Think beyond private practice, Dobbs advises graduates

Topics: Equality and diversity

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Unless you crave sleepless nights and an excess of adrenaline, think beyond the ‘tall towers and ritzy premises’ of corporate law, a former High Court judge told prospective young lawyers yesterday.

‘Legal practice does not revolve solely around private practice,’ she told them. ‘There are also great careers in local government, commercial in-house, banking, charities and elsewhere.’

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She added: ‘If you can’t get a training contract, consider becoming a paralegal. It’s a foot in the door and an opportunity to be noticed by influential lawyers.’

The Honourable Dame Linda Dobbs DBE (pictured), the UK’s first non-white High Court judge, was addressing the Legal Launch Pad graduation ceremony marking the completion, by some 40 young people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, of a nine-month programme of mentoring, mock interviews and work placements in law firms and chambers.

Dobbs encouraged the young graduates to prepare for the future by not only having a plan, but also having one or two back-up plans. ‘And then SWOT test them,’ she said, explaining that the acronym referred to analysing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of their plans.

‘Know yourself,’ she continued. ‘Learn how others perceive you, even to the extent of asking friends what they don’t like about you. Learn to market yourself. Be seen and heard, rather than seen and not noticed or heard but not listened to. Be remembered, but for the right reasons. And even if you are not working, keep progressing your CV by, for example, taking an unpaid internship.’

Linda Dobbs

She also gave advice on interviews. ‘Be truly honest or it will come back and bite you,’ she said. She instanced candidates who included reading and the theatre among their interests, but when questioned had not read a book or seen a play in ages.

She exhorted the graduates to support future cohorts taking the Legal Launch Pad programme. ‘You have been the lucky recipients of this programme,’ she said. ‘Give something back by becoming mentors or providing work placements when you can.’

The Legal Launch Pad is an initiative of charity the BLD Foundation, founded by non-practising solicitor Debo Nwauzu in 2006. Its website has information about the Legal Launch Pad programme and providing mentoring or work placements.

Readers' comments (3)

  • No disrespect to Dame Dobbs' credentials or ability, but she sounds like a robot. This advice is spewed out by the law schools who are still fooling graduates that they have any utility in this post-2008 world. Fair enough that those who would like a career in law should be considering paralegal roles. But let's be clear: it's not a graduate job. It shouldn't be a graduate aim. And it undermines the blatant point here: the legal job market has failed graduates. While the sector can't fully be blamed, law schools can be blamed for not shying graduates away. They owe it to graduates to tell them that their chances are extraordinarily low, and that they can find success elsewhere. Not peddling the myth of the paralegal as a fulfilling, rewarding career for them.

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  • That last comment was perhaps a little harsh. I agree that the law schools should be a bit more open and honest about the statistical likelihood of applicants obtaining a training contract, but I think Damm Dobbs was referring to graduates who had already passed through the system and were unable to obtain a training contract - I agree that being a paralegal is not a fulfilling, rewarding career for every person who has worked and paid for the LPC, but it can give useful experience and on admittedly rare occasions be a foot in the door to a training contract. It is, at least, related to legal practice, which is what law firms look for in applicants' prior experience. And I thought that the rest of Dame Dobbs' advice was pretty sound too.

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  • For those who have passed through the system - like me - I'd hope they're looking for another industry - as I am.

    The experience is useful, yes, but graduates should bite the bullet and go into a different profession.

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