How my time at Leeds Law School helped shape my career
Donya Taher graduated with a law degree in 2016 and has worked in national firms and within a women’s rights organisation to tackle gender equality through advocacy and legislative change.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you've been doing since you graduated
I am the eldest of six children and the first in my family to go to university. Besides the complete lack of understanding about what a university was, there were many barriers and obstacles for me to overcome. Leeds Law School gave me opportunities that my family network could not have provided. University has really helped to level the playing field and provide a better life than if I had not studied for a degree.
Since graduating in 2016, I've used the skills I developed at university to manage my own business (as a personal trainer) alongside employment in the legal field where I have worked with fantastic lawyers.
I currently work at a Women’s Rights Organisation based in London supporting victims of honour-based abuse, forced marriage and female genital mutilation. I am involved in lobbying for changes to law and policy to safeguard women and young girls, for example, the “Safeguard Futures: End child marriage campaign”, to raise the age of marriage to 18, which the Government has recently committed to in writing.
I also founded a social enterprise to raise awareness and promote mental health services for women that identify as BAME and tackle the racial disparities in mental health.
What have been the highlights and challenges of your career so far?
The highlight has been when I attended European Developments days in 2018 that took place in Brussels. I am particularly proud as I was given the opportunity to discuss gender equality and women empowerment with Her Majesty Mathilde, Queen of the Belgians and Her Majesty Queen Letizia of Spain.
I am also really proud to have launched and managed my social enterprise during the Covid-19 pandemic whilst working full-time.
How has your experience studying at Leeds Beckett University influenced you and your career?
Emigrating to the UK was scary and lonely at first. However, my first day at Leeds Beckett changed everything. It was a surreal feeling walking into the building, and my first impression was, “Wow, this will be my second home for the next three years!” The staff were friendly, and it immediately felt like home. English is my third language, and I never felt left out because of that. The lecturers were extremely helpful, supporting me in navigating the education system and enhancing my language skills. Leeds Beckett is a fantastic place as it brings many different cultures together. I never felt like a foreigner.
Law can sometimes be seen as a bit of a dry subject, but I did not have that experience because every lecturer brought the law to life. Many come from a practising background, which is invaluable. The lecturers connect personally to each student and take our progress very seriously. This helped me shape my career aspirations. I learned that many other careers could enrich my life and bring me joy. I graduated approximately five years ago. I can still reach out to my lecturers and seek advice and guidance.
What advice would you give someone thinking about studying this course?
My advice would be to keep an open mind, work hard, work smart and be organised. It can be intense, but the workload becomes easier if you are well organised and focus on working efficiently. It would help if you build a strong foundation because the competition is fierce. Ensure that you embrace all the opportunities that present themselves – attend careers fairs, workshops and career sessions etc. This will enable you to make friends and establish contacts, as well as solidify your networking skills. These will come in handy once you start applying for training contracts or pupillages later. Leeds Beckett University offers a wide range of activities for their students, be proactive and participate in as much as you can. This will broaden your CV and enhance crucial skills that every law firm will be looking out for.
My critical advice would be do not be afraid to put yourself out there. Law is about embracing talent. Be authentic, be yourself.
What's next for you?
I am really keen to explore a PhD in Law focusing on Sharia law as it is something I am truly passionate about. However, for now, I would like to focus on working and expanding my social enterprise to support more women.