Scott Halliday, Family Law Associate at Irwin Mitchell

So, tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

I am a Family Law Associate Solicitor at Irwin Mitchell and have worked at the firm now for 5 years. I am based predominantly in the London and Leeds offices. I deal with an array of family law issues and have expertise in LGBTQ+ family issues. I usually work with clients who wish to divorce and deal with the financial consequences of separation as well as children law issues, be that on separation or standalone issues like relocation of children. 

 In addition to the day job, I’ve sat on the Law Society’s national LGBT+ Lawyers Division Committee in London. The Committee offers peer support, holds events for LGBT+ lawyers and raises awareness / campaigns more broadly within the profession. We sit in sub-committees as well and my current focus is on transgender and gender diverse issues and events.

I also remain engaged in academic legal issues and regularly write articles for legal journals, comment in the national press and radio as well as guest lecture at institutions such as at the University of York, Queen Mary University of London and Durham from time to time. The writing and lectures focus on family issues, LGBTQ+ family law issues and the interface between family law and human rights law.  I’m also an undergraduate admissions interview tutor in the Law School at the University of York.  All this aside I enjoy a glass of wine with friends at the weekend. 

Wow, you’re very busy- it sounds like really interesting work!  Next up, what’s your experience of being ‘out’ in the profession?

When I started my career, I was a lot more concerned about being out in the legal profession, but I wish I hadn’t been.  I wouldn’t say that it has been a detriment to me; people certainly haven’t made me feel like that.  I actually think that there’s something quite exciting and brilliant about being out in the profession if you’ve got support around you.  My firm and colleagues have been great and alongside supporting me they have championed and encouraged me. I know this is not true for everyone, but that is my experience at Irwin Mitchell.

One thing I would say is that being part of the Law Society LGBT+ National Committee, I’m conscious that we do work with big city firms as well as smaller localised firms.  I’m in quite a luxurious position in truth as I have spent the majority of my legal career in Leeds, a big northern city that’s quite a cosmopolitan place and then London, the most cosmopolitan place.  So, I appreciate that being out in the profession might be different for different people subject to where you’re practising law; I think being in a big city is different to being in a small town and I think that’s benefitted me. 

That all said it is so tough when you are starting in the profession and want to network and mix with other professionals. I certainly struggled at the beginning and felt like I may be judged or misunderstood. You have to get out of that mindset as quickly as possible and I would encourage future lawyers not to think like that. You cannot please everyone and nor should you try to do so. 

Do you think the area of law you practice has an impact as well?  Might it be easier out when practising in any specific area of law? 

I think the skillset that you need to be a good family lawyer lends itself to making connections with people, being understood and being compassionate and open-minded because you deal with a great variety of people, which is true of my colleagues… I think there is probably something in that.   

That makes sense.  We’re glad to hear you’ve had such a positive experience!  Looking back to university, were you ever advised not to disclose your sexuality on your application form, or were you ever afraid to?

I’ve never been advised not to disclose my sexual orientation and/or gender identity on an application form, however, I did not disclose my sexual orientation on the first ever set of training contracts that I applied for. That said, I did when I was applying for training contracts in my third year of university. I thought to myself that I’ve worked so hard for this that I can’t imagine working somewhere I can’t be authentic and transparent.  I know that may not be for everybody, but for me, I just got to a point where I thought actually, you give so much to your career; whether its chambers or a firm, you give so much of your life and it’s a brilliant profession but I thought if I want to get involved, I want to do it openly.

It is understandable when you’re applying or even finishing off your training contract if you do feel anxious.  It’s only human nature, we must acknowledge that we cannot expect people to be out and proud from day one, that’s just naive.  Different people feel differently about it but you’ve got to try and work through that, find allies and colleagues.  Find people in your practice area who support you and your career development.  If you build a supportive network and you slowly but surely feel more comfortable and open, then hopefully the anxiety will fall away if it is there at all.  There will always be examples, perhaps with colleagues and/or clients, where you feel insecure about some element of yourself and that’s not confined to being LGBTQ+.  I think once you build your network and become more confident in your legal work, certainly for me, I felt much more relaxed.  At the end of the day, my clients are largely referrals and they come to me because of who I and what I do.  For that to work, you need your personality to shine through and so being able to be yourself is definitely an asset in that respect.

