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How a new generation of LGBT lawyers are helping students get into the City

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By Alex Aldridge on

Where issues of sexuality are relevant in the training contract application process wannabe lawyers should feel confident to be open, advises Hogan Lovells solicitor Charlotte Cartwright — who’ll be a student mentor at next month’s free ‘DiversCity in Law’ graduate recruitment event

Charlotte Cartwright

Attitudes surrounding sexuality have undergone a radical overhaul in City law firms over the last decade.

These days, young LGBT lawyers like Charlotte Cartwright (pictured above) go through the graduate recruitment process untroubled by how they should present themselves, having selected law firms with good diversity records and — equally as important — expertise in practice areas which interest them.

“When I was applying I definitely considered whether firms were promoting themselves as diverse and inclusive, alongside all the other aspects of what sort of firm I wanted to work at,” says the Hogan Lovells newly-qualified associate.

As Cartwright fired off application forms and attended interviews, the issue of sexuality never came up (except on confidential diversity monitoring surveys), but if it had done it wouldn’t have been a big deal.

“If, for example, a student had a leadership role in an LGBT society at university then I would definitely advise them to include details about that in the extra-curricular interests section of their application form,” she says.

“It’s important that students can bring their whole selves to the interview process, where questions are often based on outside interests, and give interviewers a feeling for who they are.”

It wasn’t always this way.

Herbert Smith Freehills head of learning and development Patrick McCann entered the legal profession as a trainee at another City firm back in 1990. He had been president of his university’s LGBT society, yet — despite the leadership credentials that this demonstrated — he left the role off his CV.

“As it turned out, during my training contract I was outed by a fellow trainee,” he recalls. “I would have liked to have had the choice, but attitudes in the City were very different 25 years ago.”

Now McCann hopes to help today’s LGBT students through the DiversCity in Law LGBT recruitment event which he helped establish in 2011 and now runs each December. Such has been the interest around this year’s event — which features lawyers from a host of top City firms, including Hogan Lovells, Herbert Smith Freehills, Berwin Leighton Paisner, Freshfields, Baker & McKenzie, Pinsent Masons, RPC, Olswang and Taylor Wessing — that a handful of additional (free) places have been made available. Anyone wishing to apply for a place can do so by following the details at the bottom of this post.

Things have changed, too, since Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) banking law partner Daisy Reeves entered the legal profession in 2002.

“It wasn’t so much that I was afraid that being LGBT would be perceived negatively, rather that issues of sexuality simply weren’t on the radar. Now that has shifted. For instance, it is better to say ‘she’ rather than ‘they’ [if referring to a partner]. What I didn’t have when I was coming through the ranks was visibly out LGBT role models,” she says.

In 2006 Reeves set about remedying that for the next generation by co-founding BLP’s LGBT group. It was another small step along the road for the legal profession to the more comfortable place where associates like Hogan Lovells’ Cartwright find themselves today.

Despite their different experiences, Reeves, McCann and Cartwright all believe that being themselves at work makes them better at their job, citing research from gay rights group Stonewall that shows those who are “out” professionally are more productive than those who aren’t.

“To do well in such a high-performance area like City law it is a huge advantage to be yourself,” says McCann, summing up the sentiment. “From my experience performance goes through the roof once people are no longer hiding such a major part of their personality”.

Another aspect of being openly LGBT that the trio highlight are the positive benefits it can carry in terms of networking. With firm LGBT groups including lawyers from all different levels of seniority, and social events often also involving clients, they can help forge potentially useful ties.

Cartwright says that the Hogan Lovells PRIDE network “has been a great way to get exposure to senior people at the firm who I wouldn’t ordinarily have had exposure to”, and urges LGBT students at next month’s event to take advantage of these networks.

DiversCity in Law takes place at Herbert Smith Freehills in central London on Tuesday 9 December from 12pm-7pm. To apply for a place, email and you’ll be sent a short application form. The deadline for applications is this Friday 28 November. Note that for non-London students reasonable travel expenses are paid.

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