Barry Harwood, Barrister at Harwood Law

So, tell us about yourself and what you do.

I’m a barrister who was called to the Bar in 1998 at Lincoln’s Inn. I did my pupillage in London, with a very mixed set of both civil and criminal law and had a great experience during pupillage it. However, it was an unfunded pupillage as they could be in those days. Then I moved straight into employment law because it was an area of law that I particularly liked. I was an openly gay man coming to the Bar but I felt comfortable having come from a police background. I went into a much more inclusive environment as a barrister and I was able to at least be myself during pupillage. I’ve done a whole host of things since then, including setting up my own Chambers earlier this year, called Harwood Law, which deals exclusively with employment discrimination and civil litigation and mediation (with about 10 members of Chambers).

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In your experience, what is it like being out in the legal profession?

Well, in my experience, it has been very invigorating and pleasing to be able to be myself. If people don’t like me for who I am, then that’s a problem that they have, not a problem that I have. Given that I specialize in the area of law that challenges any inappropriate behaviour, I feel empowered to be myself. It might be more difficult for somebody that maybe isn’t specialized in my area, but I kind of know what the limits are and what the behaviour should be towards me and others. Therefore, I try my best to help other people who are suffering from discriminatory behaviour that they come across every day, either at, or outside of work.

Were you ever advised not to disclose your sexuality on an application form? Or were you ever afraid to?

Interestingly enough, I joined the Bar Lesbian and Gay Group very early on. I was also a member of the Young Barristers committee in my early years, and am now a member of the National Bar council again, but I was encouraged in the opposite way. I was encouraged to actually declare that I was an openly gay man on the application form, on the basis that I would then be applying sets where I feel most comfortable, and therefore by saying that I was gay, gave me a distinct advantage I think, in perhaps securing an interview or being recruited into that set of chambers.

Oh, that’s really positive. On a similar note, and were you ever anxious to come out in the workplace? And do you ever feel anxious about coming out to new people in the workplace?

Now I don’t feel anxious at all. I feel I’m in a position of strength in terms of equality because of the practice that I’ve created and the sort of person that I am. I feel I can be at long last completely myself. I certainly didn’t feel that way though for the 15 years that I was serving in the police. As soon as I came out in the police service, towards the end of my time with them, I found that it was almost a don’t ask, don’t tell situation. The Police Service didn’t want me to tell them that I was gay, even though they might have guessed it. When I told them, it was my career-over. It became a hostile and distressing place to be a member of. Today, at least in my experience, the cases are still very insular, and organisations will pay lip service to the Equal Opportunities agenda. But actually, the reality is, there’s still a lot of very hidden discrimination, unconscious bias and so on, that’s prevalent in many of those public sector organizations.

This does lead quite well on to the next question, but more about your legal career. So Have you experienced any difficulties in your legal career because of your sexuality? And if so, how did you overcome them?

Yes, I have experienced some difficulties. In the police service, once I decided I could feel safe, I naively decided to tell my employers that I was gay. As I say, I didn’t expect the approach to be so unsupportive and so inward and narrow looking. Therefore, that drove me in the force and actually, if you like, thrusted me into becoming a barrister. So, in a sense, even though it was a horribly bad and desperately dark time, out of that came the opportunity to retrain and become a barrister. For example, towards the end of the time I spent with the police service, I was undertaking a degree part-time at university whilst also being a police officer. I was running to university and then was back on duty. I eventually managed to get my first degree, which was a non-law degree, then after that I was able to focus on my Graduate Diploma in Law; a three year degree crammed into one year to make it a qualifying law degree. After that, I did the bar course and my pupillage. I was able to secure a pupillage straight away, albeit it was an unfunded one. So, in a way, the very bad experiences I’ve had in the police service drove me into a very successful career that I’m still having and enjoying as an employment barrister. I think sometimes bad experiences make you try even harder to overcome those difficulties by helping other people that are suffering in similar ways. I think it gives you empathy to anybody suffering discrimination in the workplace, or, for that matter, in any context of life. I could have easily stayed home and watched daytime TV, or I could have gone out and done something about it, which I did. I’m the sort of person that when treated unfairly, and believing that I had been discriminated against terribly by very narrow-minded individuals within the police service, who wants to do something about it. I think by studying and then getting into a position of power, it then empowered me to sort of say, well, you know, almost two fingers to you. If I look back over my career today, over the last 22 years, I’m very proud of many of the things that I’ve managed to achieve. Hopefully I can continue to help and will always be in a position to give to others in society, whatever their difficulties.

Do you think the legal profession is doing enough to ensure support for diversity and
inclusion of LGBTQIA+ employees? And if not, what more could be done?

Well, I think there’s always more that can be done- I think that’s the starting point. Certainly though, as a member of the Bar Council, the Equality, Diversity and Social Mobility committee and our Education Training committee, I’ve been impressed with the work that the Bar Council is trying to do, along with others in the wider profession, within chambers, and within groups such as yours that have been set up. But I do always think there’s much more to be done. I don’t think it’s in anywhere near perfect. I think part of it is training and education, because a lot of barristers are self- employed. Around only one in five are probably employed. The rest are all self-employed and in a sense, unless those individuals have taught themselves well or been taught in an appropriate way, often their behaviours are not checked, or they don’t realize why they’re behaving in a certain way until somebody calls them out. Barristers don’t always like to be challenged, as is the nature of the beast that we are. We like to think we’re right about everything, and often we’re not. So Therefore, I think there’s still much more work to be done.

Amazing. And then finally, what are three pieces of advice you’d give to aspiring LGBTQIA+ legal professionals?

My first piece of advice is to always try to be yourself at work. If you are yourself at work, whether you’re self-employed as a Barrister or employed, you will always produce a better quality of work and always be happy. That, in turn, will help your clients. If you take any personal baggage into the workplace, either into the client conference or into the tribunal or court, then that’s clearly going to affect your ability to do the best job that you can.

Advice number two, and I suppose this is something I learned when I was doing my training with Stonewall. I’m a role model for Stonewall and in terms of LGBTQIA+ work one must always look at people with ‘kind eyes’ and I stress that this phrase is something that the previous Chief Executive, Ruth Hunt, who’s now Dame Ruth Hunt would say regularly at sessions. Always look at people with kind eyes. There’s a huge amount of relevance to that because I think we often do still stereotype people or look at them through a bad lens, when we should really look at them through a kind lens, and then that, in turn, creates a nice situation.

The third piece of advice would be- be prepared for setbacks or knock backs that have nothing to do with your sexual orientation. Absolutely nothing to do with your sexual orientation, or your particular religion or belief or your age, or in other words, any of the protected characteristics. They’re sometimes more to do with the situation, so don’t always be ready to label things as due to your sexuality. Sometimes it is but other times it’s for more genuine reasons. Also, don’t always feel that you have a point to prove. If you’re good at what you do then that will shine through wherever you come from.