Clifford Chance boss: Law firms could not have held LGBT parties 25 years ago

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David Bickerton, the Managing Partner for London of one of the world’s largest law firms, Clifford Chance, has spoken to to discuss how changes in the law positively change society and how his own profession has become a welcoming place for LGBT people to work.

Mr Bickerton spoke to at an exhibition of artworks by LGBT artists to celebrate pride held by the firm’s LGBT group Arcus (the Latin for ‘rainbow’).

The event, held annually, is the highlight of the social calendar for LGBT lawyers at the firm and was attended by LGBT representatives of many of the firm’s clients as well as politicians and a scattering of celebrities. However, the firm’s head said that such an event simply would not have happened when he first joined the firm just 25 years ago: “I am really enthusiastic about our inclusiveness here at Clifford Chance.

“When I think about my own time in this firm, when I joined 25 years ago, I don’t think I would have imagined us holding a huge LGBT party to celebrate our approach to inclusivity and most importantly ‘being yourself’ at work. I am so glad we do this regularly.”

He added: “Law firms are – by their nature – quite conservative, but getting the partnership behind what we are doing has been very positively received. Our LGBT network, Arcus, has grown so much in strength over the past seven to eight years, which is fantastic.”

The event was held just a week after the United States Supreme Court ruled overturned both California’s Proposition 8 and the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Mr Bickerton told PinkNews: “I think people realise that the law is essentially conservative. But look at the unbridled joy when Proposition 8 and DOMA was rejected: the fact that the law is saying ‘this is okay’ is amazingly powerful.

“There’s obviously a place for protest and other means of expression to drive change, but when the law turns around and says ‘we’re all naturally equal’, that is simply unparalleled.”

Mr Bickerton said that he is “proud” of the work that his firm undertakes with the Human Dignity Trust, a London based organisation that uses lawyers to attempt to overturn anti-LGBT legislation in foreign courts.

Much of the trust’s work is in Commonwealth countries that inherited Britain’s anti-gay laws, overturned in England and Wales in 1967. “Can you imagine the difference between 1967 and 1968, after the 1969 decision to decriminalise homosexuality in England and Wales?” he said. “People who had to hide themselves were suddenly allowed to say ‘I’m gay – and the state is supporting me, recognising me, and respecting me,’”

However, the head of Clifford Chance recognised that not everyone feels able yet to celebrate their sexuality: “It is awful that in some communities, people still feel the need to hide their sexuality.

“It’s important that changes in the law show everyone that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with falling in love with whoever you want to, regardless of their gender.”