LAWYER Kashmir Uppal is testament that whatever your background, you can beat the odds and make it to the top of your profession.
From a working class family in the Normanton district of Derby, Uppal has worked her way to being a partner in one of the UK’s leading law firms.
She grew up as one of seven children of Punjabi parents who came to the UK from India in the early 1960s. It was a very different time.
“Back in those days, it was very rare for an Asian girl to go to university,” said Uppal. She added this meant she was treated a little curiously as a result.
Uppal would go to Leicester Polytechnic (now De Montfort University), graduating in 1989, but was sent down the path of studying law more by chance circumstances.
She had originally applied for a programme with a bank which did not materialise, before a good friend of the family persuaded her to think about another career path. She took the advice, choose law and never looked back.
Forty-eight-year-old Uppal, like other highachieving Asians such as Sadiq Khan, are very proud of being able to be successful from humble beginnings. While recent evidence points to a decline in social mobility in the UK, Uppal and Khan are proof that you can break into spaces typically occupied by people who went to a top university and come from an affluent background.
But does Uppal think it is easier today than in the past for Asians to succeed in their chosen professions? “The barriers have come down; the glass ceiling is no longer applicable. In the 70s and 80s, having an Asian woman as a partner in a national law firm, you would just not hear of it,” she said.
The firm she is a partner at, Shoosmiths, was named “UK law firm of the year” in 2015 (Legal Week British Legal Awards) and is in the top five for female partners in the diversity league tables.
Their ambition is to have a workforce that reflects the local communities, “so this is not white, male, middle-class partnership; it is very much diverse in race and religion also,” added Uppal.
Prior to Uppal joining Shoosmiths, she was a partner at another leading law firm, where she jointly headed up the national clinical negligence team and ran the local Birmingham-based team.
It was here that Uppal was involved in the highprofile cases of malpractice and negligence against breast surgeon Ian Paterson, for which she was the lead solicitor. She was also responsible for bringing multi-million claims to court for children who have suffered catastrophic brain injury at birth.
Her recent case settlements included a fatal case which settled in excess of £1 million, and an amputation case where she secured compensation in excess of £1.3m.
She is married to Paul Uppal, who was the conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West until he lost his seat at the last election.
Uppal hopes her success can be an inspiration for young girls from less well-off backgrounds, to recognise that hard work and dedication can pay off, and the important thing is opportunity.
“You have to work damn hard to grab them, but you can grab them. We are now more part of a more cosmopolitan society.
“The demographic has changed. There are areas in the country where there are larger number of ethnic minorities; Birmingham, Leicester.
“In these areas I think there should be recognition
of ethnic minorities and women that are in successful positions, because that is the community we are serving,” said Uppal.