Emma Satyamurti has this week been made a partner at the law firm Leigh Day. She tells her story about why she pursued a career in a law and being one of too few disabled role models in the legal sector. She shares her story as part of our 100 days, 100 stories campaign.
I decided to become a lawyer because I wanted to do work that would be interesting and intellectually challenging, but which would contribute, in however small a way, to making the world a better place.
It was a leap of faith, my background had nothing to do with the law. I had studied Classics at university and had never been anywhere near a legal textbook.
I was lucky enough to get a couple of work placements with law firms, and a place at law school where I obtained the qualifications I needed to become a solicitor. But I was still undecided about what kind of law I should go for.
During my training contract, which is the two year period of ‘on the job’ training you have to do before you can qualify as a solicitor, I spent six months in an employment department, I realised then that this was the area of law I wanted to specialise in when I qualified.
I saw at firsthand how important work, and feeling valued at work, is to people’s well-being and self-esteem, and how damaging it can be when things go wrong.
I have been an employment lawyer for over 10 years now, acting almost exclusively for employees.
I have been able to help clients facing a wide range of issues and problems including being sacked unfairly, suffering bullying from line managers, and being treated badly for blowing the whistle.
Over the years, I have seen how one particular form of mistreatment can have an especially devastating impact – discrimination.
There is something about being singled out for negative treatment because of some aspect of who you are, such as your race or your gender, that can cut to the heart of a person’s equilibrium and sense of self.
As a disabled person myself, I understand this from a personal, as well as a professional, point of view.
While I have been lucky enough not to experience discrimination directly, I know what it feels like to be ‘different’ and to worry that I am not seen as ‘normal.’
For example, when I meet a client for the first time, I am acutely aware that they are probably not expecting to be greeted by a four-foot tall solicitor with mobility issues.
I have never encountered any kind of adverse reaction, but I am aware of taking a (metaphorical) deep breath before entering the reception area, and of consciously projecting a confident and relaxed persona to put the client at ease.
I never know what the client is actually making of my appearance and whether there is any need to reassure them or not, but this sense of never quite knowing how one is received by others is perhaps one of the complexities of being ‘different’.
While this can feel uncomfortable, I think it is a strength and means that I can draw on more than legal knowledge in my work with clients.
Being happy at work really matters, and I feel very lucky that my own work enables me to help people get closer to that goal.
I have in the last very few days been made a partner at Leigh Day, and I am looking forward very much to the enhanced scope this will bring to further develop that work.