In honour of International Women’s Day, we spoke with ULaw alumna Yasmin Sheikh about her inspiring life and career. Yasmin explains what it has been like pursuing a legal career while having a disability, offering her words of wisdom on adapting during challenging times.
Where and how did you start your career?
I completed my training contract at Brachers Solicitors in Maidstone in 2003. I then joined Medway County Council acting for local authorities in child care proceedings. Following this, I joined Thompsons Solicitors in London and practiced in Personal Injury Law acting for claimants. In 2005, I switched to acting for Defendants and starting working at Barlow Lyde & Gilbert (now Clyde & Co).
What were your initial thoughts when you became aware of your spinal cord injury?
My initial thoughts were: how could this happen to me? I had spinal stroke out of the blue at the age of 29. When I learned that I had to use a wheelchair, I couldn’t really process it. I was the first disabled person I had met. I had a very bleak view of what life would be like based on prejudices I had about disabled people. I had lots of questions about whether I would work again, travel, marry, have children and generally enjoy life again.
How did you begin to start adapting and healing mentally from this experience?
I still have challenges to this day as each new stage of my life throws up more challenges as a disabled person. I am now a mother and my disability means that there are certain things I can’t do with my 19 month-old son. I surround myself with other disabled people and parents who have gone through the same challenges and it’s a safe space to share my thoughts or worries. My family are also a great support.
I also have concentrated on what I am good at and enjoy doing which gives me a sense of purpose. I joined a professional speakers academy and also have a legal podcast with Thomson Reuters which gives me enormous pleasure as I get to speak to high profile guests who are either lawyers or are connected to a legal case.
What lessons have you learned from the challenges you have faced and overcome?
Too many. People really do judge a book by its cover. It’s fascinating how my very visible disability causes discomfort, awkwardness or strange reactions from people. People are generally well-intentioned but they are very much unaware of how to talk to disabled people.
I have also learnt that I am more resilient than I realised. I have learnt that disability does not mean inability. I have done some crazy things since my injury which I don’t think I would have done had I not had this experience – stand-up comedy, scuba diving, sky diving, given a TEDx talk and given many talks to organisations, including a room with more than 1,000 people.
I realised that my view of the world pre-injury was very limited. I had massive gaps in my knowledge and awareness about other people’s experiences and struggles. I now know that my perspective is equally valid and important and so are other people’s even if they don’t have the loudest voices or hold the power.
What projects are you currently pursuing?
I am the founder of Diverse Matters which is a training consultancy specialising in disability inclusion in the workplace. I am a speaker, coach and trainer. I am also Vice-Chair of Lawyers with Disabilities Division of the Law Society. I am also mum to Bobby.
What are some of your future ambitions?
I am so busy balancing work and being a mum. My main priority is to have a happy and healthy appreciation of family and work.
In your opinion, what are the most important strategies for overcoming challenges in life?
Connect with others who are also experiencing your challenges in life to learn from them, and also laugh - humour can be very cathartic to get you through the tough times. Have small goals to feel a sense of achievement to keep you going.
To hear more from Yasmin, sign up for our upcoming virtual event, ‘An Evening with Yasmin Sheikh’ on 3rd March at 6pm. If you're a ULaw alumnus, you can book your place by emailing [email protected]