particularly diverse. And while it probably still isn’t representative of the population as a whole, there are some great initiatives helping to get more people from ‘unconventional’ backgrounds into professional services roles. I’m really excited to be part of these changes.
I’d advise my younger self to just get stuck in. Sure, you need to get the right qualifications. But you also need the confidence to put yourself out there and get yourself known.
I’ve found my mentors to be invaluable. They took time to understand me and what I wanted to achieve, and have since given me loads of advice. I’ve really come to see them as role models.
City institutions should reach out more to younger students. They are getting quite good at attracting those already at university. But I’d imagine that there are plenty of school kids who self-select themselves out of certain career paths – we need to raise ambitions earlier in people’s lives.
Those employers that embrace flexibility should have the edge. Organisations should of course look to hire talented people regardless of background. But with diverse backgrounds come different lifestyles. Those employers that allow their people to work how they want while still getting the results should have the advantage.
Jamaal is studying law at university. He is part of the 2017 intake on Freshfields’ Stephen Lawrence Scholarship Scheme. The Scheme seeks to address the disproportionate under-representation of black men from less privileged backgrounds in large commercial law firms and other City careers.