Clifford Chance: becoming the law firm of choice for LGBT+ students

Apr 13, 2022 | Diversity

Investing in understanding LGBTQ+ students has been key to Clifford Chance’s success as a law firm of choice, says Toby Horner, graduate recruitment team manager at Clifford Chance.

“I felt as a queer Muslim woman I was heard, seen, and validated.” Whilst only a few words, this quote says a lot. Primarily how empowering LGBTQ+ focussed engagements can be when you invest in understanding the multi-faceted and often complex experiences of this audience.

It’s a commitment that we made back in 2012, to endeavour to be the employer of choice for LGBTQ+ students interested in a career in commercial law. But we knew that we had to learn and listen before acting.

Now, a decade on and for the last two years running, a student pool of over 65,000 voters named Clifford Chance the #1 commercial law firm recruiter amongst LGBTQ+ students as part of a national survey conducted by market research consultancy, Cibyl.

At the same time the wider firm ranked third in the Stonewall Top 100 Employers list for 2021. This made us the number 1 law firm in the list of 300+ employers – a jump of 16 places from 19th in 2020.

Here’s how we got there:

Making mistakes

Attending our first National Student Pride (NSP) Careers Fair in 2011, the UK’s largest LGBTQ+ event for students, was a baptism of fire.

Pitching up with lawyers in formal dress, next to other employers in casual clothing and awash with rainbow materials made us realise that we had misjudged this audience.

The penny dropped that we needed to engage, research, and collaborate to inform a strategy on effective LGBTQ+ engagement, with a particular focus on intersectionality and marginalised groups.

Embracing partnerships and sponsorship opportunities

We knew that we couldn’t do this alone and have built on our positioning since 2011.

Working closely with NSP, we are now headline sponsors of the careers fair, which allows us to connect with LGBTQ+ students from over 170 universities. We also partner and consult with NSP on several of our core pipeline initiatives.  

We are also a Gold Partner sponsor of myGwork – the business community for LGBTQ+ professionals, graduates and inclusive employers. We send lawyers and business services representatives to various LGBTQ+ student events whilst contributing to blog posts and online interviews. Our lens on LGBTQ+ community matters and campaigns significantly broadened by these types of activities.

To be at the heart of conversations on campus, we support LGBTQ+@​cam. This launched in 2018 to promote interdisciplinary research, outreach and network building related to queer, trans and sexuality studies at the University of Cambridge.

Progress also relies on collaborating to create new and innovative opportunities to uncover and celebrate the voices of LGBTQ+ people.

We partnered with Target Jobs in 2018 to create a new category in the Undergraduate Of The Year Awards for LGBTQ+ talent. In 2020 we worked with Attitude Magazine to sponsor the Future and Under 25 Category, with both relationships recognising young LGBTQ+ trailblazers.

Researching the lived experience

Not content with relying on existing narratives, in 2019 we partnered with Deutsche Bank, the University of York and NSP to commission the biggest ever research project exploring the experiences of young LGBTQ+ students at university and on entering the workplace.

The research conducted by Cibyl surveyed 4,139 young people across 122 universities, and the report included recommendations for universities and employers on how to implement tangible change for LGBTQ+ people. A copy of the report, Out & Proud, can be downloaded here.

Offering tailored events

Our jewel in the crown is ‘ACCEPT’, an annual conference launched In 2017 in collaboration with myGwork and NSP offering LGBTQ+ students and aspiring lawyers the opportunity to hear from senior role models and build a like-minded peer support network.

Since launching, we have welcomed 174 LGBTQ+ students into the firm and in 2020 ACCEPT resulted in 9% of attendees being hired onto one of our programmes. Due to its success, in 2021 ACCEPT launched globally with our Sydney, Perth, Hong Kong and Singapore offices jointly hosting an event for students in the Asia Pacific region.

What’s the business impact?

Identifying talented LGBTQ+ students is one thing but hiring and retaining them is another.

In the 2020/21 recruitment cycle, 21% of our training contract offers were LGBTQ+ which is our highest percentage to date and has more than doubled since 2018/19.

Through LGBTQ+ Undergraduate of the Year we have invited six participants on to our SPARK internship, hired three trainees, and four work experience students in our D&I team and pro bono teams.

Our equal opportunities survey sees higher levels of disclosure than ever and now includes diverse gender identities too. It shows that 2% of our trainee hires have said that their gender is not the same as assigned at birth.

Supporting these individuals to progress is imperative and we work closely with the business through the UK Inclusion Committee, LGBTQ+ network and the practice areas to identify trends, implement change and foster an inclusive environment.

Through this we ensure a pipeline of diverse talent into the most senior fee earning roles in our organisation, contributing to the firms first LGBTQ+ UK Partner level targets of 5% by 2025.

We have so much more to learn but we have a seat at the table and are driving important conversations around LGBTQ+ inclusion forward. We’d love to collaborate further and would welcome interest from anyone looking to join us on this journey.

If you missed Clifford Chance at ISE’s Diversity and Inclusion Conference, you can catch it here

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