We caught up with Sofiya to talk about experience working at CMS. Sofiya discusses the impact of social mobility, her experience working virtually and the importance of never giving up when pursuing your goals.
Tell us a bit about yourself
My mum and I immigrated from Ukraine when I was 12. I didn’t speak the language and my school didn’t know what to do with me. I started school having lessons with children with learning difficulties and spent a lot of time doing colouring-in. I had to learn English on my own at home after school. Within 4 years I had to sit my first set of GCSE exams.
Why did you go into law?
My mum worked in factories for minimum wage. I was on Free Schools Meals. We became homeless during my GCSE exam revision time. However, I worked very hard at school and to everyone’s surprise I got 9A*and 1A for my GCSEs– the second highest result at my school. This was a turning point in my life. I knew that with these grades I could achieve something in life. I considered becoming a doctor or a lawyer. I was afraid of blood so I decided to see what being a lawyer was all about. My school offered me no career support. I used Google to find programmes that offer help to disadvantaged young people like me. I applied to Sutton Trust’s Pathways to Law and Social Mobility Foundation. I really enjoyed participating in these programmes and decided that I wanted to study law at university.
Tell us a bit about your experience at CMS/working in law?
I first heard about CMS when I applied for the CMS Scholarship. I was only 17. I was very grateful when I received the scholarship. I also received amazing support from my CMS mentor who helped me with my university application and career advice. He believed that I had what it takes to become a lawyer.
Whilst studying at Durham, I applied to the CMS First Steps and the CMS Academy. I met people at CMS who took genuine interest in me and were rooting for me to do well. I felt that I was a part of the team. For example, Partners would get me involved with the work they were doing and make time afterwards to have a coffee and a chat.
I started my first seat in August this year. I like doing challenging work and getting a lot of responsibility. I also get a lot of support. I know that I can call anyone in my team (including Partners) if I am struggling with something.
What is the culture like at the firm?
Initially, I was worried about starting my TC virtually. Remote working presents unique challenges for trainees, for example, when it comes to building relationships and friendships. However, my team has been very supportive. I get regular calls from the Associates and the Partners in my team to see how I am doing and if I am coping well with the work. This is the culture at CMS. People genuinely care about your development and well-being.
What essential piece of advice have you learnt whilst working at CMS?
You don’t need to change to fit in. You can be yourself. You don’t need to change your accent (I used to hate my foreign accent) or invent hobbies like skiing in Switzerland just to keep up with the small talk. For a long time, I thought that I had to conform to a ‘traditional’ type of a lawyer and hide the fact that my mum was working in factories and I was on Free School Meals. I felt ashamed of my background. You may think your personal circumstances and your background is a disadvantage but it is not. Your background is an asset. It shows your resilience and determination. I also realised that there are people like me at CMS who have walked the same path. I am meeting more people like me at CMS every day and they make me feel like I belong at the firm.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Don’t limit yourself. I suffered with stammer for years. Few years ago, I couldn’t ask a bus driver for a bus ticket to get to school without stammering. If I couldn’t say a simple thing like that, then I didn’t think that I could become a lawyer because communication is so important in this profession. I did speech exercises with my mum and signed up to Model UN in order to get more opportunities to speak. I was petrified and spoke very badly at first but, after some time, I noticed a change. I love speaking now and public speaking is one of my favourite things to do.