Meet Bernadette Chelvanayagam

Bernadette is a Paralegal in Enable Law’s clinical negligence team (Enable Law is part of the Foot Anstey Group). Having always wanted to pursue a career in law she studied her GDL as a mature student after her children started college. Bernadette tells us about her career change and what the International Women's Day theme 'choose to challenge' means to her.

Tell us about your legal career journey

I previously worked in community development and training for many years and was fortunate to work flexibly as a single parent of two. When my youngest started college, I decided to pursue a career change, as I have always wanted to work in law.

I approached partners at two law firms for advice and guidance on pursuing a career in law as a mature student. I was offered work experience at one firm and paid administrative work at the other. Having been advised by one of the partners to study my Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), I attended University of Exeter whilst working two jobs, and upon passing the GDL, I successfully applied for a paralegal role within the Clinical Negligence team in Exeter where I am proud to be working today.

What drives you in your role?

I am motivated by the compassionate, tireless efforts of my team who always work hard to get the best for their clients who have approached us at their time of need. I am motivated by being able to indirectly support individuals who have suffered significant harm as children – it consistently reinforces my optimism about the human spirit. I work alongside very dedicated fee earners in this area, and I am continually learning.

What does Choose to Challenge mean to you?

We do not live in an equal society, but a constantly evolving one. I think that any opportunity to contribute to society and develop myself is an ongoing conscious decision. It would have been easy to become discouraged due to the personal and societal barriers I have encountered as a female, parent and first generation immigrant. I have been fortunate to have individuals who have believed in me and have encouraged me along the way.

Choose to challenge means continually raising my own awareness. It also means maintaining confidence to have high expectations and respect for women and girls, as well as myself. In hindsight, I note that I have made the most progress in life when I have been living outside my comfort zone. This is how I want to continue to live. In my view, a key element of choosing to challenge is to validate other women and girls’ achievements, regardless of their scale. Every female has her own stories and many of them, unfortunately, never get told. Choose to Challenge is an opportunity to contradict systematic invisibility of the contributions all women and girls make.

Do you have a female role model?

There are many female role models who inspire me, one of them is Wangari Maathai. She was a grassroots Kenyan environmental activist, who developed the Green Belt Movement that focuses on planting trees to replenish the environment. Her efforts were recognised when she became the first African woman to be awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 2004.

What do you value at the firm?

I value the support and flexibility the firm has given me through two turbulent years in my personal life. I appreciate the investment in time and resources that the firm have made by training mental health first aiders and continuing to raise awareness in this area. I will shortly embark on training as a mental health first aider and am really looking forward to contributing in this role.