My journey by Tom Henderson, Senior Associate in Disputes at Herbert Smith Freehills

Before joining Herbert Smith Freehills LLP (HSF) in London I trained at a law firm in Newcastle.  While the firm was very open minded, at that stage in my life, I just wasn’t ready to be totally open about my sexuality in the workplace.  I was ‘out’ to close friends (and family) but the prospect of making a broader declaration to my colleagues filled me with dread.  

Joining HSF and moving to London was a fresh start.  I was (a little) older and more comfortable in my skin and had decided on moving that I would be open about my sexuality from the outset.   HSF couldn’t have been more welcoming.  I came across a number of LGBT+ identifying partners and senior colleagues very quickly (including Justin D’Agostino, Global Head of Dispute Resolution and Regional Managing Partner for Asia at HSF) and felt able to introduce people to my boyfriend without qualms.  Not once has it been an issue for me.

Herbert Smith Freehills also practises what it preaches by actively supporting a number of LGBT+ initiatives on a pro-bono basis.  In the last couple of years I’ve been lucky enough to advise the Human Dignity Trust to help challenge anti-gay laws across the world.  We sometimes forget that laws which actively criminalise private and consensual sexual activity between LGBT people continue to exist across the globe, including a British legacy of anti-gay colonial-era legislation across the Commonwealth.  It is our responsibility to do what we can to help overhaul this outdated legislation.  

The Human Dignity works closely with local activists and their lawyers to uphold international human rights law, often by way of test case litigation.  While legal expertise already exists in most, if not all, of the jurisdictions where challenges will occur, the means to bring the litigation may not be available.   HSF is able to bring legal and financial resources that others may not have access to.

The work of local activists is inspirational and I’ve been fortunate to travel to a number of countries with the Human Dignity Trust to meet and advise local activists.  Recently I organised an event bringing Caleb Orozco to the firm in London to discuss his role as chief litigant in a case successfully challenging the anti-sodomy laws of Belize.

If I could give one tip to future lawyers its to make use of a law firm’s LGBT+ infrastructure – diversity officers, committees, mentors, role models etc..  On joining HSF, the firm’s LGBT network was a fantastic way for me to meet colleagues outside of my practice area.  Also, get involved in the wider community.  Most firms will have sponsors who are willing to support you in engaging with an LGBT charity.


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