I’m conscious that my background is very different from many other lawyers in the firm. Although it has not always been easy being different, I now feel strongly that this is one of my strengths and I’m not afraid to do things differently, especially at work. I’m very proud of my background. Here’s my story:
I grew up in Bow in the East End of London and lived in a flat on a council estate with my parents and two younger brothers until I was 21. My dad is a Licensed London Taxi Driver and had several jobs when I was growing up including being a butcher in Smithfield meat market and a publican. He often had two or three jobs at the same time and my parents tried to give us the best start possible. My mum also always worked and for most of my life worked as a teaching assistant at our primary school. They have given mean example of a great work ethic and taught me to never be envious of what others have.
I went to school at my local state primary school, which was in a deprived area of London and many families were struggling financially and the vast majority of us living in social housing. The head teacher of my primary school changed my life and together with my parents, did all he could to ensure I had the gift of a great education. When it came to secondary school choices, my head teacher encouraged and advised my parents that I should consider applying to some of the best schools in London and sit entrance exams for private schools to see if I could get a scholarship or an assisted place.
I was offered a place at the City Of London School For Girls, which is one of the top schools in London. My mum in particular was very worried about me going and as she felt that I might find it hard as I would be so different to the other girls at school in terms of background. I decided that I couldn’t give this opportunity up and accepted the place. I was very different from the other girls there. My friends came to my council estate after school, while I visited their Holland Park Mansions or grand houses in Hampstead! The girls didn’t mind at all but I did notice that some of the parents would drop me at the edge of my estate on the main road as they were too afraid to drive into my council estate. I was offered a partial scholarship on the assisted place scheme. The Assisted place scheme which no longer exists was established by the Conservative government in the 80s and children who were eligible were provided with free or subsidised places to fee-paying schools if they were to score within the top 10-15% of applicants in the school’s entrance examination.
My school uniform was very ‘posh’ with an ankle length raincoat which I always had to remove or swap with a more ‘normal’ coat when I made my way home on the bus after school to avoid attention from kids from the local schools. All of my friends on my estate went to local schools and didn’t treat me any differently but I had a lot more homework than them and my life experiences and opportunities started to be different.
The transition to my secondary school was very tough and I became very conscious of my strong cockney accent. When I read out loud in class I would be corrected and it did knock my confidence. As a result I learnt to tone down my accent and learnt to adapt my accent for different situations. Although the transition to my new school was initially tough, I loved it overall. I made some fantastic lifelong friends and contacts who made me feel comfortable and they are proud of my achievements.
I was also the first person in my family to go to university. I studied Classics at King’s College, Cambridge. When looking for law firms to join, I interviewed with other city law firms but felt that very uncomfortable feeling of ‘not belonging’ all over again as I initially felt at secondary school. I have never been made to feel like that at Baker McKenzie and feel lucky to be working in an environment where everyone is able to thrive despite and even because of their background. My interview with Baker McKenzie (I joined the firm as a trainee in 2005) felt very different to my interviews with other city law firms. I was able to be myself and have been myself ever since. I have at times felt self-conscious about my accent during meetings (both internal meetings and with clients) but I no longer feel so self-conscious about it. I really appreciate the supportive work environment and culture that we have at BM.
While it has been hard being different at times, I now see it as an advantage. I thrive on meeting and working with people from different backgrounds and like to think that I can connect with people from many different social backgrounds and from around the world. I think this is reflected in my unusual group of friends and contacts which includes postmen, builders, senior diplomats and even royalty. I feel incredibly lucky to have such amazingly supportive parents, as well as some life changing teachers, close friends and family. There is such value in the initiatives that are organised by our Baker Opportunity group. I didn’t know any city lawyers before joining Baker McKenzie and hadn’t set foot in a city law firm (just local firms) prior to my interviews and would have really benefitted from some of the events and initiatives that Baker Opportunity organises. It can make a real difference so I’d encourage everyone to support the events when they can.
I feel that my background has given me courage to do things differently especially at work. I am a senior associate in the Corporate group and since 2015, I have focused on building and managing our dedicated Global Corporate Maintenance Team in Belfast. I work part-time and often work remotely. One of the highlights of my year this year was working with the Tower Hamlets Education Business Partnership and volunteering at Bow School (where one of my brothers attended). My brother left school at 16 but worked his way up a bank and now manages a successful team working in acquisition finance. He wasn’t afraid to do things differently either. My youngest brother went to university too and is an accountant. I spent the day at Bow School with the students practising interviews. It was great to be back in Bow working with children from backgrounds like mine.
Laura Fisher, Of Cousel, Corporate Reorganisations at Baker McKenzie.