DiversCity in Law – A Follow Up with Gabby Herron

Gabby Herron, an Associate at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer speaks to The Student Lawyer about DiversCity in Law, an event aimed at getting future LGBT lawyers into the City. The Student Lawyer interviewed her after the event to get her thoughts on the drive to get more LGBT students into the City. A must read article for all, whether LGBT or not, Gabby offers an invaluable insight into diversity in the law and the issues facing future LGBT lawyers. Gabby explains the aims of DiversCity, why this programme is important and gives future lawyers useful advice.

1)     What is the aim of DiversCity? 

The aim of the DiversCity in Law programme is to offer LGBT university students who are considering a career in city law some insight and guidance when it comes to navigating the often confusing and sometimes opaque recruitment process. DiversCity provides participating students with a mentor, who is either an associate or trainee at one of the participating firms. The mentor is then on hand to provide guidance when it comes to things like choosing law, choosing the right firm, gaining confidence, interview preparation, whether to be in or out and how to deal with being LGBT in the workplace etc. The programme is aimed at LGBT university students (undergraduate or postgraduate) who are looking to pursue a career in city law.

2)     How did the programme come about?

The programme launched in 2011 and is the brainchild of Patrick McCann, head of learning and development at Herbert Smith Freehills (and a former city lawyer). This year, participating firms include Herbert Smith Freehills, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Hogan Lovells, Berwin Leighton Paisner, RPC, Baker & McKenzie, Pinsent Masons, Olswang and Taylor Wessing.  DiversCity realises that LGBT students face a unique set of challenges and concerns when entering the legal profession, and while the main aim is to prepare students for the career ahead, it also aims to change students’ perceptions of city firms – to stop them self-selecting out of a career in city law just because they’re not a straight, white, middle class Oxbridge male.

3)     Why is it important to bring your whole self to work?

If you don’t feel like you can be your full self at work, then that can often lead to feelings of discomfort, like you don’t fit in, and fundamentally unhappiness. Unhappiness on its own isn’t good, but being unhappy also makes it less likely that you will feel up to the challenge of performing to your full potential. On top of that, if not being able to be out makes you feel like you have to come up with stories about your private life (what you did at the weekend, who you live with etc) then you end up spending a huge amount of time and energy coming up with the lies, and then trying to keep track of them all. If you’re out at work, then instead of using up that time and energy hiding who you are, you can instead focus it on your job. So not only will you feel happier, but you’re also likely to perform better as well.

4)     What it is that drew you to being a mentor?

The main thing that drew me into being a mentor was wanting to give LGBT students the support and guidance that I didn’t have when I was looking to become a city lawyer. When you’re LGBT, I think you tend to agonise about firm choice, interviews, what to say on your application form etc a little more than other people do – because you’re scared to death that putting one foot wrong could be the difference between securing a training contract and not securing a training contract. I think it makes a world of difference if you’ve got someone guiding you through the process who’s been there and done it all before.

The other reason I’m a mentor is because I want to help change the perception that many LGBT students have of city law firms as homogenous, undiverse, exclusive institutions. Things have changed enormously in the last 10 years, and many firms, particularly Freshfields, have become hugely inclusive, supportive and encouraging workplaces. I want to try and stop LGBT students from self-selecting out of a firm like Freshfields because they feel like they won’t fit in or won’t be accepted. Because that absolutely isn’t the case. From a business perspective, if we’re going to be a successful firm, then we need to be hiring the very best talent out there, regardless of their race, class, gender or sexual orientation. We don’t want to be in a position where 10% of potential candidates just aren’t applying because they (wrongly) think we won’t have them!

5)     What if someone does not want to identify openly as LGBT? What is an equivalent programme for them?

Just because you sign up to DiversCity mentoring doesn’t mean you have to out yourself on all of your applications, or sign up to the LGBT network as soon as you join the firm. DiversCity isn’t about dragging everyone out of the closet – it’s a very personal choice. What DiversCity aims to do is give you someone to talk to (in confidence) that can guide you through the recruitment process as an LGBT individual. We also hope that in being part of programmes like this, students will feel comfortable and safe enough once they join the firm to feel like they can be out – if they want to. And if they don’t, we (and a number of other firms) have allies programmes that anyone can join.

6) What would you say to those who argue that LGBT issues should not be given a programme like DiversCity?

There was a great study done recently that looked at the impact of diversity on the performance of teams of traders. Without exception, the study found that diverse teams – those made up of traders of different genders, sexual orientations and ethnic backgrounds – outperformed and delivered better results and returns on investment than homogenous teams made up of straight, white males.

So regardless of your views on LGBT people, or initiatives that seek to provide assistance and extra support to minority groups, being opposed to diversity just doesn’t make good business sense. At the end of the day, a law firm is a business; I’m sure even the fiercest detractors have the ability to recognise the merits of a programme that is good for their bottom line.

7)     What is your advice for future City lawyers?
  1. Do your research. Each firm has its own culture and way of doing things, and not every firm is a fit for everyone.
  2. Less is more: it is better to do 3 stellar, stand out application forms than 15 so-so ones that will go straight into the “no” pile.
  3. Be interesting and make sure your personality shines through during the application process.
8)     How was the DiversCity event?

It was excellent – the best turn out yet, with lots of really interesting and promising future lawyers. It was also made particularly enjoyable by a special Chirstmas performance by the London Gay Men’s Chorus.

Interviewed by Nathan Akhavan-Moossavi, Editor in Chief of The Student Lawyer

Source: The Student Lawyer

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