Linda Black on graduating in the 1990’s: when law schools changed

At Piddington, we’ve been hearing loud and clear from law students and graduates about the challenges they are facing for employment in the profession.

Alongside this, we have been talking to firms about what the pandemic means for graduate employment.

Coronavirus has added another level of stress for law students.

We have decided to ask a few of our friends who started their careers times where stress about employment was high.

While nothing compares to the pandemic, there is always a pathway to admission and practice.

Piddington PLT is a high-quality, work-ready practical legal training course that focuses on The Piddington Society’s values of access to justice, ethics and collegiality.

Learn more about it here.

Linda Black is one of Western Australia’s leading criminal barristers.

Admitted in 1995, she graduated just after the 1991 recession. But there were other changes afoot too: there was a second law school in Western Australia.

She tells us about the stress that caused and finding your place in the profession.

After an early career practicing in general litigation Linda worked as a Criminal Prosecutor, ultimately becoming a Senior State Prosecutor with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions where she served for a decade.

Linda moved to the independent Bar in late 2006 and has practiced as a barrister specialising in crime, regulatory and disciplinary law. She is a specialist jury trial advocate and a highly experienced litigator.

Linda is an accredited advocacy teacher and teaches evidence at UWA as well as providing legal training to government agencies and private law firms.

She is a former president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association of WA.

What was going on in WA when you graduated?

I started work as a lawyer in the mid 1990’s. The economy was pretty decent, though recovering from the recession.

The bigger concern related to the number of law students.

When I commenced my degree the only lawschool was UWA. They had just introduced double degrees and this in turn meant a larger number of students. Students doing the double degree had an extra year added to their degree.

Murdoch University opened a law school a year later and the timing was such that their graduates emerged at the same time as I graduated.

It was the first time that law students in large numbers were not pretty much guaranteed jobs. It was a tense time.

How did you get your first job in law?

I applied to lots and lots of firms and was lucky enough to have multiple offers to choose from.

I chose to start my career at Dwyer Durack because I was a bit of a left-wing do-gooder. I was keen to work with the trade unions and was desperate to do some criminal law.

I was really interested in being in court and the atmosphere and work opportunities at Dwyer Durack was very appealing.

I remember the partner at Mallesons telling me that he was a bit shocked that I would choose Dwyer Durack over them!

What did you do to stand out from the crowd?

I didn’t try to stand out but I guess I have always been my own person.

I learned to be comfortable with being different to everyone else and worked hard to try and make it work for me. I guess it was about trying to find the things that I believed were my strengths and then make them work for me.

I was pretty good at arguing, I loved public speaking, I enjoyed talking to people from a variety of backgrounds with different life experiences and I was always a great believer that jail wasn’t the answer to crime.

I have come to embrace my love of radio by talking about law and now current affairs on ABC 720 while continuing my practice as a barrister. It’s a great mix of what I love.

How were your first few years in law?

They were fun, exciting and hard.

I always felt that I was a bit of an outsider. I had no family in the law and spent much of university mixing with Arts students and musicians.

I knew I didn’t think quite like everyone else and I worked hard to try and belong. It took me a while to develop enough confidence in myself to stop trying so hard.

I had a great firm to work with and was able to be involved in exciting cases and I got lots of court work.

Who were you turning to for professional and career advice when you were starting out?

For a while, no one.

Eventually a particular judge became a very important mentor for me along with other lawyers I met through a variety of means.

There was no rhyme or reason as to who I turned other than they were people who seemed to know what they were know and who I knew had my back.

They have been invaluable to me to this day.

What advice do you have for current law students and grads starting their careers in uncertain economic times?

Just deal with what is before you now. I spent too many years of my career worrying about things that never came to pass.

The stress of being a lawyer is at times close to overwhelming. There are plenty of times I wanted to walk away. But just deal with today, surround yourself with good people who care about you, believe in yourself and don’t try to be like anyone else.

Find your strengths, build on them, and make your own way and journey in your career in the law.

What opportunities are not here today may well be here tomorrow.

Lawyers promoting collegiality, seeking access to justice.