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Diversity and inclusion in law: An interview with Helen Randall

Since qualifying in 1990 alumna Helen Randall has climbed the ranks to become a senior equity partner at Trowers & Hamlins LLP. She is also the firm's Diversity & Inclusion Champion and a member of the Law Society’s LGBT Lawyers’ Division Committee. We chatted with Helen to discuss the importance of diversity and inclusion and get her advice for students who want to get involved.

I took the Law Society Finals course at the former ULaw Lancaster Gate centre in London in 1990. Unusually, I took this course after I had completed two years working as a paralegal and a two year training contract (then known as Articles of Clerkship) because in those days there was a three year waiting list to get onto that course. I had already done an English degree at Manchester University, followed by a Diploma in Law at City University. In those days it involved learning massive amounts of hard copy and core material by heart but we had some great lecturers who brought it alive

My Dad inspired me to study law; he wasn’t a lawyer but he had hugely enjoyed working closely with a big city law firm on a Monopolies and Mergers Commission/Office of Fair Trading inquiry when he was selling the company he worked for. He said that it was one of the most intellectually stimulating things he had ever done at work.

I forgot about my interest in law for years and worked as a teacher. It was only when I was 25 and looking at moving out of teaching and for a new challenge that I enrolled on a law conversion course, thanks to the support of my two flatmates who were trainee solicitors.

I chose to study at The University of Law as it was known as the best place to study for the Law Society Finals; which everybody I knew told me would be tough exams.

The highlight of my time at University was definitely the people; the lecturers who really livened things up. I particularly remember Penny who taught civil litigation, Nancy who taught accounts and my fellow students. We were a diverse bunch; my friendship group there included fellow students from Greece, Cyprus, Nigeria, India and Yemen. Our class was a notoriously lively one.

I am currently a senior equity partner at Trowers & Hamlins LLP and our firm's Diversity & Inclusion Champion.  My practice is public sector commercial, a niche area involving a mixture of corporate, contract and administrative/public law. My clients are public authorities and those who do business with the public sector. It requires political sensitivity, commercial acumen and lots of business development.

My diversity and inclusion (D&I) role involves setting and reporting to our Management Board on the firm's implementation of our strategy for D&I, plus a lot of hands-on work supporting and encouraging D&I events and initiatives with our networks.  It is hard work but a great deal of fun too.

I also represent our firm with other organisations such as, Thompson Reuters Transforming Women's Leadership in Law and the Business Services Association.

Outside of work, I am the Chair of Stonewall Housing, a specialist LGBT housing charity.

The first time I applied to be on the Law Society’s LGBT Lawyers’ Division Committee I wasn't successful but I was the second time which just shows you should always persist.

When I started my career in another firm, partners who weren’t white, Anglo Saxon, able-bodied middle class heterosexual married CIS gendered and public school educated men were remarkably unusual in city firms, and you could have been sacked for being LGBTQ+.

Compare and contrast 30 years later. At Trowers & Hamlins our senior and managing partners are women, all of our executives are first generation University educated, a number of my partners are from BAME backgrounds, of different faiths, are differently abled or are out LGBTQ+. We positively celebrate diversity and encourage inclusion. But, we must not forget that in most countries in the world the concept of being an LGBTQ+ lawyer could still land you in prison.

Things could go backwards very easily.

The LGBT+ Committee was set up to represent, promote and support the interests of LGBT+ solicitors. Work centres around many diversity dates such as LGBT+ History Month. This year we collaborated on several events on LGBT+ and faith, as well as LGBT+ and disability. We also wrote articles for the Law Society Gazette and other legal publications. Last year the Committee attended seven Prides along with CILEx and the Bar Council as #LegalPride. We publish monthly podcasts on LGBT+ topics and work with external organisations including universities to support LGBT+ student work. There is also a Trans Inclusion project group which is producing a workplace guide.

I’m passionate about reaching out to LGBTQ+ lawyers and increasing diversity of all kinds across the profession.  Unless we do this actively, we risk losing the fragile gains we have made.

My message to law students from underrepresented groups is you are welcome in the profession and we need your point of view so we can serve our clients better. Do join in on events so you can meet and network like-minded people who have encountered similar challenges and who can give you really helpful advice and connections. Also look out for organisations like Aspiring Solicitors who offer mentoring schemes etc. If you already have a training contract or a work placement at a firm then reach out to see how you can connect with any diversity networks they may have.

We have a joint responsibility help pull our fellow human beings up the ladder behind us and to contribute proactively to promoting diversity.

I feel very privileged to be listed by the legal directories as a leading practitioner in several fields of law but it is the people I work with, clients and colleagues, who inspire me most.

I have been really lucky to work on some really ground-breaking matters for clients which have taken me to all areas of the country, into the Houses of Parliament, 10 Downing Street and the Court of Appeal. However, the most fascinating time for me is always seeing how a client's business operates, which has included travelling down the Thames on a barge full of domestic refuse, seeing an ammunition testing range, visiting a youth justice centre and a crematorium.

I have had some inspirational and empowering bosses throughout my career. Lesley Mcdonagh, Managing Partner at  Hogan Lovells (then Lovell White Durrant ), Amanda Kelly, Borough Solicitor at the London Borough of Camden, Malcolm Iley, Head of Public Sector at Nabarro Nathanson (now CMS) and finally, our Senior Partner, Jennie Gubbins, is a daily inspiration in the way she works so hard and supportively while  remaining really grounded.

The most inspiring famous people I have met include Sir Dominic Grieve QC (former Attorney General) and Dame Margaret Hodge. But I am also inspired by many of my clients who are hard-working officers in local government who battle against the odds to deliver services to local communities. What all these people have in common is that they sublimate their ego to achieving a common good.

My advice to any students who are members of the LGBT community is to join the Law Society's LGBT Lawyers Division and get involved. You will come across a whole variety of solicitors in all areas of practice and will make you feel welcome in the legal world and will be able to share knowledge on how to succeed while being true to yourself.

To join the LGBT Lawyers Division you must create a free My Law Society account here: https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/log-in/. Once you are in your My Law Society personal homepage click on ‘Special interests’. Click on ‘Diversity and Inclusion Divisions’ to select the LGBT+ Lawyers Division (and any other Divisions you might like to join).

 

 

If you'd like to learn more about diversity, you can join ULaw's Diversity Matters event online on Thursday, 26 November 2020 from 6:00pm – 8:30pm (GMT). Register your interest in attending this free-of-charge event by completing this short form.