Words by Julia Norris, LGBTQIA Representative for The Dickson Poon School of Law.
In December, I attended ‘DiversCity in Law’ hosted by Clifford Chance in conjunction with thirteen other City firms including Taylor Wessing, Slaughter and May and Millbank. DiversCity was founded in 2011 by lawyers from BLP and HSF who aimed to challenge the perception that the legal sector was unwelcoming towards LGBT+ students. Now seven years later, the attendance at DiversCity has grown from thirty students in 2011 to approximately one hundred students attending each year. The whole-day event aims to combat misconceptions about being ‘LGBT+ in the City’, whilst providing workshops on interview skills and commercial awareness.
The event began with a presentation from Claire Fielding, a gay, transgender lawyer responsible for being a founding partner of Town Legal LLP (and previously a partner at Herbert Smith Freehills). I found it both fascinating and encouraging to see someone so confident with their identity, someone who refused to let labels hold them back. Perhaps most reassuring, was to hear how supportive her employers had been despite the fact that her transition began in the early ’90s.
The experiences shared at each panel demonstrated one key point. Whilst it can be easy to feel bogged down by the seemingly never-ending list of firms to apply to, it is important to consider whether you would feel genuinely comfortable working at a particular firm. If a firm demonstrates little effort towards creating a diverse workforce, or you fear your identity may be a burden, you should perhaps consider if this is what’s best for you. Make an effort to research a firm, see if they have LGBT+ networks or are involved in any LGBT+ student events. It is important to put yourself and your mental health first, these shouldn’t be disregarded in favour of a high salary or high-ranking firm.
Workshops held by Taylor Wessing, RPC, Herbert Smith Freehills and Hogan Lovells were available to give advice on key interview and application skills. The workshops provided in depth information on how to cater applications to each firm. Furthermore, they placed emphasis on the importance of discussing the skills gained through work experience and how they are applicable in the legal world.
Furthermore, DiversCity also provides the opportunity to join its mentoring scheme. This programme pairs up a student with an LGBT+ lawyer currently working at one of the fourteen participating firms and is open to everyone who attends DiversCity each year. Through the scheme, the mentor will provide advice on what it’s like being a City lawyer, and help students throughout their vacation scheme/training contract applications. Additionally, they are a point of call to discuss career goals and to determine what field of law is most suitable for the individual. The mentoring relationship will last for at least a year, or until the mentee successfully obtains a vac scheme or training contract. Mentoring is confidential, therefore creating a safe environment for mentees who wish to voice concerns. A scheme such as this provides vital reassurance for LGBT+ students and is successful in helping create a more diverse legal sector.
Overall, I would highly recommend this event to any LGBT+ students interested in a career in law. The day provides vital reassurance and supplies relevant advice on how to tackle being ‘LGBT+ in the City’. Below are three key pieces of advice I learnt from DiversCity:
- Don’t be afraid to put that you are LGBT+ on applications if you feel it is relevant. For example illustrate the skills you gained by attending a law-oriented LGBT+ event or the responsibilities you held as an LGBT+ representative.
- When deciding which law firms to apply to, think about whether you would be comfortable working there and take into consideration the firms’ efforts to promote diversity.
- It is perfectly fine to keep your identity to yourself, you shouldn’t feel pressured to reveal that you are LGBT+ in the workplace if you are not comfortable in doing so.