Legal careers: 'I was told uni wasn't for people like us!'

Kacey Harrison, 36, is half-English and half-Jamaican and works at the law firm Olswang
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The Independent Online

I left school at 16 - as I was expected to by my family - to work in the restaurant that my mother ran in Windsor and which her mother ran before her. After a few years, though, I decided I wanted to go to university: although my family thought this a bit of a joke as university was not, I was told, for people like us!

In 1992, I enrolled at East Berkshire College. From my first class of law I was hooked and soon decided I would become a solicitor. I chose law for two reasons. Firstly, it would allow me to spend most of my day doing what I enjoy most: reading. Secondly, becoming a lawyer was such a huge challenge, bearing in mind I was a waitress and had never even worked in an office before.

The extended study period was daunting at first, but I decided that seven years in the grand scheme of things was not that long. Also, I believe that we should be bold enough to shape our lives and not just be carried along from one circumstance to another.

When choosing a university I decided that I wanted to go to one with a high black population, London Guildhall University, as it would give me an opportunity to mix with black people, something I had not been able to do growing up. I got a 2.1, and decided to study for an LLM (Master of Laws) at King's College, London, to gain as much work experience as I possibly could.

University widened my horizons. I developed public speaking skills, learnt how to analyse information and gained more confidence than I ever would have dreamed possible.

During university I worked as a paralegal (also known as a legal assistant) with Yvonne Brown & Co, and after my Masters I spent 12 months at Allen & Overy as a paralegal. The experience I gained helped in securing my training contract with Shearman & Sterling.

I was with Shearman & Sterling for six years, working as part of the banking team. I worked long hours on multi-million pound acquisitions. In 2004, I left to join Olswang, where I work as part of the banking and insolvency team. I still do a lot of acquisition finance work, but I am also involved in property finance. I spend a lot of my time reading, but I also spend a great deal of time discussing issues with colleagues, advising clients and managing people.

I intend staying at Olswang as it is a firm that recognises talent comes in different forms. I have access to good quality work and training and the people I work with are intelligent, dedicated and interesting.