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Storytelling away the stereotypes

Written by Nadia Cook aka "The Scottish Lawyer"


What’s your story? I know that for many of you reading this you may be thinking: “I do not have a compelling story to share; no one would be interested in my story; do I even have a ‘story’ to tell?” But I will tell you already if you are in doubt that yes, you do have one, all of our stories make up one very important story of everyday life. The more stories we tell, the more transparent, diverse and open our society will become. From my own viewpoint, I believe that as legal professionals, the more we share about our journey, our successes and failures, and the pathway of where we began to where we are now, the more socially mobile the legal profession will become. It is vital for future generations to hear our stories, to encourage them to pave their own path, to ‘break the mould’ and to keep going even if they are faced with adversity or barriers along the way.


Stereotypes


What is the stereotype of a lawyer? We have the ability to change that narrative together through storytelling. Though let’s think for a minute of a potential ‘non-lawyer’s’ stereotypical view of what all solicitors are like: male, middle class, white, privately educated, degree from a Russell group university, lived-off inheritance, grew up with parents who worked in ‘professional’ jobs, wears a black gown and wig every day, head in a dusty old book, goes to networking events and drinks alcohol regularly, earns lots of money, loves to argue, wears suits every day, shouts objection at every opportunity, always in court.


Some of the above mentioned may indeed be true for some legal professionals, and it is in no-way intended to say that those who fit the above-mentioned descriptions don’t have their own story to tell. However, there are many solicitors and other legal professionals that share very little of the aforementioned attributes and experiences, or none at all. For instance, they do not attend court at all or very rarely, and they have never worn a wig or gown etc. There are many solicitors in our legal profession who have come from very diverse backgrounds and taken alternative routes into the profession. It is important to celebrate these differences, and remember that we as legal professionals all have so many other roles both within and out with the workplace such as care-givers, parents, teachers, volunteers, bakers, creators, collectors, and sport enthusiasts, the list is endless! This brings us nicely on to my next point for discussion – never assume.


Never Assume


In the spirit of Christmas approaching soon, let’s take it as a prime example of one of the most assumed ‘default’ religious celebrations in the UK. In many workplaces and amongst professionals in the UK it is not discussed enough, or at all, to consider that not everyone will be celebrating Christmas. In the same vein, however, there are those who enjoy taking part in some festivities but may not participate in all events/traditions nor celebrate Christmas itself.


It is also equally important to remember that Christmas is not always ‘magical’ for everyone. There are people who will be experiencing feelings of loss and sadness at this time of year. For example, those who may have lost loved ones, relatives, friends etc. or be a long way from home or some other reason. It can be a difficult time of year for people financially or emotionally – or both. Therefore, the stereotypical viewpoint of everyone feeling ‘merry and jolly’ at Christmas and feeling festive should never be assumed. It is a very important time to check up on the welfare both physically and mentally of your colleagues and friends. Be kind and considerate of others and you cannot go wrong!


How can I tell my story as a solicitor?


As a legal professional, you may feel that you have taken a very ‘traditional’ path into working in the law and have nothing to offer others, but when you start to write it out or speak about your journey to one of your connections (i.e. storytelling), you will likely discover that there are things you have done so far in your study or career journey that are different to ‘the norm’ or how others would go about it. Still feeling unsure? I have noted some ways below of how you can become a ‘storyteller’ as a legal professional. These are just a few suggestions, really the world is your oyster and there is no ‘correct’ way of sharing your story with others. It’s personal to you, therefore, if you do decide to share more about you and your background, write how you feel comfortable and enjoy the process!



Examples of types of ‘storytelling’:


Share your ‘day in the life’: breakdown what a rough day looks like for you in your practice area/your area of work, this is one of the main things law students find very hard to envision (especially if they have never been able to gain experience in a legal environment). What does a solicitor do day-to-day? You could do this in the format of a 9-5 day explaining roughly per hour how you plan out your day and what you deal with. Do you attend training/CPD, do you speak to clients, do you conduct interviews, do you attend court, do you speak to other legal professionals, do you supervise, do you do pro-bono work, do you complete transactions, do you review documents or contracts, do you attend conferences and networking events, do you draft court papers, are you involved in alternative dispute resolution such as mediations? The list is endless.

Reflect on your journey so far: this could involve a timeline from school age to qualifying as a solicitor or any other significant periods in your life. I often find that it is good to include things that you may think at the outset are ‘insignificant’ because in actual fact they could hold significance to the person reading your story and allow them to feel that they share something in common with your route into the law.

Give an overview of the ‘highs and lows’: reflect on a certain period of time/point in your career or personal journey which was a significant turning point or when you made a decision for the better/worse or took a step in a new direction. Something memorable to you and that may benefit others. By sharing highs and lows of your journey, this may allow others to feel better about their own bumps along the road, by feeling that they are not alone and that no journey into the law is linear.


In the spirit of sharing and storytelling, if you are interested, you can find out more about me and my story on my webpage and Instagram.


Some final thoughts - storytelling with your colleagues and connections


One of the best ways to share your story, which I love to encourage others to do is to have a meaningful chat with a work colleague or connection that you speak to often and that you may think you know quite well (but maybe after some questions realise you do not know them as well as you hoped or should). I challenge you to change the narrative of conversation starters such as: How was your weekend? Or did you watch XX? Instead ask wider questions such as: What is your story? Tell me more about your background and what led you to where you are now? What are your passions in life? What motivates you day-to-day? You may just be surprised by the answer, and in my view it’s a fantastic way to break down those although often unintentional ‘stereotypical’ barriers.


I find that especially in a work setting we often have conversations about things we deem as ‘safe topics’, but this usually does not allow us to find out more about a person, their beliefs, their background, and their viewpoints, all of which is vital if we hope to de-rid stereotypes and create a more diverse legal profession and society overall.


I hope you found my insights above useful, please do feel free to reach out and connect with me on LinkedIn and/or Instagram.


Nadia is a Business Development Solicitor at Harper Macleod LLP, a law firm in Scotland.* She is a social mobility advocate, and uses her platform www.thescottishlawyer,info to encourage openness and transparency in the profession. She aims to create a more diverse and inclusive culture in the legal sector for students, and the future generations of aspiring legal professionals.


You can connect with her via LinkedIn