Lawyer and Founder of Law City, Dorothy Adu-Mfum tells FORBES AFRICA about what it means to her to be able to help others gain access into what is widely seen as an incredibly exclusive industry.
There’s an informal but rather well-known term given to the top five prestigious law firms in the United Kingdom (UK). It’s called the Magic Circle. These firms, which all specialize in corporate law, are seen as exemplary, based on their outstanding and distinguished results. Securing a seat at the table with the best of the best would certainly be a tall order. However, Ghanaian-born Dorothy Adu-Mfum has done just that.
She is one of a few black women, bucking a trend in the UK of a white and male-dominated legal sector. As a training solicitor with one of the Magic Circle firms – namely Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Slaughter and May – Adu-Mfum has managed to carve out a niche that many from her background have found impossible to achieve.
The services provided by these legal firms at the highest levels have created a social divide between those privileged enough to attend the best universities and those from low-income backgrounds. This makes the journey towards becoming a lawyer for black Britons extremely difficult.
Not only do you need to get the right A-levels, attend the right universities – which the top law firms recruit from – and secure a first-class degree, you also need to have vacation schemes and internships in order to achieve a training contract with a firm, before finally qualifying as a lawyer. A seemingly arduous task for anybody from a disadvantaged economic background to achieve, this is what led Adu-Mfum to create Law City.
“In Ghana, I came from a middle-class background so everything was provided for me and I had all the opportunities. Then I came to London and realized that I was from a working-class background. I had to work from the age of 16 which meant I couldn’t go for various internships or vacation schemes or insight days. Although I graduated with a first class, I found it difficult to transfer the theory aspect into the practicality needed for applying to law firms,” says Adu-Mfum.
Despite the fact that she got the first-class degree, Adu-Mfum faced all the disadvantages her socio-economic background presented her. She did not attend the prestigious universities that law firms recruited from and her need to work two jobs to make ends meet meant that she did not have the practical experience that law firms were looking for.
“I decided to no longer focus on law and went into banking for about three years, and I got promoted to the lending services department. So, what I was doing was reviewing mortgage documents and business loans and I found out that I was still interested in law because I spent more time reviewing the legal elements instead of the financial elements,” says Adu-Mfum.
In order to qualify to receive a training contract, one has to first complete a Legal Practice Course (LPC). An LPC is a postgraduate course and the final educational stage for becoming a solicitor. You can only get it in one of two ways – either a law firm recruits you and pays for the program, or you self-fund it.
Adu-Mfum decided to do the latter after a discussion with her father who advocated that she return to her first love, which was law.
“While I was doing my LPC, I was also volunteering in the community. I had a lot of young people coming to me saying I am interested in law and I don’t know how to gain access or I have never been to a law firm before. So, I thought I should build a community of people who also want to gain access and together, we try and gain access.”
“My reason for that was I didn’t really want to go to an event by myself but if I had a group of people who wanted to gain access and were uninformed, and from similar backgrounds, it would be easier for us to achieve what we wanted to achieve together. That is where Law City came from,” recalls Adu-Mfum.
Law City aims to connect aspiring lawyers from low-income socio-economic backgrounds to the legal sector in London. Currently, the platform has over 3,000 aspiring lawyers and legal professionals with over 80% of its network from the aforementioned backgrounds.
Adu-Mfum’s first event was created at a law firm in London and was a resounding success. Two of the attendants secured an internship with a law firm and Adu-Mfum, through that experience, began to bolster her CV. Very soon, with the help of a legal mentor, she managed to improve her application and secure a training contract with a Magic Circle firm.
“I had a black boy who came to me and said, ‘I didn’t think this type of community existed and I didn’t think a legal career was possible for me until today’. We had people who were saying this is the first time they had been to a law firm. Our head of events has secured a training contract with a law firm. Before I started, I wasn’t a lawyer, I was an aspiring lawyer and I am now about to qualify as a lawyer with a Magic Circle firm,” says Adu-Mfum, regarding the milestones of herself and her online legal community.
Through Law City, Adu-Mfum is hoping to continue to create advantages for people from low-income backgrounds, which will hopefully reduce the barriers to entry in the legal profession in the UK.
The platform has expanded globally, due to the pandemic and the increase of virtual events, to include South Africa and Dubai.
Despite breaking numerous glass ceilings and paving the way for others, Adu-Mfum remains resolute in her quest to make it to the top of her profession, and to inspire the Law City community in spite of the insurmountable odds they may face.