The dyslexic lawyer

Dyslexic lawyer Tom McGovern hit the headlines last year. Why? He got into trouble for using his mobile phone in court to help him read notes. We caught up with him to learn about his career as a lawyer with dyslexia.

Tom says:

My dyslexia was picked up in the latter part of my primary schooling but wasn’t really understood by teachers. There wasn’t an informed way of learning support. Recognising my own differences, I learned by repetition, practice and hard work. I committed as much information as I could to memory and this successful strategy helped me to gain entry into Law School.

I suffered badly at university where I was essentially left to my own devices. Not having a precise curriculum and clear guidance left me struggling to process learning in a degree loaded with archaic text and language barriers.

Even while registered with disability services, I later learned that I was being consistently marked down for spelling, grammar and handwriting issues – all of which were dyslexia based. I received an apology for this from some teaching staff members but alas not all.

I am currently in the second year of my traineeship at a criminal defence firm in North Lanarkshire. My experience as a trainee solicitor has been much better than as a law undergraduate.

Tom’s dyslexic issues

I trip up over words, miss words out when writing, spell words wrongly, then don’t spot them when I’m reading over my work. I struggle to pronounce words and names correctly when reading them for the first time, which can be awkward and embarrassing at times.

My most useful adjustment is to access IT support. The notes app on my iPhone is my most essential tool. I record information on my phone when consulting with clients, discussing case work with colleagues and when advocating in court. This has proved most beneficial and without the notes app on my iPhone I don’t think I’d be able to do my job as a lawyer or at least not to a respectable standard. This approach gives me confidence in communicating and Sheriffs are now used to being addressed by me with my iPhone notes as part of my brief.

Being preoccupied with difficulties you have can sometimes make you blind to your strengths. I’m conscious of difficulties with written data, but my verbal communication skills are better developed and this has proved a big advantage in my occupation.

Lessons learned

My particular educational journey has led me to being able to deal with setbacks in an efficient and detached way, rather than let dyslexia destroy my confidence. Essentially my motto is, ‘I’ve come from this, I can overcome that‘.

I think that this journey and managing its pitfalls has allowed me to deal with stressful situations better than most of my peer group colleagues can.

Dyslexia, regardless of anything else, can make you think outside the box, not afraid to make a mistake. Being an ‘underdog’ has allowed me to empathise with many clients in trouble, many of whom are continuously disadvantaged in life.

Tom McGovern


Through a tough process of trial and error, I’ve identified my strengths and recognised my weaknesses. I try to minimise exposure to the areas I’m lacking in and maximise where I can focus on my strengths.

Being much more in charge of my circumstances, more than was ever possible at school and university, has allowed me to develop a level of self-assurance that evaded me when growing up. I hope that my example will encourage others with dyslexia to manage their differences and lead a successful and rewarding life.

Influencers like Tom are helping to make Scotland more dyslexia friendly. If you want Scotland to be more inclusive of its dyslexic population, join us as a member.