Amanda Hart, Barrister at Doughty Street Chambers
So, tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
I'm an employment lawyer specializing in discrimination law, but covering the whole area of employment law. I primarily act for claimants. In terms of my background, I'm in my 50s. I never wanted to be a lawyer. I was involved in Student Union activities when I was at university, and then got involved in trade unions and worked for trade unions for 15 years. It was only then that I took a law conversion course, qualified as a barrister and was called to the bar in 2001. So, my younger self would never have believed that I would end up becoming part of the establishment as a barrister. But here I am 20 years later, being an employment lawyer and finding it an incredibly interesting and fascinating career.
In your experience, what is it like being out in the legal profession?
In my experience, it's been absolutely fine. However, I did make a deliberate decision when I decided to join the bar, that I would only apply for chambers that I felt I could be comfortable in. I was out in my union work, out as a student, so had been out for 20+ years when I qualified as a barrister, and there was no way I was going to go back into the closet, just to do a job. I've ended up in Doughty Street, which is an incredibly liberal chambers, so it has never been an issue for me. Nor has my sexuality been an issue with the solicitors or the professional people that I've dealt with. Whilst my personal experience has been very positive, it's partly because I chose a certain route and area of employment law. Probably a more liberal area than maybe some other areas.
You've kind of answered this question already but were you ever advised not to disclose your sexuality or gender identity on an application for or were you ever afraid to?
No, I wasn't. When I applied, I certainly referred to the fact that I had been involved as a student in active gay rights campaigns, such as Clause 28, and in equality work for trade unions. My sexuality would have probably been fairly obvious from my application
On a similar note, were you ever anxious to come out in the workplace? And do you ever feel anxious about coming out to new people such as clients
Yeah, there’s a difference, isn't there. I mean I don't feel at all anxious to be out to colleagues. I am out to some of my solicitors, not all of them, it depends on how much I get to know them. Some you literally have almost no contact with: I know nothing about them and they know nothing about me. And there are others with whom you become friends. By and large, I'm not out to clients. Again, it depends on the nature of the relationship with them, if my client is gay then I may reveal my sexuality to reassure them, if it is appropriate. But I think as a professional there are professional boundaries and I tend to reveal little about my personal life to my clients. I'm not there to be their friend but to represent them.
Have you experienced any difficulties in your career because of your sexuality or gender identity? If so, how did you overcome them?
I've not experienced any difficulties personally, but I'm sure other people have. I'm certainly not someone who would say it doesn't exist. But as far as I'm aware, I have not experienced any personal difficulties.
Do you think the legal profession is doing enough to ensure the support for diversity and inclusion of LGBTQ+ employees? And if not, what more can be done?
From my perspective, and in relation to my Chambers, I think we are doing enough. Our chambers now have an LGBTQ+ group within chambers, which covers both barristers and employees, and is very active. So, my experience is a very positive one. I suspect other chambers may be different.
Finally, what are three pieces of advice you'd give to aspiring LGBTQ+ legal professionals?
First, I would say be yourself. This is an incredibly stressful profession, just by the nature of the work. The last thing you want is to add to that stress in terms of your personal life. So just be yourself in this job as much as you possibly can. That means being out if that's something you feel comfortable about.
The second piece of advice is, if you want to be out, you don't have to be out to absolutely everyone and don’t feel bad if you are not out in some situations. We spend our whole life coming out to people. When I was in my 20s, I thought I'm out and that’s it, end of. Thirty years on, I’m still having to make judgment calls as to whether or not to reveal my sexuality every time I meet someone new. Do what feels comfortable, and don't beat yourself up if sometimes you don’t reveal your sexuality – it is always a judgment call.
The third piece of advice is that there is a growing network of support within the legal profession and in our community. Use it. If your chambers don’t have an LGBTQ+ group, then help set one up to use the support that's out there. If you do encounter trouble or experience discrimination, there are people that you can turn to who will give you support.