Zainab Zaeem-Sattar didn’t have an easy journey into higher education.
At 40, a mother-of-four, and in the middle of ending an abusive marriage, the odds against her realising her dream of a legal career seemed slim.
But her career so far had shown her she had a talent for helping people and she wanted to make it her living.
After taking ownership of the textiles factory she worked for, and turning it around from a loss into huge profit, she qualified as an immigration advisor, helping her employees with their immigration paperwork.
With this experience, her application to De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) was accepted based on her experience and she began studying the Graduate Diploma in Law in 2010.
“I don't have an undergraduate degree, so DMU was my first taste of university,” she said. “I found it difficult at first. I was always an average grade student and I found it hard to listen to theory as I’m more of a practical person. But the support from my tutors was amazing and they gave me the tools I needed to ask for guidance and succeed.
“When I did eventually get my law degree and the LPC, I was going through a hostile separation and divorce, and I couldn't find a training contract. So, I gave up thinking that I could become a lawyer anymore.
“It wasn’t until 2015 when I remarried that my husband gave me the push that I could still do this. Every job I’ve had since university has had an element of the law,” said Zainab. She now works as an Associate Solicitor and has was shortlisted for Leicestershire Law Society’s Trainee of the Year 2019.
At a networking event, Zainab was asked if she had a mentor that helped her get where she is now. Realising she didn’t have the support of someone in the profession that she wished she had, Zainab signed up to the DMU mentoring programme.
“My journey is very unconventional, and I first realised I had a story to tell when I was invited by a DMU student to a launch for a legal clinic's newsletter. I gave a talk and afterwards students flocked to me and I remember some telling me they were ready to give up and I made them realised they weren’t alone.
“I became a lawyer to help people, and now I work with more private firms there isn’t a lot of opportunity to help people free of charge. So, I like to give back in any way I can, and my volunteering and mentoring is my way of doing that and helping as many people as possible.”
Zainab’s journey has involved her overcoming many challenges in order to forge her successful career. Escaping an abusive marriage, pursuing higher education as a mature student and a mother, and not giving up on her dreams despite not being able to find a training contract at first, she has lots of experiences and learnings to share.
“I’ve been abused physically and emotionally by many people in my life, and it has made me strong. I can openly talk about it, and it’s given me a lot of resilience. But, there's a lot of people who might not be able to withstand everything that comes their way, so sharing my story is my way of saying: you're not alone. But you need to ask for help because people won’t know you need support until you do.
“I think my story resonates with a lot of people because it’s not the typical journey of finishing university and walking straight into a graduate role. People don’t often talk about their struggles, which can give the illusion that everyone’s lives are perfect. I am who I am because of everything that's happened to me.”
Zainab went on to add: “I am proud of being a DMU alumna and being able to give back. The way I always look at mentoring is that if I can even change or inspire one person's life, my job is done. If you’re an alumni and have a story to tell, tell it even if they think nobody wants to listen to it. I'll listen to it, and I'm sure there's lots of other people who will be wanting to listen. You might change someone’s life.”
Find out more about DMU’s alumni mentoring programme.
Posted on Thursday 27th October 2022