Alex Holland, Future Trainee Solicitor at Travers Smith
Tell us about yourself and what you do?
My name is Alex Holland and I’ve just finished the LPC at BPP London. I’m due to start a training contract with City law firm Travers Smith in September this year. I identify as a gay cisgender man and came out in my final year at Warwick, having spent several years being both confused about my sexuality and scared to accept that I wasn’t straight.
In your experience, what it’s like being ‘out’ in law?
Although I haven’t started my training contract yet, I worked as a paralegal at Travers in their tax team in the year between graduating and starting the LPC, so I’ve had some experience of being out in law. By the time I started at Travers I was comfortable in the knowledge that I was gay and had been in a relationship for just under a year. Before starting I was, as many of us gay people are, worried about not fitting the heterosexual norm, but I made the active choice not to hide my sexuality and to talk about my boyfriend if it came up in conversation. The people I met at Travers were so welcoming and inclusive that I never felt awkward talking about it. The reality for me was that I over-exaggerated the worst-case scenario in my head and got so worked up about it when in fact it was something I didn’t need to worry about (although I fully acknowledge that this isn’t the reality for everyone and I consider myself very lucky in this sense). You should always ensure that you feel comfortable enough in your workplace to bring your whole self to work; your experience and performance will be compromised if you don’t. If you ever sense that your workplace is not fully accepting of your sexuality or gender identity, they don’t deserve you or your fabulousness.
Were you ever advised not to disclose your sexuality/gender identity on an application form? Or were you ever afraid to?
No-one ever advised me not to, but I was definitely worried about disclosing it when I first started doing applications and had many internal debates about whether I should or shouldn’t. As I said above, the traditional lawyer that we often think about is not someone who shares my background or sexuality, so a part of me felt that disclosing my sexual orientation would prejudice my chances of landing a training contract. I think it’s almost inevitable for us queer lawyers of tomorrow to have these thoughts because our community has a history of being, and continues to be, marginalised. Training contract applications are so competitive that we sometimes kid ourselves into thinking that we stand a better chance if our application is more conforming to the historic stereotype of a lawyer. Often we want these opportunities so badly that we think ticking the ‘straight’ or ‘cisgender’ box on an application form is something that will help our chances of making it to the next round.
Do you have any worries about your future professional career in regard to your sexuality/gender identity?
I’m definitely not worried about it anymore. Prior to me starting at Travers I may have done, but knowing they are a firm that champions diversity and inclusion reassures me that my identification as a gay man won’t get in the way of my career development.
Have you experienced any difficulties in your professional life so far because of your sexuality or gender identity? How did you overcome them?
I’m certainly one of the lucky ones in that I haven’t experienced many serious difficulties in my professional life because of my sexuality. The biggest challenge I’ve faced in my professional life was deciding whether or not to go back into the closet when I started work, which is obviously a decision that none of us should feel like we have to make. Reflecting on it, I do think a lot of my worry over this was to do with my internalised homophobia, which is a very toxic thing. A lot of my frustration and unease over accepting that I was gay stemmed from several things: fearing how others would react, going against the homophobic narrative that you’ve been made to believe is true for so long, and that an aspiring corporate lawyer couldn’t possibly be openly gay if they want to rise through the ranks. Overcoming these feelings is a hard task and I’m not sure if there was any one thing that helped me to eliminate my own homophobic thoughts. However, I can’t stress enough how important it is to surround yourself with friends and allies who fully accept and celebrate you. It’s only when you start to realise that there’s nothing wrong with being the way you are that you will really come into your own and learn that the biggest thing holding you back might be yourself (not to sound too much like RuPaul…)
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 the important thing to note here is that they are trying, and that’s definitely progress. Some firms have the resources to do more than others, but every firm I researched had obviously acknowledged that D&I was something that needed to be improved and had implemented some form of initiative in response. Unfortunately, a more diverse and inclusive workforce is not something that is going to happen overnight, and it will take a while to actually see the full effects of these initiatives on the representation we see in the legal workplace. In any case, I’m hopeful and think it is definitely improving. What is promising is that the legal profession is no longer just comprised of cisgender white heterosexual men and I firmly believe that this is paving the way for a more diverse and inclusive legal sector. That being said, there is obviously more that firms could be doing, especially large international firms that have offices in anti-LGBTQ+ countries. Whilst many firms still support LGBTQ+ rights in these countries, some only do so within the confines of their offices because it is a criminal offence to do so outside of them. Instead of just promoting it inside the office and accepting the discriminatory laws, I think firms should be playing more of an active role in policy intervention and lobbying more intensely for LGBTQ+ rights in these countries.
What are 3 pieces of advice you’d give to aspiring LGBTQ+ lawyers?
Authenticity is key. I can assure you that you will not enjoy work if you feel like you’re having to hide your gender identity or sexual orientation. You’ll also find it much harder at interviews if you’re trying to pass off as something you’re not. Whilst it’s not a defining characteristic, it’s certainly a big one and one that you should have the right to celebrate and be proud of.
Use your gender identity or sexual orientation to your advantage. I spoke about diversity and inclusion initiatives at all of my interviews and said why it was important to me as a gay man. It allowed me to steer the conversation towards something I wanted to talk about. Diversity and inclusion are topics that we as queer people are well-versed in, so demonstrate your enthusiasm for their D&I initiatives and tell them why this is something that attracts you to the firm. You should always do your research on a firm’s D&I initiatives and stats because it allows you to gauge whether their commitment to D&I is a genuine and strong one.
Have conversations with members of the firm that share this same characteristic as you. If you’re worried that your sexual orientation or gender identity is going to set you back, there’s nothing more reassuring than hearing about people’s lived experiences of what it’s like to be at X firm as an X person. I had coffee with members of Travers Smith’s D&I board during my vacation scheme and it was so encouraging and reassuring to learn that LGBTQ+ members of the firm are not only accepted but celebrated and welcomed in the same way as their straight and cisgender colleagues. You’ve got this – don’t let imposter syndrome get in your way.