Interview

‘When I interviewed for Slaughter and May I was living as a man called Matthew, by the time I started my training contract I was a woman called Clare’

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Legal Cheek interviews transgender lawyer Clare Fielding

On the day news broke that Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) had become the first law firm in the country to fund employees’ gender affirmation surgery, Legal Cheek‘s comments section was rife with “pathetic virtue-signalling” cries. Clare Fielding, a transgender lawyer and a former partner at HSF, takes a very different stance.

Now a partner at Town Legal, Fielding began her legal career at Slaughter and May as a trainee and later an associate. She interviewed in 1994 for the position while she was living as a man named Matthew, and recalls writing to the magic circle firm just before she began her training contract to inform them of her transition.

“They were fab about it,” she tells Legal Cheek, “they wrote back, arranged a meeting with me and completely took it in their stride.”

Fielding transitioned while she was working at the Bank of England, where she joined as an analyst but later moved into their legal department. At the same time she was completing her legal studies in the evenings in prep for her Slaughters’ TC, which she began in 1998.

At Slaughters, Fielding’s seat supervisors “took differing approaches” to her transition. Some spoke to her about it early on, others didn’t say anything. “I did spend time wondering who knew and who didn’t,” she says. Though not specifically referring to her time at Slaughters — nor at HSF or Gowling WLG where she later ended up — planning solicitor Fielding does concede:

“There are lots of environments that are quite non-trans friendly, still, and non-gay friendly, still, actually. There’s just a blokey culture in some places, not hostile or anything but a little bit excluding. And I have to say law firms do tend to be a bit like this.”

With that said, Fielding has nothing but praise for HSF’s “great” announcement that it’ll fund transitioning staff members’ surgeries. As for Legal Cheek commenter reactions about virtue signalling, Fielding points to the financial commitment the firm has made to the scheme. Gender affirmation surgeries total tens of thousands of pounds, and Fielding says she knew of at least two other trans staff members at the firm when she was a partner there. “You shouldn’t underestimate the amount of money this will cost the firm,” she comments.

Virtue signalling aside, another theme that came through in the Legal Cheek comments section was whether parallels can be drawn between firms paying for gender transition surgeries and firms paying for cosmetic procedures (“bigger breasts”, “designer vaginas” and “fillers”, in our commenters’ words). Fielding, on this, says: “They’re two totally different things. I’ve obviously had the gender reassignment surgery but I’ve also had surgery I would regard as cosmetic. I wouldn’t dream of asking a law firm to pay for that, I’d be too embarrassed!”

The latest comments from across Legal Cheek

Fielding expects other City outfits to follow HSF’s lead in its private healthcare initiative (“big firms do tend to jump on the bandwagon”). In the meantime, firms have already fired the starting pistol with the development of trans inclusion policies.

Our interviewee’s feelings on these are mixed — partly because she thinks the process is almost circular. The kinds of organisation that would, regardless of having a policy, treat trans people humanely are likely to be the ones who’d adopt a policy anyway, so its content is “slightly a side issue”, she says. Fielding, who has worked on big projects involving the Canada Water regeneration and the Emirates Stadium development, continues:

“What’s more important [than having a policy or what the policy says] is that there’s a signal of some sort that the people who run the shop are aware of trans issues and that people who want to transition will be treated humanely and in a balanced way.”

Indeed, Fielding’s firm doesn’t have a trans policy and: “We don’t feel we’re bereft because of it.”

Trans initiatives in corporate law firms have, undoubtedly, gathered momentum in recent years, as have other LGBT+ initiatives. But that doesn’t mean all law firms are wholly inclusive and welcoming; Fielding says:

“I do think there’s a lot of outward-facing portrayal or even trumpeting of diversity credentials, yet questions remain about how truly diverse these firms are in reality.”

With this said, and given the personal nature of gender identity, it can still be difficult for trans trainees and lawyers to know how best to approach their firm about the issue. Do you bring it up in interviews? On your vac scheme? Once you’ve got a training contract? After qualification?

The answer is, of course, subjective. When Fielding, who studied history at the University of Warwick, moved from Slaughters in 2005 to HSF, she decided not to tell her new colleagues about her gender reassignment. What she, personally, learnt from this experience is that she thinks it’s “far better to be out and open and honest about these things, rather than clam up and not say anything”.

