Leigh Day has taken a hardline stance on support for transgender people and now vets clients for perceived transphobia, a member of its LGBT committee has said.
The claim, later disputed by the firm, was made at a seminar on how law firms can climb Stonewall's Workplace Equality Index (WEI), which grades businesses according to the pressure group's LGBT inclusivity criteria and has been a popular way to advertise diversity credentials.
At the event, a solicitor from Leigh Day's ‘LGBT+ & Allies Committee’ gave a talk explaining how the firm was focusing on transgender inclusion in 2020 because "it is hard to be a trans person right now" and it was “a hot topic”. She said a transgender person spoke at every Leigh Day diversity and inclusion event "even if it's not about trans".
The human rights lawyer described how Leigh Day's LGBT network had created a new section of the firm's risk assessment process for clients and that "the LGBT Committee gets to look at that enquiry if it flags that there are any issues that have to do with LGBT issues". If it reveals that "we have a client who's said transphobic things a lot publicly in the past", then, "sometimes that's ok if it really has nothing to do with their case and it won't come out", but, "if it's a key aspect of their case, that's going to impinge on our ability to represent trans clients and be true to our trans inclusion goals".
“There are a lot of people who view it as a debate", she said, but, "we wanted to emphasise that supporting trans people isn't a debate".
A representative from the Solicitors Regulation Authority took to the podium after Leigh Day to say they were “inspired”, and on Twitter the regulator later hailed Stonewall and the firm for its “really useful tips for promoting LGBTQ+ inclusion”.
Though Stonewall has many institutional supporters such as the SRA, some lawyers have expressed unease about its far-reaching influence, and by efforts to quash debate about the implications of allowing males to self-identify as women by labelling people’s concerns as transphobic.
This week the Law Gazette reported on lawyers’ disquiet around a judge’s decision to reprimand the female victim of violence by a transgender woman. Although the defendant was found guilty, the judge refused to give the victim compensation because, when asked to refer to the defendant as ‘she’ when describing the attack, the victim did so with "bad grace" or "continued to use 'he'".
Dave was increasingly sure he was at the wrong event.
Gay rights organisation LGB Alliance was critical of the claims made by Leigh Day at the event. “This is perhaps the most horrifying example so far of the influence of trans rights activists in restricting the rights of people with whom they disagree”, commented a spokesperson.
“‘Transphobia’ is a broad and largely meaningless term used often to discredit anyone who believes that sex is binary and biological fact trumps any feelings of ‘gender identity’”, they said. “If anyone who disagrees with Stonewall is to be denied access to legal representation what next?”
A spokesperson for Leigh Day told RollOnFriday, "The LGBT+ & Allies committee does not vet new clients. Matters where there may be a potential conflict are considered on a case by case basis by senior members of the firm, including our compliance team”.
Asked about the apparent contradiction between its statement and the description of its policy given at the WEI event, the spokesperson said, "If the transcript provided to us by RollOnFriday is correct, then the lawyer has misunderstood a compliance process which she isn’t party to".
An SRA spokesperson said, “Our closing remarks were a reflection on the event as a whole, which included useful discussion and debate”.