Partner at Cartridges Law, Exeter
I did not become a solicitor until I was nearly 30, having funded my part-time legal studies working at Citizens Advice as a debt counsellor and welfare rights officer. I was fortunate to be offered work experience, then articles of clerkship (now known as a training contract) at one of the first exclusively family law firms. I was given huge responsibilities across all aspects of family law, including creative legal devices to compensate for lack of provision leading to a huge gender pension gap on divorce, and venturing into non-family civil and chancery litigation citing equity and trusts to secure the negligible rights of unmarried partners. These would later develop into my accredited specialisms in pensions on divorce, and in cohabitation. The latter was often avoided by family lawyers but for me it was a necessity if I was to offer advice to LGBT+ clients on the formation or breakdown of relationships.
I’ve helped trans clients with the legal aspects they face before, during or after they embark on any journey of gender recognition. Sometimes the legal aspects can be relatively simple, such as a change of name deed, but a specialist overview of the law, and the challenges ahead, is helpful to a client in advising that while not essential, this document can be an important legal and evidential marker towards later proving to a Gender Recognition Panel that a trans person has lived in the so-called ‘acquired’ gender for at least two years.
As a feminist I respect the right to equality for all women and I wholeheartedly support any reform which would recognise self-declaration of one’s gender identity or gender fluidity. This is already available in some countries which have brought in legislation more recently than our own, including Ireland.
Sadly, the challenges that the LGBT+ community face when it comes to family breakdown are all too often in relation to children disputes between an LGBT+ and non-LGBT+ parent. For example, the contact dispute which led to the 2017 High Court decision which ruled against direct contact between a parent and her five children after she left a strictly orthodox religious community as a trans woman. She had to take her case to the Court of Appeal. This outcome was welcomed by KeshetUK which promotes LGBT+ equality within the Jewish community.
Same-sex married partners and civil partners are not normally aware that they may still have inferior pension rights compared to opposite-sex widows and widowers. This anachronism was successfully challenged in the Supreme Court but the government has not yet corrected the position. This means surviving same-sex partners are still at a financial disadvantage when widowed.
A career highlight was my involvement in the consultation, lobbying and passage of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 as part of the working party of the Lesbian and Gay Lawyers Association. This was my first experience as a lawyer of influencing the law-making process and I cried at the second reading of the bill when MPs came out for the first time and the government announced a climbdown on an important amendment we had worked on to gain some limited survivor pension rights for bereaved civil partners.
I was firmly in the closet when admitted in 1994 and I could not have imagined the rainbow flag or the trans or bi flags flying over the Law Society
Every year at Exeter Pride I am moved when clients seek out my firm’s stall to point out their children and remind me of the donor agreements I drafted for them years ago when they were planning their families.
I joined the Law Society’s LGBT+ Division committee two years ago. I have gained the benefit and support of an entire network of LGBT+ lawyers and allies who may have very little in common as lawyers but share a common bond. I was firmly in the closet when admitted at Chancery Lane in 1994 and I could not have imagined the rainbow flag or the trans or bi flags flying over the Law Society to mark important dates in the LGBT+ calendar. I hope to be part of achieving for every LGBT+ lawyer their entitlement to bring their authentic selves to work, and to feel supported by their professional body, whether in a City firm, an overseas office in a country hostile to LGBT+ people, a regional high street practice, an in-house role, or anything in between. As a member of the division I contributed my detailed views to our podcast ‘Gender Identity and Recognition: a rough guide to the law and the need for reform’.