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60 Comments

Anonymous

For crying out loud

(75)(30)

Anonymous

meaning?

(5)(6)

Emily Howard

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(1)(3)

Austin Powers

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(2)

Anonymous

By leaving the names on these comments, I can guess what they said!

(0)(1)

Elz

It’s really refreshing to see a City lawyer speak so openly about these things. all you usually get is PR guff about ‘inclusion’ and ‘diversity’, so interesting to hear stories from someone who truly knows what it is to be a ‘minority’

(34)(38)

Not Amused

It is brilliant to hear stories like this which focus on how tolerant law as an industry can be.

The goal should always be equality and treating all people with dignity and respect.

(34)(31)

Anonymous

I’m confused. If an employee needed “traditional surgery” (e.g. a kidney transplant) presumably the employee would turn to either the NHS or, if available, the private health policy set up by their employer.

Is the writer suggesting that it should be the norm for an employer to pay out if both the NHS and the private insurer has refused to cover the cost of “gender affirmation” surgery? If so, would it not be more sensible to point the finger of discrimination at those who should actually be responsible for funding medical procedures rather than the law firms caught in the middle?

(45)(4)

badspyro

NHS waiting times on getting an appointment to a clinic for gender issues are upwards of 12 months, and that’s just to get referred to the clinic. That’s not including any endocrinology, phych sessions, or surgery.

https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/11/02/transgender-people-face-two-and-a-half-year-wait-for-nhs-appointments/

During that time, the person tends to be under a huge amount of stress, and suffers from a number of other issues that could easily impare work. The same with many other medical conditions, such as a ruptured spinal disk.

The reason employers get medical insurance for their employees isn’t just because it’s a nice perk to encourage better staff to join or stay with the company – it’s to allow staff to get fast treatment so they can get back to being a good employee. It also allows for scheduling around the member of staff’s diary, in comparison to whenever the NHS has the space, which can really help a company that has a peak season of work.

The same goes here. More rapid treatment means the employee is likely to be less stressed, feel more supportive, and output better work.

As for coverage from places like Bupa, they exclude treatment for any chronic condition, which by their definition, excludes quite a lot:

a disease, illness or injury which has one or more of the following characteristics:
• it needs ongoing or long-term monitoring through consultations, examinations, check-ups and/or tests
• it needs ongoing or long-term control or relief of symptoms
• it requires your rehabilitation or for you to be specially trained to cope with it
• it continues indefinitely
• it has no known cure
• it comes back or is likely to come back.

https://www.bupa.co.uk/~/media/files/userdefined/bby/policy-benefits-and-terms.pdf (page 36)

So it’s not like gender reassignment surgery is exactly one of a small number of exceptions. HIV and AIDS treatment or issues arising from those conditions are excluded. Dialysis is excluded. Sleep apnea is excluded.

Deafness caused by congenital abnormality, maturing or ageing, is excluded. But, through ‘reasonable adjustments’ many places will pay for employees to get fitted with better hearing aids that allow them to use phones more effectively, for example.

Yes, this can be expensive treatment, and yes this seems odd. But in reality, when compared to hiring a good head chef for a high flying company canteen ( https://www.legalcheek.com/2016/11/law-firms-best-canteens/ ), crazy christmas decorations ( https://www.legalcheek.com/2017/12/battle-of-the-baubles-the-official-law-xmas-tree-round-up/ ), in-house doctor and physiotherapist, onsite dentist and beautician ( https://www.legalcheek.com/2017/11/the-law-firms-with-the-best-perks-2017-2018/ ), sports team funding, and more… is throwing a few thousand into the pot every few years really that excessive? Going to one of the best surgeons in the world for vaginoplasty is only going to cost roughly $5,660 – $12,250 ( https://www.medicaldepartures.com/article/how-much-does-a-sex-reassignment-surgery-cost-in-thailand/ ).

Even if you have a staff of a few hundred, unless you have a high turnover, you’re not going to need to pay that out particularly frequently as in 2015 the total number of appointments for treatment of adults stood at 868 nationally, (https://uktrans.info/attachments/article/341/patientpopulation-oct15.pdf).

