Fadeia Hossian completely lost her sight partway through her legal training. Here, she tells the story of how she persevered through adversity to gain a training contract at a major law firm.
I came to the UK from Iraq at the age of 21 to obtain treatment for my limited vision – an opportunity I had been awaiting for 15 years. However, the ophthalmologists in the UK told me that my condition was incurable: I was going to lose what sight I had. This happened not long afterwards.
I decided to not let my lack of vision stop me, and to embark on a legal career in the UK. As I had undertaken three years of my law degree in Iraq already, I was able to complete my Arabic law degree at the International College in London.
I discovered, however, that this degree is not recognised by the Law Society – although it does allow me to practice in Iraq.
In 2006, I went on to study for an English law degree at the University of Greenwich. I was the first totally blind student in the law department. Following this, I participated in the Deutsche Bank mentoring scheme, which I found extremely valuable, and then completed the Legal Practice Course at the College of Law.
I then began the toughest stage of my journey – securing a training contract.
I applied for training contracts, paralegal posts and other legal roles, However, it wasn’t easy for me, as a totally blind woman, to overcome potential employers’ misconceptions.
They frequently withdrew offers they had made once they became aware of my disability, but I didn’t give in. I believe nothing is impossible.
I decided that the best use of my time was to contribute to society while I was looking for a training contract.
I founded and chaired two community groups for vision-impaired people: VIP Community Life Project and ActivEyes Redbridge. These groups aim to encourage vision-impaired people to become fully integrated in our society, and to help them to become independent computer users.
I also tried to get as much legal experience as possible. In 2013, I got placements at Clifford Chance, Deutsche Bank, Bond Pearce and Reed Smith. I also started volunteering for the Free Representation Unit as a legal representative, where I represent people at employment tribunals.
However, I then faced another frustrating battle: the rigorous assessment tests that every major law firm now insists on for new candidates. I knew that I could pass these tests if I had the same opportunity to practice them as everybody else, but I struggled to get hold of preparatory materials in a format I could use.
Fortunately Peter Corbett, the chief executive of the Thomas Pocklington Trust (a charity that I volunteer for), kindly offered to convert the practice materials to a format that my screen reader could understand. With his assistance, I was able to pass the tests – nothing was now going to stop me from becoming a fully qualified solicitor – the best that I can be!
With these in hand, I applied to Clifford Chance, whose graduate recruitment team made all of the adjustments I needed during the process.
My perseverance and determination finally paid off on 20 December 2013, when I received a phone call from the firm offering me a training contract.
I now think of 20 December as the most important day of my life – a counterpoint to the day I was told that I would become a totally blind person.
If we have a commitment to hard work and the will and determination to succeed, we can achieve our life goals, regardless of a disability or other hurdles we come across. I hope that you can use my experiences to help overcome your own challenges and achieve your potential too.