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Gay lawyers' access to promotion scrutinised

Gay lawyers' access to promotion scrutinised

THE first major study into how being gay affects a lawyer's potential for career advancement is due to be released tomorrow.

THE first major study into how being gay affects a lawyer’s potential for career advancement is due to be released tomorrow. 

The UK Law Society is working with gay rights group Stonewall and the InterLaw Diversity Forum to identify the obstacles faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual lawyers.

As the UK investigates how sexuality interacts with career advancement, almost no research has been done on the issue by the legal profession and its representative bodies in Australia.

The Law Council of Australia has done research into gender and how it affects access to court appearances and barristers being briefed by law firms, but nothing has yet been done on sexuality.

Likewise, The Law Institute of Victoria told The New Lawyer it’s not an issue that has been raised within its ranks. 

Edward Andrew, managing director of legal recruiter EA International, says it’s a non-issue for law firms in Australia. “If we said to our clients ‘this candidate is gay’, they would say ‘so what?’. It doesn’t feature as a function of their recruitment policy or their internal policies for promotion,” he said.

“We don’t see that there is any real discrepancy between sexual orientation and ability to succeed in the firm,” Andrew said. 

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby decided to go public over his homosexuality 10 years ago. The judge outed himself in Who’s Who in 1999 by naming Mr Johan van Vloten, a newsagent, his long-term partner. 

The outspoken judge used a eulogy at lawyer John Marsden’s funeral to slam the “anti-lavender brigade” in the media, and has criticised the Howard Government’s laws that define marriage as specifically between a man and a woman. 

The UK survey will be based on 35 questions with a view to improving law firm recruitment and retention and proving information for individual solicitors on how sexuality interacts with career advancement.  

Clifford Chance tax partner Stephen Shea, told UK magazine The Lawyer that any limitations lesbian and gay lawyers experience in their careers do not come solely from ineffective policies, but from gay and lesbian lawyers as well. 

“One of the main problems is very often gay individuals who hold themselves back as a result of attitudes implanted by society,” Shea said. 

InterLaw founder and Simmons & Simmons partner Daniel Winterfeldt said the profession as a whole needs to take responsibility for changing attitudes to allow gay, lesbian and bisexual lawyers feel they have the same opportunities as their heterosexual counterparts, The Lawyer reports. 



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