Basically, this is relatively low cost, isn’t going to impact the bottom line hugely, but is going to positively impact staff in a significant way. It’s also going to arguably take strain off NHS services, which surely is a good thing?

(12)(15)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(2)(2)

Anonymous

I fail to see an issue here…

This isn’t some puff diversity piece, or someone making ridiculous comments or demands for minorities or for transgenders. It is a lawyer talking openly about her personal experiences of how the industry truly is.

Personally, I think it is quite refreshing to hear this take, rather than the usual us vs them type articles you tend to see.

(35)(33)

Anonymous

Meant to be a reply to the first comment @ 9:34am

(1)(5)

Anonymous

Is it really appropriate to open this to comments knowing what kind of comments any story on gender issues attracts on this website?

(17)(22)

Anonymous

This isn’t the Guardian.

(30)(3)

Not Amused

I don’t agree with your premise – I do not accept that most people are transphobic. Nor do I agree with your conclusion, which is to use force to silence everyone in order to prevent a few saying something you might not like.

This individual was openly transitioning 20 years ago and did just fine without the need for your type of authoritarian control. She seems to be doing extremely well today and has shared her story in a way which will no doubt help others and which is inspiring.

The last thing she is is a victim. Trans people are not victims. They are beautiful and equal members of our society. Beware trying to control others by pretending you want to protect others.

(30)(24)

Anonymous

I didn’t suggest that most people are transphobic. I alluded to the nature of the comments that this site attracts on gender, which are frequently abhorrent and deliberately offensive. I don’t doubt they are voiced by a minority of readers, but sadly that minority has the loudest voice. In my view there’s no need to subject any individual to that. To be clear, I don’t think that being female or trans makes internet abuse any harder to deal with (nor do I suggest that it does). Bigoted abuse directed at any individual is always horrible. And where a website publishes on a topic that frequently attracts hate speech and it focuses on an individual that might therefore become the target of hate speech, it’s that site’s responsibility to protect that individual. This is something most major fora do — either by pre-screening comments or by disabling them. That isn’t creating a victim, it’s just responsible digital journalism.

(12)(14)

Anonymous

Post-Brexit Britain will not be as forward thinking and as supportive as our forward-thinking, European counterparts.

(10)(15)

Anonymous

It’s grand to see organisations whose businesses model is predicated on treating people as disposable human capital crowing about human dignity.

(23)(1)

Anonymous

Whilst I don’t in itself object to a firm funding such procedures, I do find it somewhat galling that HSF offers a fairly ungenerous £7k LPC grant which has a disproportionate impact on students from normal backgrounds. Their priorities when it comes to diversity are interesting to say the least.

(36)(4)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

LC clearly hurt over virtue signalling comments, so much so they moaned about it twice in this article.

Sorry precious.

(29)(5)

Clare F

Katie I thought you were a great interviewer and I enjoyed sharing my thoughts on the HSF initiative. I will always remember posing for that photo with the Shard over my shoulder, under that dramatic sky 😉

(28)(5)

Anonymous

I hope this comment is real. It is a great photo. One of those ones that is so good it almost looks photoshopped. That is why I said that I hope this comment is real, because I cannot be sure that it isn’t a fake comment playing on the fact that the photo is potentially a fake.

(9)(1)

Big Dolla

Hahahahaha

I’m calling fake, both on the photo and the comment. The photo looks far too shopped to be real.

If it actually is you Clare, respect.

(5)(0)

Clare F

The photo is fake, but it is the real me who made the comment.

(14)(1)

Big Dolla

My bad!

I see now that you were being sarcastic in your comment; hard to read over text sometimes.

Anyway, big up Clare.

(3)(0)

Patrick McCann

Clare is a hero.

(2)(10)

Anonymous

😂 I doubt she’s on here recruiting trainees. Relax.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)

Ciaran Goggins

Good for you!

(3)(10)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

You go gurl/boy! When I was interviewed for my TC, I was an attack helicopter that was insecure about my specifications. After much support from my firm, I took the plunge and am currently transitioning into a Sukhoi fighter jet plane

(46)(18)

random passer-by

Although I shouldn’t have, I burst out laughing here. Quite funny.

(12)(0)

Clare F

I confess I thought it was quite funny as well, although I probably shouldn’t.

