Brie Stevens-Hoare QC, Barrister at Hardwicke Chambers
Tell us about yourself and what you do?
Professionally I have lots of hats - a barrister specialising in property, contentious probate and related professional negligence. I sit as a part-time FFT Judge in Land Registry and I’m one of the JAC (Judicial Appointments Commission) Commissioners. The real me is best described as a pansexual, civilised, motorbike riding and with a bungee jumping approach to life (including an actual love of bungee jumping).
In your experience, what it’s like being ‘out’ in the legal profession?
I was at the Bar for at least 8 years before my first relationship with a woman. So I am conscious I have always had ‘privilege’ of seniority since being out and now having been at the Bar since the mid 1980s I am very secure in my position. However, even taking account of that I would say mostly the Bar is a lot better than most people would assume. Certainly, my chambers, it has been open, positive, supportive and accepting with very few individuals being an exception. When I came out in the early 1990s, it was a different time. Most people thought it was okay to ask what I now would see as inappropriate and intrusive questions, but aside from that – good. It was a bit trickier in terms of clients. In the early years, I do not recall discussing what to do with anyone. So I just had to handle it myself. Over time within increased seniority and security about my position and reputation, I have tended to get more vocal about being pansexual and in a lesbian relationship and louder in my call for the Bar to be proactive in encouraging and supporting diversity.
That’s really positive. Earlier in your career, were you ever advised not to disclose your sexuality? Or were you ever afraid to?
At the start of my career, I had only had relationships with men so in the sense the question is not so applicable to me. It was obviously a very different time I guess if I had been in a relationship with a woman then I think I would have been concerned about it. I know that even today people joining the profession are unsure.
In the workplace, have you ever felt anxious about coming out to new people?
Within the chambers, I wasn’t anxious about coming out. My first female partner was a fellow member of the chambers. She was very anxious about the reaction of others to her sexuality, and it was quite complicated to negotiate our way through that. I was lucky my family were very LGBTQ+ supportive – my parents had gay friends. Her family were very different so our baseline assumptions about people’s likely responses were very different. My presumption has always been that people will be fine unless there is something to suggests to me that it might not be. Whereas, her presumption was that people wouldn’t be fine with it - so that was quite complicated.
In terms of clients, no one spoke to me about it in terms of being out with them, so I sort of just had to feel my way. I was cautious, as I tended not to say anything to lay clients in the early years unless I was seeing them multiple times. Often in the early years of practice, you would just meet the client once. So, if I was seeing clients repeatedly and we were spending time together chatting I would get fed up of editing my language and would start just talking naturally and openly which would make the position clear. With most of my professional clients, we have an ongoing working relationship so fairly quickly I outed myself by just talking about myself and/or my life in a way that made the fact apparent.
Sometimes honesty is the way forward. Have you experienced any particular difficulties in your career because of your sexuality?
I honestly don’t think I have – although it may not be overt. Although when I joined and Professional LGBT+ network, it was extraordinary how much more relaxed I was when networking – even that 30 second internal “do I edit” takes up energy and focus.
Where I have faced more challenges and difficulties in my career has been being female and not practising in the areas of work that were “expected” of a woman. In the 1980s and 1990s as a woman, it was assumed you would practice in areas such as crime, particularly sex crime and family work, such as child law. But because I wanted to do civil work and property that surprised people. As a young woman, I was regularly patronised by other make barristers and by Judges.
In terms of my sexuality when I came out a couple of individuals were not comfortable with my sexuality, but they would have been the same outside the professional sphere. Fortunately for me no one with an issue was in a position to adversely impact me or my career.
How did you overcome the difficulties of being a female in law?
A lot of humour. A lot of plain talking with humour and finding my support; my allies.
People who would be my safe place and to whom I could go and say “Is this me?”, “Am I getting this wrong? Is this really what’s going on?"
Most of the Bar is incredibly supportive and accepting, and very outraged when they see the sort of behaviours that cause problems for women, LGBTQ+ people or people of colour. Most members of the Bar are not accepting of discrimination or harassment if they see it. However, the Bar has probably been too passive. It could do more to promote values and processes that produce real equality of opportunity. It could do more to really see how something lands for those in underrepresented groups or whose life experience tells them they are outsiders. But for the most part, if you are prepared to question and respectfully challenge certainly in relation to my sexuality, they work at getting their heads around it.
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?
No. The legal profession is not behind other non-legal professions. The Bar is a bit behind solicitors in terms of active engagement. However, I don’t think the legal profession is trailing behind society as a whole, it is possibly slightly ahead. But for me, because of our role in the administration of justice and all the things we stand for, the legal profession should be at the very core of pushing society to a point where we truly have “acceptance without exception”. I’m not talking just about LGBTQ+ but all areas of lack of acceptance. So, I don’t think we are doing enough – the big picture, being loud about it, being challenging about it.
Many firms and solicitors are responding because their big clients are increasingly demanding that they think about this stuff. However, the firms and solicitors should be thinking about this stuff and demanding and questioning their clients whether they are doing the job properly and have actually addressed their systemic racism, homophobic or whatever it may be. For example, the solicitors’ side of the legal profession are very actively engaging with their clients, but they don’t use their position as part of the supply chain to encourage the Bar to change. They could be very powerful influencers in changing the Bar. We are not challenging enough of each other and with the current climate that really engaged the public around the Black Lives Matter movement – for me, it’s all linked. All of these group experience the “ism” that pushes them down differently, and they are subject to different behaviours, different assumptions and biases but it’s all the same failing – a failure to properly respect and value everyone whether they are like you or not.
It’s refreshing to see your drive for change. In your experience, do you think initiatives focus enough on intersectional issues?
More could certainly be done in that area. In the spheres where I’ve had an influence on conversations via Freebar, Twitter, Inn Diversity and Equality Committees, Freehold, etc. I am not a lone voice saying “hang on we need to think about X from an intersectional point of view”. For me when you ask why is this such a male environment? Why is this such a white environment? Why is it such an abled body environment? there are common themes and at the same time some distinct aspects. About 4 or 5 years ago speaking to an EDI professional at the Bar Standards Board, I said ‘intersectional’ and he stepped back and said, ‘you are the first barrister I’ve heard use that word.” He certainly would not say that now. So, it’s starting but there is a long, long way to go.
What are some pieces of advice you’d give to aspiring LGBTQ+ lawyers?
Be yourself and that includes when engaging with employers. Whether that is networking or interviews, do not leave your personality at the door. This is part of being yourself, this is being your present lively self, the full colour that is you. That’s the only way to be the best you.
Find your allies, your safe space where you can go and bounce concerns and ideas around. People who will go with you to a place if you are not sure, who will talk through with you how to handle a situation, why you are experiencing things as you are and whether there is a different perspective or way to respond, react and/or challenge things. This will help you become braver, more energetic and more you. If you are concerned there is a problem where there may not be, that can hold you back as much as not knowing what to do a problem that is there.