Amazing advice!  So, from your experience, is it easy to find LGBTQ+ or ally role models in senior positions?

There are a lot of people who are positive role models and they’re brilliant. I can think of a number in my practice areas alone who are senior lawyers or barristers. But, I do still think that we need more role models and more people at different levels of businesses and chambers who are comfortable and want to develop future generations. What we have at the moment, in some ways, is quite a small group of senior people who have done so very much and are pioneering, but, what we need moving forward is simply more and more.

Yes, we completely agree!  Our next question is, have you experienced any difficulties in your career because of your sexuality?  How did you overcome them?

I have not personally experienced any direct difficulty with clients.  I have found colleagues at Irwin Mitchell to be supportive and embracing but we’re quite open and progressive and pioneering, that’s what we’re about.  What I would say is you will have difficulties in your career for 101 different reasons, we all will.  Yes, sometimes that might link to your sexual orientation or gender identity. This is not acceptable and each case of this will be different- this is not a one size fits all answer.  But, if you do face difficulties, part of the right type of response is to hopefully have a supportive and close knit group of colleagues, to cling to them for support and guidance. They will serve you well. It’s a competitive, demanding career so find your tribe of professional people and work with them, talk to them and rely on them.

From what you’ve witnessed, 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?

There has been a lot of positive progress in recent years and that has to be acknowledged. A lot of firms are creating internal diversity groups, the Law Society are reaching out and working with different law firms and building up networks and policies.  I do still think that there is a lack of diversity at senior levels, both at the bar and in firms. But there are some brilliant pioneering senior members who have stood up and are extremely important.

The diversity agenda in the legal profession is intersectional.  LGBTQ+ diversity is not standalone; it is interwoven into gender, race and social class etc. There’s a long way to go and there are great role models, we just need more from different levels of the profession.  We need the next generation coming through to be more represented.  I mean that in terms of intersectionality. But this is an enormously complex question and there are many issues linked to it.  

Absolutely.  Intersectionality is key and we need to make sure that we’re not looking at these issues through a narrow lens.  Onto our final question!  

We’re compiling the three key pieces of advice that LGBTQ+ professionals like yourself would give to the ‘queer lawyers of tomorrow’; what are yours?

1. You have to try very early on in your career to identify people across your firm or chambers who are positive role models and connect with them and hold them dear. You should cherish them and align yourself with those people; this will help you be part of the change you want to see in professional culture.  But, frankly, also accept that everyone does not have the same regard and interest in who you are and what you’re trying to achieve. Do not be offended by such people, but cherish the people you have. I still would call the Partner who I trained under when I started if I had a really tricky issue or wanted to talk to someone. I would do that because I trust her and when you link up with people like that you just know.

 2. Take the time before you obtain a training contract or pupillage to sit down with yourself and listen to yourself and establish who you want to be, what are you interested in, what is going to drive you? Everybody in the profession has different motivations and different reasons for doing the job.  It is a hugely demanding and fast paced profession. You will be expected to always work really hard and the reality is that the hours are long and not always sociable. With this in mind take the time early to try and define yourself and establish your drivers. Your career is going to take up a lot of your time so make sure you’re making the mark that you want to as soon as you have the platform to do it.

3. Remember that you have a long career and it’s about having the longevity to remain relevant and excited by what you do and how you do it.  You need to accept that there are going to be times when you’re extremely busy and under pressure but also, there are going to be times when you’re not. When you’re busy and you’ve got something you’re passionate about, give everything you’ve got and embrace those moments.  However, when you’re not so busy, leave your desk, phone your friends and family, go out for drinks and dinner and enjoy it. You need longevity.  Solicitors and barristers work long hours but it’s enormously rewarding.  Enjoy it.