(14)(0)

random passer-by

First sentence aside, it was on first read, a decent joke by legal cheek comments standards.

(4)(0)

Corbyn. Symphathiser

This is an extremely tired joke. Even Ricky Gervais, the world’s laziest stand-up comedian, managed to make a minor alteration to this decades old humour vacuum.

(10)(9)

Anonymous

Tired much like your inane left-wing drivel, which sometimes makes me wonder whether you truly believe what you post or if you’re just that dedicated to maintaining your satirical persona

(14)(4)

Corbyn. Sympathiser

Biting retort.

I’m not a satire account, though my many imitators and admirers will sometimes ascribe views to me which I do not hold (i.e. admiration for Stalinism).

(8)(4)

Bla bla bla

Bla bla bla

(3)(0)

Anonymous

My views from the last article to this one remain the same. Putting emotive language behind a weak argument isn’t fooling anyone. Gender reassignment is a cosmetic procedure which shouldn’t be funded by firms. End of. The whole parallel drawn to firms paying for those wanting bigger breasts etc. is a strong one because some of those people are also suffering mentally and emotionally, as some of them suffer from things like body dysmorphia. They might not personally see the procedure/s as cosmetic, just like Clare doesn’t seem to see gender reassignment as a cosmetic procedure either. They are also going through a crisis, even if it isn’t a gender related one. Firms wouldn’t even think of funding their procedures, so why are they finding this? I also agree that it says A LOT when firms are focusing on this aspect of diversity to this extent, yet the real issue of diversity amongst candidates (especially successful ones) has so far to go. There’s so much to say on this topic, but honestly what HSF has decided to do is a joke, and I hope no other firm follows suit.

(50)(14)

Anonymous

Lol do you think Slaughters would have been so calm about it if Clare wasn’t white? “It’s cool if you’re trans as long as you’re white… you’re not transitioning your race or ethnicity are you?? 🤔” Then again how many BME candidates would they have even had back in the 90s given that they’re still lacking so much on the diversity front even now – every BME candidate has to work so hard to get an interview Slaughters especially if they’re from a low socioeconomic background and even then they might not get an offer but you can be white and trans and the door is still wide open for you

(28)(4)

Anonymous

19% of Slaughters’ associates are non-white. What are you talking about?

(7)(7)

Anonymous

19% is not enough. Under half the people in the world (S&M’s recruitment pool) are white.

(9)(4)

Big Dolla

Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha

(2)(4)

Anonymous

okaaaaay…

(0)(1)

Corbyn. Sympathiser

How many are working class? Answer: not enough. I’d love to see firms paying for transitioning of some working class kids to rich kids.

(16)(1)

TheAcresOfFour

LOL Good luck.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

What specifically do HSF pay for?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I would guess chemical castration, prosthetics and hormone therapy?

(1)(3)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

I’d love for Dave to have a good old hack at me.

(0)(0)

Ciaran Goggins

Join Norfolk Police?

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Thank you so much for sharing your story Clare (and Legal Cheek). My father transitioned in the early nineties and lost their job. It’s genuinely heartening to hear that the legal industry was so accepting – it was a very different time 20/25 years ago.

(4)(10)

Trans Ex-Trainee

Anon (3:49pm) – I think it depends where you work. I started my transition within the past 5 years, after I got my training contract, and I wasn’t kept on. I think it was a significant factor – not because the firm was openly discriminatory (though they completely fumbled my coming out), but because the pastoral support I needed just wasn’t there. The waiting time for a first appointment at a gender clinic from GP referral is 2-4 YEARS, which is a long time to be in limbo. Fighting the NHS bureaucracy to access the care I needed took a significant toll on my mental health, and my firm weren’t even giving me enough work to keep me busy and take my mind off it.

(2)(6)

Anonymous

Try being so f*cking busy at work you don’t have time to even think about your health and you end up f*cked.

(2)(1)

Trans Ex-Trainee

Something of a non sequitur, no?

(1)(0)

DGAF

Probably explains why they got the TC

(3)(2)

Anonymous

“She interviewed in 1994 for the position while she was living as a man named Matthew, and recalls writing to the magic circle firm ***just before she began her training contract*** to inform them of her transition.” (emphasis added)

Did you even read the article?

(3)(2)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(9)(2)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)

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