23rd Oct 2020

Finding inspiration for a career in family law

By Vanessa Sampaio

Finding inspiration for a career in family law


In this blog, first featured on Resolution’s website to mark Black History Month, Vanessa Asante reflects on the importance of positive black models to address diversity in family law.

Although an obvious choice, one of my early sources of inspiration was the First Lady, Michelle Obama. Her story was so relatable: She had very ordinary beginnings, but was raised in a city where social deprivation amongst black people was rife. She navigated the educational system to graduate from Princeton and Harvard, continuing on to secure a position at pre-eminent corporate law firm Sidley Austin.

Michelle recounts that she was one of only five African American lawyers out of a firm of 400 lawyers. Michelle describes an all too familiar feeling of ‘imposter syndrome’ at various stages of her career. However she demonstrates that that can be overcome and with determination, the glass ceiling can be broken. What is more, Michelle through her quiet confidence stood ready to challenge the cultural norms within the firm. She too sought to introduce change for black students and peers coming up behind her so that they did not feel that the door of opportunity was firmly closed to them.

The power of mentoring

Michelle Obama recognized that often young, black students need allies to help support them to get to where they want to be. For me personally, mentoring and diversity programmes were key to the progression of my career in law. They built confidence within me and taught me about the intricacies and nuances in respect of how to conduct myself in this field. They provided me with knowledge and access to people whom I would not have otherwise had the benefit of meeting, some who have set me on the path that I am on today.

Through one such diversity programme, after graduating I had the opportunity to undertake a work shadowing placement with Dame Linda Dobbs, who in 2004 became the UK’s first High Court Judge from an ethnic minority background. The discrimination faced by Dame Linda Dobbs at times during her own career was overt, including from both clients and colleagues. It takes tremendous strength of character to continue on in the face of hostility and to attain such an achievement despite those obstacles.  Dame Linda Dobbs’ journey is encouraging as an example of a black woman who has been successful in rising to the top tiers of the judiciary.

Similarly, it was a diversity programme which led me in the direction of my first job within family law. Having previously completed work experience with Goodman Ray, Gwen Williams, now retired, asked that I join her firm. She firmly valued diversity and had personally invested time with me to explain various concepts and details, both practical and legal, to enable me to thrive during my time there.

 Widening access for the future

Those who teach you and coach you, particularly in the early stages no doubt inspire and inform your career, as I have found. Much more work is needed in order that young, black lawyers entering the profession have accessible role models with whom they can identify, particularly at senior levels.

There is a drive across the sector with initiatives like The BLD Foundation’s Legal Launch Pad Scheme, SEO’s Corporate Law programme and Rare Recruitment’s Articles programme. These are models that can and should be adopted further, until we reach a truly equal playing field, where socio economic background and ethnicity have no bearing on any budding lawyer’s prospects.

Vanessa understands the emotional and practical challenges involved when family relationships break down and takes an empathetic and sensitive approach with all her clients.

Vanessa advises on all aspects of private family law including financial and children matters and pre and post nuptial agreements. She provides her clients with pragmatic advice to assist them in achieving the best outcome for her clients and their children.

For more information on how our talented team of leading family and divorce lawyers can help you through your family law matters, visit our website at www.flip.co.uk or contact our team at E: hello@flip.co.uk or T: 020 7420 5000.