Eraldo d'Atri , Senior Associate at Clifford Chance
Just to start, could you tell us about yourself and what you do?
My name is Eraldo d'Atri and I’m a senior associate in the litigation and dispute resolution department at Clifford Chance. I work primarily in international arbitration, but I have a wide practice in dispute resolution generally.
In your experience, what it’s like being ‘out’ in the legal profession?
I would say it’s pretty good. I’d say certainly in my career, I’ve seen a huge development in the workplace. Although I can only really comment on the environment I work in, I feel that, in London as a whole, the profession is very accepting of lawyers who are out and there’s certainly a very large community of LGBTQ+ lawyers. This allows you to build a good network with other professionals and create bridges with private organisations and other law firms. It feels like a good time to be out!
I started my training contract in 2008, and I didn’t have to think about being out too much. I just thought it was important to be myself at work and I honestly couldn’t imagine it any other way. I really do think things are getting better and I'm increasingly positive on that front.
That’s really positive to hear! Following what you mentioned about your training contract, when you applied for it, were you ever advised not to disclose your sexuality or gender identity on an application form? Or were you ever afraid to?
I was never advised not to include it. Whether I was afraid to? I don’t think so. I’m sure at the time it was on my mind and something I would have thought about but I was certainly never told not to.
Have you experienced any difficulties in your career because of your sexuality or gender identity? How did you overcome them?
I think there are two aspects to this question. The first is the immediate workplace with colleagues, for example, in this aspect, I felt like it was a positive experience and easy enough to discuss my sexuality with them. I never felt particularly anxious about coming out to colleagues, so I didn’t experience any difficulties there.
However, when it comes to interaction with clients, then it is a bit trickier. Particularly within the field that I work in as I am more likely to work with clients from other jurisdictions. I think this will always make you a little more anxious because you are not so sure if they are going to be as accepting. So, I think on that front, I am always a little more hesitant to expressly come out to clients. I imagine that some clients don’t know I’m gay. However, it has come up in conversation with many and others will immediately find out through looking at my Linked In, for example, as I don’t hide my sexuality. I think it’s definitely a difficulty, because it affects the way you interact with your clients. I’m not saying it’s necessarily negative, but it is something you need to think about, and it is something that’s at the back of your mind when interacting with them.
The other thing which isn’t necessarily a difficulty but more of a small burden, is that as a gay man or LGBTQ+ professional, I certainly feel, particularly now that I’m more senior, it is my duty to push our agenda and make sure people hear LGBTQ+ voices. So, I’ve found that’s something important, like a duty. But at the same time, there is this sort of damned if you do, damned if you don’t mindset because you feel this duty to support your community, but at the same time, there is always a risk of being pigeonholed into being the diversity person if you’re perceived as always talking about particular issues. Of course, I am very passionate about diversity and inclusion, but first and foremost, I’m a lawyer. I want to be recognised for my skills as a litigator. So, it does play on my mind a bit, in the sense that I need and want to be an advocate because I believe in this and I’d be betraying my community if I don’t, but at the same time, how is that going to affect my career? Are people going to see me as the diversity person as opposed to everything else that I do? It’s definitely something to think about.
Yeah definitely, it’s about getting the right balance, isn’t it? I’ve heard from quite a few other lawyers in the profession that sometimes they’re pioneered as the diversity person rather than being a solicitor, barrister or their expertise. What you want is a bit of both- you want to get involved with diversity initiatives and lead them, but you don’t necessarily want that to be your defining characteristic as such.
Do you think the legal profession is doing enough to ensure support for the diversity & inclusion of LGBTQ+ employees? If not, what more could be done?
I think there’s definitely been a turning point recently where the legal profession has gone from just tolerance and acceptance, to fully embracing their LGBTQ+ community. I think on that front there is a lot of support within the community and a huge number of allies that are coming out to support.
I do think there’s still a lot to do, for example in helping the T (transgender) and Q+ (queer) in our community. I think there’s still a lot that needs to be done to support trans and non-binary people in the profession. I think that you can see, particularly recently, a vocal backlash on trans rights. It’s sort of being legitimised through voices from very outspoken people who might otherwise be considered allies of LGB causes. That's why I think there’s definitely still more that could be done in our profession to help both trans and non-binary people. Pro-bono work is where we can push the boundaries and help our colleagues. The other side is, of course, using this huge platform that we’ve got in the legal profession. We are great advocates in general, and the law and human rights legislation is what fundamentally drives inclusion, so we should be using our platform to support trans colleagues in this especially difficult time for them, particularly with the GRA (Gender Recognition Act) being challenged and in some aspects being rolled back. So, I think we really need to be using this opportunity and platform that we’ve got to support our trans and non-binary colleagues.
Yeah definitely- I think a lot of the time the focus is more on LGB and especially gay white cis-gendered men which is, although perhaps unintentional, often the outreach for many organisations, especially with intersectionality and non-binary rights.
And so finally, what are 3 pieces of advice you’d give to aspiring LGBTQ+ legal professionals?
I would say, first of all, bring your whole self to work. It’s perhaps a cliché statement but it’s important to always remain true to yourself. You spend more time at work then you do with your family and friends so it's very important to be yourself. You won’t be able to hide it without taking a massive mental toll and it’s going to make interactions with your colleagues and clients a lot more difficult if you don't. I’d say we’re fortunate enough that we live in a society at the moment where it’s ok to be out and its accepted. Just be true to yourself!
The second one would be to make sure you pursue your interests. If you have a passion or something that inspires you - pursue it. Don’t worry too much about the implications. Also, in the legal profession, there’s a variety of pro bono work which you might be interested in, so definitely get involved where you can. Yes, it might take some time away from your other work commitments and yes, there’s a risk you might be pigeon-holed, but if that’s something which inspires you, do it anyway - you will be much happier for it.
Finally, I think some people, particularly from a minority group and certainly for LGBTQ+ people, might wait for mentors to come to them and help them. If you see people out there that inspire you (they don’t have to be LGBTQ+ by the way), just reach out and ask them to be your sponsor or mentor. Connect with people and don’t wait for them to reach out to you – you won't regret it!