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Leadership Insights: Game Changers - Legal Dynamics Shaping the World of Sports

In our series of articles, we discuss topical issues facing the legal industry all through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion (D, E & I)



In the realm of sports, where fervent competition thrives and emotions run high, the complexities of law often intersect with the adrenaline-fueled world of sports.


In this article, we explore the journey of Tahina Akhter, the talented barrister who recently helped to safeguard the future of Scunthorpe United FC.


Upon engaging in conversation with Tahina, I was struck with the palpable passion in which she recounted her journey into her outstanding career and the challenges she faced along the way.


Tahina’s journey into law




Tahina comes from an immigrant Bangladeshi family where English was almost her second language at home. With no family members having pursued a career in the legal field, Tahina had to seek the correct support and guidance on her own - a scenario that is not uncommon.


According to Legal Evolution, individuals whose parents hold a professional degree are three and a half times more likely to earn a professional degree themselves. They report that minority students are also more likely to be first-generation graduates compared to their majority counterparts.


The weight of evidence indicates that, compared to their peers, first-generation students tend to be at a distinct disadvantage with respect to basic knowledge about postsecondary education (such as costs and application process), level of family income and support, educational degree expectations and academic preparation.


When I asked about her personal experience on the matter, Tahina shared, “When I expressed my desire to go to university, some of the local community were very vocal in expressing views that girls from my background had no place in university, let alone gaining a career. They believed that education for girls was only useful in so far as it enabled you to secure a better husband.”


Research by Taylor & Francis Online found this to be a common story, particularly amongst those from a Pakistani or Bangladeshi background. Factors such as parental expectations, cultural values, admission bias and low attainment levels for entrance exams are interfering with a fair right to education for individuals in ethnic minority groups.


Luckily, Tahina was fortunate enough that her parents believed in education and expected more for her. However, there were restrictions to the career path she could choose. She had the choice to either pick medicine or law, so she chose law. She also always liked a challenge: “I had heard how few people made it to practising at the Bar, and this appealed to the stubborn side of me”


These limitations to choosing your own career path are also a theme often seen in ethnic minority individuals. As reported by HuffPost, Les Ebdon from the Office for Fair Access believes family pressure within ethnic minority households is a common underlying reason for a lack of minority representation, with many students predominantly applying for competitive courses such as medicine or law. This often results in unsuccessful applications, drop-outs and mental health struggles.


Building a career


Despite these hurdles, Tahina stayed determined. “I was fortunate to select Law as a degree at one of the top redbrick universities for Law. This positioned me well for the BVC afterwards. I spent a lot of time researching chambers and was successful in the pupillage application, resulting in me moving to Exeter. After working with several Chambers and Law firms, I took the brave and bold decision to leave chambers and set up my own Law firm via an ABS where I work fully remotely.”


Impressively, Tahina now owns her own law firm, where she leads the team at Wildcat Law. She is also dual practice qualified in Family Finance and Chancery (Traditional and Commercial).


Even with Tahina’s impressive catalogue of experience, she radiates humbleness and is easy to speak to. She is recognised worldwide for her ability to ‘make the complex seem simple’ for her clients, showcasing the kind and determined character she is: a person who goes above and beyond to ensure her clients face ease in their experiences.


Mixing law and sport


Tahina has undoubtedly worked hard for her legal career. But alongside Law, Tahina has other interests. “Since I was little, I always had a great passion for sports. I would participate in hockey and netball, and now enjoy cricket”


With this mixed interest in law and sport, Tahina decided to put them both to good use. In 2023, Tahina saw an advert that a football club in her hometown, Scunthorpe United was looking for a new board director. 


“I felt like this was the right career move, and I had the right skill set for the job. At this time, the ownership of Scunthorpe had changed due to legal disputes. The previous owner, Peter Swann had sold the club's ground to his own company, resulting in action being raised that the club was trespassing on the land with the subsequent owner in a legal dispute.


In September 2023, a new owner came along. With the club running more like a consortium, I made it my mission to help save the club. I felt as if the club was a part of the town’s culture and heritage, so I could not let them down.


I only had 7 weeks to complete the purchase, dealing with eviction threats and having to transact in a covert manner. NDAs were used due to what was perceived to be Mr Swann and his company Coolsilk’s reluctance to transact due to previous dealings with the council, which was assisting in funding the purchase.


However, this just pushed me to work harder. I worked constantly to push the sale through, setting up a Community Interest Company to help finance the move, where they purchased Glanford Park for £3 million. Soon enough, the club finally owned the stadium, through a community vehicle, and the council owned the grounds around it. The grounds were asset-locked, so in the future, no one person can be in full control over its future and security.


If this had not worked, the club did not have any other financially viable option available, so we would have gone bust.”


This glimpse offers just a fraction of the remarkable dedication Tahina has poured into rescuing her hometown club within a very tight timeframe. Furthermore, she stands as an inspiring figure for women and ethnic minorities navigating and advancing within the legal realm. Her journey also serves as a beacon of motivation for those pursuing diverse passions, urging them to persist despite the obstacles. Tahina's story reminds and encourages others to break barriers, take risks and fight for their ambitions.


Rounding off our conversation, I asked Tahina a few questions concerning her journey.


Do you feel as if being a lawyer helped you with completing this goal?

“I feel as if my role of a lawyer gave me the needed credibility to get parties to engage with me and take it seriously.


I used negotiation and soft skills to deal with the parties involved. This was important due to the strained relationships that existed.


I also used my commercial and legal expertise to help the club and not let emotions take over, rather than approaching it as a diehard fan.”


What has your diversity experience been like during your time in the club?

“I feel as if the fans have been, on the whole, very receptive of me being a board member. They look at my skills and what I have brought to the club rather than my Asian background.


Although, on some occasions at the beginning, I experienced some disparaging and unkind comments, particularly on social media, which questioned whether I was just a “token appointment”.


I really just focussed on the work I had to do for the club to secure the ground and work to improve myself. I never see myself as ‘unique’ in the role.


However, I still feel as if people do have expectations of people of colour and expect them to ‘be better and not just good enough’ to fit in and make it in the first place.”


What is some advice you would give to people who are facing these barriers?

“Look for networking opportunities as they hold such value.


Have expectations set out for you but still be prepared to be bold to take a different path”


What are the plans for the club looking forward? 

“The board has diverse perspectives on things like budgets because of the varying backgrounds, and then we take a majority view.


We rely on fans and local investors, as the club does not have a huge investor with money to burn.


We also plan to continue living within our means and try not to buy our way up, keeping honesty with fans about the approach. We focus on public relationships and are accountable to the fans as we see the club as theirs.


In terms of new regulations for investment, we have a lack of ROI, so there are tough business decisions.


We are looking for gate receipts and new funding opportunities.


The main plan is to move forward and not focus on the previous issues of the club with previous owners.”





Tahina Akther is a dual-capacity lawyer, private client specialist and a Bar Council Social Mobility Advocate 2021/22. She is also the founder and director of Wildcat Law and director of a community interest company, as well as board director at Scunthorpe United FC and a trustee of One Community Charity.


If you or your firm are keen to partner with us to help break barriers for women in the legal sector and beyond, then please consider becoming a member of our Look Up and Beyond project.

 

 

 

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