My Pride Story: “It’s frustrating when students don’t apply to firms because they ‘won’t fit in’”

Colm Kinsella is an associate at Slaughter and May.

What is your work and LGBT history?

I’m an associate in one of the corporate groups at Slaughter and May. I moved to London from Ireland after university, completed my LPC and then started my training contract. I qualified in March 2016 and the rest is (very recent) history.

Like many people, I came out to my friends first (while at university) and then later to my family. I was an active member of the LGBT Society during my time at Trinity College, Dublin (Q Soc) and I have continued to stay involved with LGBT issues at Slaughter and May, with my main project being the firm’s involvement in DiversCity, a recruitment and mentoring initiative alongside 14 other City firms.

Colm Kinsella, Slaughter and May

Have you always been out in the workplace – did you have any anxieties about being LGBT?

I have always been out at work, from my first interview for the Summer Work Scheme at Slaughter and May, where my only extra-curricular activities to discuss were my role in Q Soc and my time volunteering for an LGBT candidate for Uachtarán na hÉireann, President of Ireland. Experience is definitely experience, no matter what kind!

When I started my training contract, I made a conscious decision to be open and authentic at work. On my first day at my desk, one of the secretaries in my team asked me how my weekend was and I blurted out, proudly, details of whatever my boyfriend and I had been up to. Any anxieties I had were quickly dispelled, clearly it was no big deal.

As someone who is LGBT, how have your expectations of working in a City firm differed from the reality?

Starting in a City firm, and deciding to be open about my sexuality was daunting, if I’m honest. While I had worked previously an office environment, like a lot of people I had preconceptions about what the culture of a law firm was and meant. Once I started, it became clear that the firm (like all those in the City) are a collection of unique and (largely) diverse personalities.

What difficulties have you had to overcome, if any?

I don’t think there have been any obstacles to overcome. In fact, it’s the opposite – as a member of PRISM, the firm’s LGBT network, I have been able to get to know people of all levels of seniority and get involved in projects like DiversCity. The DiversCity initiative involves an annual recruitment event (taking place in December), where we run panel sessions, graduate recruitment workshops and networking sessions with firm representatives. I’ve been heavily involved with the marketing of the initiative, coordinating the task of getting the message out to 36 universities across the UK.

What can law firms do to help LGBT people?

Law firms need to make a concerted effort to dispel the myths that may still linger about their culture and atmosphere. There is definitely more work to do in order to make firms more diverse and to ensure full equality of access to ethnic minority and LGBT applicants and those from less represented socio-economic backgrounds.

I really believe that DiversCity is one way of working towards fulfilling this goal. At the event, we have representatives from each of the 15 firms (both lawyers and grad recruitment team members) putting a face to our names and brands and actively saying “we want you!”.

You mentor students – what advice do you give them?

I have been a mentor as part of DiversCity for the past two years. The mentoring programme is open to all attendees at the DiversCity event. All interested students are paired with a trainee or associate from one of the participating firms, where they will have one-to-one mentoring sessions over the course of a year.

My main advice to people, or more a reassurance, is that from my experience, firms are looking for talented, committed students and are run on a meritocratic basis, by which I mean that people are rewarded for the quality of their work and communication skills above everything else. There’s nothing more frustrating than hearing from students who don’t or haven’t applied to certain firms because they don’t think they would be the “right fit” – I shout from the rooftops as often as I can that there’s no such thing.

This year’s DiversCity event will be taking place on Monday 5 December 2016 at Baker & McKenzie in London.