By Paul Callaghan, Partner, Taylor Wessing: Law Firm of the Year 2013
Life was hard being out at work in the legal profession twenty years ago. When I started practicing law, there were very few out gay lawyers and those who were out were often viewed with suspicion. It definitely did not feel “safe” to be open about your sexual orientation in a law firm. In those days in the UK there was no legal protection for anybody who was discriminated against at work on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Then we got protections. Things changed in the UK in 2004 and now all employees as well as law firm partners are covered by anti-discrimination legislation that comes originally from the European Union. Life in a London City law firm for a gay lawyer has changed dramatically for the better since then.
Ironically, the challenge today is that these advances not be taken for granted by the next generation of young lawyers. Because of the new-found confidence that those of us who are becoming senior in our firms can feel in being out, younger members of our firms see it as normal to be openly gay in the workplace. Everything seems just fine for them and educating them about the need for an LGBT group is, in many ways, a good challenge for us to have!
It is not only the law that has changed, but attitudes have also improved dramatically. Now it is highly unusual to find a leading City law firm that does not have an internal LGBT group and look to promote its diversity credentials both to clients as well as employers.
That’s not to say that we still need to make more gains at the top. At my firm, Taylor Wessing, where we have made a point of taking a lead in supporting LGBT workplace initiatives both within the firm and around the City of London, I am currently the only openly gay equity partner. That’s why both I and other openly gay people within the firm have taken the lead in relation to a number of initiatives within the legal community and beyond.
I am the head of the Employment law group at Taylor Wessing in London. About two years ago I thought it would be a good idea to start a gay employment lawyers group for legal professionals throughout the UK. I spoke to a few friends in other firms and in barristers chambers and since then we have developed a highly successful group (“GEL“) which has not only helped all of us professionally by encouraging us to send each other referrals, but also to give each other support and develop really strong friendships with other men and women practicing employment law.
As an employment lawyer, I work regularly with HR professionals. Through this, I got the idea (together with an HR recruitment consultant with whom I work) of setting up a group for LGBT HR Directors. Again this is proved great fun, both socially as well as being a help professionally in building relationships.
Greater acceptance and mobility means that we now have the opportunity to make a difference through really important pro bono work. I am fortunate enough to also be head of pro bono at Taylor Wessing. This meant I was able to offer our support to the Human Dignity Trust, an NGO, which helps people, mainly in Commonwealth countries where homosexuality is still illegal, challenge the law in their country. Taylor Wessing recently worked with the Human Dignity Trust and a local firm on a claim in the European Court of Human Rights to strike down anti-gay laws Northern Cyprus. As a result of our claim and before we had a chance to be wholly successful, it was announced that the law was going to be changed in Northern Cyprus anyway. It is great to have been involved in something so constructive.
We can never be complacent, particularly in a professional service firm, about how the future will develop, but we have come a long way. Even ten years ago, I would not have been able to imagine the progress that we have made in leading UK law firms. I am proud to play a small part in that and to keep it growing.