Liam Kelly, Pupil Barrister at Deans Court Chambers
So first, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
I graduated from Leeds university in 2018, completing a degree in law and started straight away at Manchester BPP to complete the BPTC. I was offered a family law pupillage at Deans Court Chambers in Manchester during my BPTC and I’m now in my Second Six. Having lived in Manchester for most of my adult life, I wanted to practice up North. But before pursuing a career in law, I had a very different job managing call centres in the UK and abroad. I was living and working in Malaysia and decided I wanted to return home for a whole host of reasons, including the fact that homosexuality continues to be unlawful. I had always wanted to be a barrister, so it seemed like a good opportunity to apply to go to university, and the rest is history.
That is quite the career change! Can you tell us from your experience, what is it like being ‘out’ in the legal profession?
That is a very tough question, so I suppose I should just tell you my thoughts. I have had only one bad experience. Whilst being a student I met a member of the legal profession who explained to me that the Bar wasn't an industry for an LGBTQ+ person. This didn’t deter me, but I could see how other individuals would have become uncertain about a legal career as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Having said this, since joining the Bar, I have found it to be a truly welcoming profession where all genders and sexualities are accepted equally. I also work with a lot of different solicitors who are equally as supportive and welcoming of all types of people. Personally, I believe that it may have just been one bad experience. I found it quite easy transitioning into the legal world being a happily open gay man.
Were you ever advised not to disclose your sexuality on an application form? Were you ever afraid to?
It has always been very important to me when applying for a job, that I am able to be who I am. I have always ticked the box on the equality and diversity monitoring form identifying myself as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. I don’t think we should hideaway and I don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of! That said, I am aware of people who did not feel as comfortable or as able to do the same due to the historical stigma attached to the legal profession as being dominated by ‘straight white men’. However, my experience has been completely different to this, everyone I have met has been very welcoming and supportive, especially to junior members of the profession.
Do you think that this welcoming attitude is because family law attracts open-minded people? And do you think this has impacted your experience?
I think it potentially has an impact. In our line of work we see a wide variety of family units, for example, parents or children that are transitioning and LGBTQ+ families. Family law, of all the practice areas, is particularly exposed to a diverse range of issues, which encompass LGBTQ+ issues too. I do think that this possibly fosters more open mindedness than some other areas of the law, but I do not believe as a whole the profession suffers from systemic discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. There are other areas of the law perceived by others, especially students, as ‘macho’ such as corporate or commercial law, and I think TV portrayal of these lawyers has cemented this mantra. However, every commercial or corporate lawyer I've come across has been very open minded and welcoming. I have many LGBTQ+ friends who practice in this area, and the perception is often very different to the reality.
In the beginning were you ever anxious to come out in the workplace? Or anxious coming out to new people?
I think that this is one of the things as a community we suffer most with, because when you meet a new person you have to come out. You don’t just come out once, you spend your whole life doing it. I do feel I don't always have to announce my sexuality, but I often talk about my partner in a gender-neutral way and if people ask, then I'll tell them. I don't feel like I have to worry about it because in my mind I don't see any reason as to why I should shy away from being who I am. However, in the past I've definitely thought about how people may perceive it or how the information may be treated. But as I said, I believe this profession is very accepting of people of all different types.
Adding to this, have you experienced any difficulties based on your sexuality in your career?
Other than the experience I had during my university studies; I have never experienced any other difficulties because of my sexuality. I have found everybody I have encountered, to be exceptionally welcoming and supportive for people to be who they want to be.
That’s very positive to hear! Do you have specific networks for LGBTQ+ members or ethnic groups within your chambers?
We have about one-hundred members in Chambers, so we are relatively compact compared to some other chambers who have several hundred members, so most of us know each other. We don't have any particular networks per se, but I know a number of other LGBTQ+ people in Chambers who I’m in touch with on a regular basis. The nature of Chambers, well certainly mine, is that it has a more familial feel due to its collegiate nature and size, than perhaps larger multi-national firms with offices all over the globe.
That’s really interesting, in general do you think the legal profession is doing enough to ensure support for the diversity and inclusion of LGBTQ+ employees? Personally, I sometimes see that there is large emphasis on the G in LGBTQ+, do you think that there needs to be more emphasis on the other elements in the legal sector?
I think there are some great initiatives in the legal profession to support LGBTQ+ people as many firms have network schemes and conduct outreach work with the likes of pride to encourage people to join the legal profession. There's also ‘Freehold’ which is the LGBTQ+ association for property lawyers and ‘FreeBar’ for within the bar, so I think there are a lot of initiatives.
But do I think that we are doing enough? I think that’s a very difficult question to answer because what is considered enough? Where do we draw that line?
What's important for LGBTQ+ people in the profession is that we are visible within our fields and that we support younger LGBTQ+ professionals, encouraging others in the community to join the legal sector. My experience is that this is a very welcoming industry that will support you. For your second question, being a gay man I sometimes I find questions like this difficult because although it is important, I don't wish to speak on behalf of others. However, the answer is definitely yes. I am acutely aware as a gay white man, we are the most privileged within our community and we have a duty to acknowledge this and encourage other members of the community, that do not share our privilege, to come into the legal profession. Could the profession do more? I'm sure it could.
I have said in other interviews that intersectional approaches are rarely seen, such as being a black gay man; they are always treated as separate issues. What are your thoughts on this?
I agree with you, I know some very good intersectional groups that do not cross over. I think you rarely see specific black-gay support or trans-black support, for example, as it’s rare to see that targeted approach to inclusivity. As I said it is very difficult for me to speak on someone else's behalf and I don’t know how one would best engage with those sectors within our community, but you are right, a lot of initiative has been aimed at the G as opposed to the rest of the spectrum.
Finally, what are three pieces of advice you would offer aspiring LGBTQ+ legal professionals?
Firstly, I would say don't be ashamed of who you are. This is a profession that deals with people from all walks of life, I have found it to be very accepting. I would say what makes our legal profession the best in the world is our range of diversity; each member brings their own unique view to the system. That said, it is widely acknowledged that more must be done to increase diversity.
Secondly, you should be visible, LGBTQ+ people need to be seen within the profession and many are working to address issues that either directly affect the LGBTQ+ community or intersectional communities. Don't be afraid to take a lead on something to promote diversity across the profession.
Finally, although this is a bit cliché, keep positive, you can do this and yes, it's hard work and yes you have to make sacrifices, but being LGBTQ+ will not prevent you from achieving a legal career, so go and get it.