Dame Linda Dobbs DBE has been made an Honorary Fellow of LSBU's School of Law and Social Science. After a successful career at the Bar, Dame Linda became the first non-white High Court judge in the UK in 2004, a position she held until 2013. LSBU honours her for her exemplary career and for her ongoing commitment to training and mentoring young people seeking legal careers in the UK and in Africa and the Caribbean.
"Law was not my first choice for a career; in fact I resisted it for years. My family had always tried to direct me towards law, partly because of my father, who had gone out to Sierra Leone in colonial times and been invited to stay on after independence as a high court judge. But I think they also saw something in me that was suited to the law. My aunt in particular couldn’t bear to see me drifting about with no real direction in life and she was quite forceful in suggesting I go to Bar school. On reflection, I think she saw me more clearly than I could see myself at the time.
"I put a great deal of my success down to luck, but perhaps there’s something more to it. There always seemed to be someone in the background helping me or urging me on. I wasn’t particularly driven or confident in those early years, and I certainly had no talent for promoting myself. I knew I was bright, I worked hard and I always made friends. Possibly it was a kind of openness rather than confidence that got me to the Bar and kept my early career on track. I’d advise anyone starting out to listen to the people around you, build a supportive network and not be afraid to try things, even if they feel daunting. I always did some pro bono work and as the years went on I became increasingly concerned with training, first lawyers and then judges. That aspect of my career is increasingly where I’ve found a sense of purpose and drive, and it has allowed me to put aside the imposter syndrome that I felt earlier on.
"I did encounter racism in my early career. I was highly visible and felt vulnerable at times. I wanted to keep my head down and get on with the job but it wasn’t always easy to ignore comments. On the one hand I was called a coconut by activist barrister Rudy Narayan while on the other my clerks were setting me up to defend National Front lads and telling me to “black up in reverse”. I’ve worked hard to promote equality legislation over the years and to further the cause of black and minority ethnic entrants to the profession. Although the legislative landscape has changed beyond all recognition and entrance figures for the profession are now very healthy, there is still work to do to tackle a lack of diversity at the highest levels and unpick the issues around career progression. Change at the top continues at a snail’s pace.
"The legal landscape is changing and practitioners must adapt to ensure vulnerable people still have access to justice. The way practitioners deliver their work is changing. In big corporate cases there’s a move towards cutting costs through massive outsourcing and the use of artificial intelligence. The real problems begin when there are cuts to legal aid. These cuts affect crime, family and immigration law, where the most vulnerable seek access to justice. We need to find a way of working differently to ensure these people are not left without representation, but it’s extremely hard to do so without investments in infrastructure to support the development of new and more efficient models. It’s an ongoing difficulty for the profession and perhaps something that the new Lord Chancellor may address.
"I can’t see much point to my life unless I can make a difference in the world. A lot of my energy these days is focused on young people, both black and minority ethnic lawyers and trainees in the UK and young professionals in Africa and the Caribbean. My proudest achievement is seeing the people I’ve mentored go on to develop their careers and lead fulfilling lives. I feel I’ve now come full circle and am able to really focus on giving something back. I find it incredibly rewarding to play a part in helping someone discover their true potential. These friendships, which now span several generations, have enriched my life in so many ways. At the moment I’m working on a project in South Africa, inspired by a film made by a friend of mine. It’s still in the very early stages but I hope I will be able to improve the life chances of a truly exceptional young person.
"After many years of simply being too busy to listen, I’m rediscovering my love of music. For a long time when I was young music was my whole focus, but when I realised I would never make a career of it and then became so busy with work at the Bar I stopped playing and going to concerts. In fact I barely listened to music for years. Recently it’s started coming back into my life. I won’t ever play (piano and viola) again because I don’t think I could get back to the standard I’d want to be, but I’ve rediscovered my joy in music and it has become hugely important in my life again."