Study aims to establish if gay and lesbian lawyers are coming up against a different glass ceiling

Stephen Shea

Stephen Shea

The first major study into how being gay affects a lawyer’s potential for career advancement is underway, with the Law Society working alongside the InterLaw Diversity Forum and gay rights group Stonewall to identify the obstacles faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) lawyers.

In a survey to be released across the profession this Thursday (23 April), the three organisations will ask 35 questions with a view to improving law firm recruitment and retention, informing firms of Law Society equality and diversity work and providing information for individual solicitors on how sexuality interacts with career advancement.

One of the aims of the study is to identify whether there are any specific trends in the practice areas that LGB lawyers gravitate towards or away from.

Nicky Edwards, head of public affairs at the Law Society, said: “The progress law firms have made can be seen from their performance in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index [WEI] and is supported by the existence of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] networks.

“We’ve moved to a stage where it isn’t necessary to convince people of the need for these policies, but to see how effective they are.”

That said, Clifford Chance tax partner Stephen Shea, who is a founder member of the magic circle firm’s LGBT network Arcus, said any limitations lesbian and gay lawyers experience in their careers do not come solely from ineffective policies, but from gay and lesbian lawyers too.

“One of the main problems is very often gay individuals who hold themselves back as a result of attitudes implanted by society,” he said.

But with only four firms having made it onto Stonewall’s WEI this year, InterLaw founder and Simmons & Simmons partner Daniel Winterfeldt argued that the profession as a whole needs to take responsibility for changing attitudes to allow LGBT lawyers to feel they have the same opportunities as their hetrosexual counterparts.

He added: “If you look at the WEI, clearly there are some issues or the profession wouldn’t be second from bottom.”

Mark Brandon, a partner at recruitment consultancy First Counsel, agreed, adding that there are still pockets of prejudice within law firms.

“I’ve had a couple of gay candidates who’ve said they’d proactively bring up their sexuality in a first interview with a law firm because they want to see the reaction – if the firm has a diversity policy that gives them the chance to talk about it.”