Solicitor Amanda Adeola has been recognised as Woman of the Year in awards to celebrate the contribution made by minority ethnic communitiesin the Tees Valley. Sarah French spoke to her.

EVERY day Amanda Adeola sets out to make a positive difference to the lives of the people she represents.

Often they are going through the toughest times of their lives, trying to find a way forward through divorce or making arrangements for the future care of their children.

As a family solicitor at BHP Law, in Darlington, she tries to bring hope to difficult situations where clients are at their most vulnerable.

The mission to make things better was inspired by the years she spent in Nigeria as a child and teenager. She decided she wanted to be a lawyer after becoming aware of corruption in her home country, where her father fought in the Nigerian civil war.

“Nigeria is a fantastic and vibrant country with so much passion and resources. However, I saw so many injustices growing up that I wanted to have a career that would allow me to make a difference,” said Amanda.

Since moving from London, where she studied law, to the North-East just over a decade ago she has worked to inspire the legal profession to open up opportunities for the next generation of lawyers. She has also taken steps to raise the profile of young lawyers and has taken the lead regionally to support and encourage professional working mothers.

Her impact has seen her nominated in the national We Are the City Awards and named in the Northern Power Women Future List. Now she has been recognised as Woman of the Year in the Tees Valley BME Achievement Awards 2019. The awards champion minority ethnic talent from across the Tees Valley for their contribution to the economic, social and cultural development of the North-East.

Amanda said: “Winning this award means so much to me, I have been overwhelmed with the kind messages all over social media, phone calls and emails and I am humbled by it all. Thank you to the BME achievement awards for the honour and to whoever nominated me for the award.

“My parents instilled in me to always be myself and to never change who I am. They also taught me to embrace my culture and background and I am grateful for that lesson.

“In terms of changing the narrative, I have my husband to thank for that. He told me to be the change I want to see and not complain. I ran with that and have not looked back since.”

As regional representative of the North East Women Lawyers and Mothers Network, Amanda, who has two young children, seeks to inspire female lawyers and other senior professionals who are also mums.

Through inspirational events with women who have excelled in their particular field, the network aims to motivate and encourage those who may be grappling with the combined pressures of work and family life to continue striving for career success and recognition.

Meanwhile, Amanda’s #meetayounglawyer platform on LinkedIn showcases young professionals and invites them to share their experience to help others.

“I just want to make sure people aren’t giving up on their dreams by showing them that everybody’s journey is different,” she said.

Last year she developed a project to help kickstart the careers of aspiring professionals through a new network for law students, graduates, trainees and newly qualified solicitors.

She said: “I receive many requests from aspiring lawyers asking for advice and talking about being rejected for work experience and training contracts. It’s so disappointing and disheartening to hear about their struggles and I’ve always tried to respond by saying ‘don’t give up’.

“However, I started to think that while encouraging words are all well and good, I could do something more constructive to help and, at the same time, give something back to our industry. You’ve got to take action if you want things to change.”

Despite her apparent confidence, she does admit that she has to put aside her own fear of failure to press on with the projects she hopes will make a difference.

“I did worry about trying to start the network and it not being successful. But if I fail at trying to do something then at least I’ve tried. I set myself my own goals and targets. I have to be okay with myself and be happy in myself with what I am doing.”

Backed by BHP Law’s culture of supporting young lawyers, it has been a success with 12 people coming to the first meeting, including university law students, graduates following masters programmes and legal practice courses, a school administrator studying law part-time, a paralegal, trainees and a newly qualified solicitor.

They were asked to share their experiences of trying to secure work experience and training contracts, which “can be really difficult and very competitive”, said Amanda.

“I started to apply during the second year of my degree and sent over 100 applications, so I know what it’s like. At BHP Law, we take students at paralegal level which gives a really good foundation before training. They need our support and I do think there is more that the industry can do.”

She has also thrown herself open to any aspiring lawyer who is at the point of giving up to call or email her. “I need them to feel that they’re not alone,” she said.

Her advice to those starting out includes being bold, staying focused and being persistent, leaving a footprint in every role you have, building connections and finding mentors.

When it comes to the additional battles experienced by minority ethnic communities she is uncompromising. “I always speak my truth. If you can’t accept me for who I am then sadly I’m not going to stay. My background, my history, my culture is what makes me me. There is no compromise.

“There are glass ceilings and prejudices. It may not be obvious but it’s there and it’s about finding the right place where the colour of your skin or your gender doesn’t matter. It should only be about what you can bring to the table.”

It’s a message she tries to instil in young people when she gives talks in schools and universities.

“We have got to change the narrative starting from there. If students here are saying ‘I don’t see anybody who looks like me professionally so I will have to move to the south’ then that’s a problem.

“I try to inspire and encourage those coming behind me and show that the only limitations are in your head.”

She adds: “When people say I’ve inspired them it’s quite emotional for me. I set out only to be myself and if doing that makes people think ‘well, she’s done alright, maybe I can too’ that’s very humbling.”