Two Inspiring Black women in law
This October, Fletchers Solicitors is celebrating Black History Month by highlighting influential Black people who have helped shape the world we live in today. We’ve assigned a cross-departmental team across all specialisms at Fletchers, so that we can do our own research and continually educate ourselves on Black history.
To kick off the month, here’s a piece researched and written by Jennifer Corcoran, Audit & Compliance Executive.
1. Dame Linda Dobbs | The first Black judge in England & Wales
Linda Penelope Dobbs, DBE was born 03 January 1951 in Freetown, Sierra Leone to Loyda Dobbs (nee Johnson), a Creole from Sierra Leone and Arthur Ernest Dobbs, an English lawyer from Warwickshire who went on to serve as a High Court judge in Sierra Leone.
Dame Linda was educated privately in Shropshire and initially attended University of Edinburgh to read music, but then changed tack; reading Russian and Law at University of Surrey, followed by a Master’s degree at London School of Economics then a doctorate in Soviet Criminology and Penology.
She was called to the Bar in 1981 and rose above the systemic sexism and racism she encountered. Initially she was offered sex crime cases, as were commonly given to women at the time, but persisted in developing her specialities in fraud and professional disciplinary tribunals. Dame Linda took silk in 1998, which means she was invited to be Queen’s Counsel – an honour bestowed upon the best in the barrister profession.
As a member of the General Council of the Bar, she chaired both the Professional Standards Committee, and the Race Relations Committee and was appointed a Deputy High Court Judge in February 2003; with the appointment of High Court Judge of the Queen’s Bench Division following in 2004. This was a historical appointment as this incredible woman became the first Black judge in England & Wales.
Initially Dame Linda was reluctant to accept the role of judge, commenting that it was like going back to being a new starter of sorts. However, she rose to this challenge as she has every other; and is now considered an inspiration. She has remarked that she thought it would ‘get the ball rolling’ to change the lack of diversity, but it would be another seven years before another judge of a non-white background was appointed.
Dame Linda retired from the role in 2013 to pursue other legal and altruistic interests. She holds 7 honorary doctorates, is a patron of multiple charities and is an honorary professor at the University of Cape Town where she specialises in training on ethics, human rights and fraud.
Video interview with the First 100 Years project here: https://first100years.org.uk/dame-linda-dobbs-biography/
2. Debo Nwauzu | Founder of the Black Lawyers Directory
Debo Nwauzu was born in London in the 1960s and spent her formative childhood in Nigeria. Her parents are Nigerian and she identifies as both African and British. Debo considers the combination gives her an entrepreneurial outlook as well as the experience of being raised in a multicultural city, inspiring her to celebrate and promote diversity.
She recalls that her legal aptitude was identified early in life as she was good at questioning things, and is grateful to her parents for not suppressing this.
She qualified as a lawyer able to practice in both England & Wales and Nigeria. Debo says that what makes a good lawyer goes beyond legal knowledge; it is the ability to listen, understand, analyse and effectively communicate using the appropriate language.
She began practising in the 1990s and rapidly saw the legal aid system diminish, and with it – access to justice. She also had concerns about the “over-professionalisation” of the graduate recruitment system, and therefore access to practice too.
This led her to found Black Lawyers Directory; an organisation promoting positive action to improve diversity in the law. It was launched in 2006 and she is the Chair. The BLD aims to highlight areas for change as well as showcase talent, and improve networking and opportunities.
Debo believes many organisations care genuinely about equality and diversity for the right reasons, but acknowledges there is still a very long way to go. She has certainly played a significant role in the journey.
In 2009 she was named as one of the Hot 100 Lawyers and in 2012 she was given the honour of Solicitor of the Year by the BSN.