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Pink Law: the New Legal Specialism

Pink Law: the New Legal Specialism

Following the royal assent of the government’s same-sex couples marriage bill in July, next year will see many same-sex marriages and, inevitably, many legal consequences.

Although same-sex couples have been able to have civil unions since the introduction of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, there are many legal differences between a civil partnership and a marriage. For example, adultery cannot be cited as the primary reason for a dissolution in a civil partnership, although it could be an example of unreasonable behaviour. Also, non-consummation is not recognised in civil partnerships. It is clear that marriage is a much more secure arrangement overall, both financially and legally, and, therefore, it is in the best interests of same-sex couples to marry just as it is for heterosexual couples.

But it is not just universities who are expressing their enthusiasm for ‘Pink law’ – law firms are getting involved too.

Undoubtedly, the royal assent of the same-sex marriage bill successfully progressed the rights of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community significantly.

What is ‘Pink law’?

The increasing number of laws passed which seek to ensure equality and protection for the LGBT community have resulted in increasing opportunities for lawyers and law firms to integrate the interests of gay, lesbian and transgender issues into their practice – this is what is termed ‘Pink law’. Although a specialism revolving around ‘gay law’ is not one of particular renown, lawyers can nevertheless tailor their services for LGBT clients, particularly those who specialise in family, employment and human rights law.

Although ‘Pink law’ is a relatively new concept within the legal industry, many lawyers and universities are already keen to become involved in this newly established practice area. In 2008, Queen Mary University of London set up their own free-of-charge legal service for LGBT clients who wish to attain legal advice on issues from employment discrimination, to civil partnerships and living together. The pro bono legal advice service was launched with the backing of Mr Justice Fulford, who is the first openly gay judge in the country. Law students from Queen Mary offer the LGBT community help under the supervision of qualified lawyers from firms, including Mishcon de Reya, Field Fisher Waterhouse (FFW) and Reed Smith, who have all signed up to provide monthly pro bono work at The Pink Law Legal Advice Centre.

How are law firms getting involved?

But it is not just universities who are expressing their enthusiasm for ‘Pink law’ – law firms are getting involved too. Stonewall, the UK’s leading LGBT rights charity, has set up a section on its website listing signatories to the ‘Law Society Diversity and Inclusion Charter’. This charter lists all the firms who promote the values of diversity, equality and inclusion throughout their business, and are committed to improving opportunities for people in the legal profession, regardless of their background or circumstances. Many law firms, including Darbys Solicitors LLP (based in Oxford), have signed up to the charter and it is quite clear that  ‘Pink law’ is gaining in prominence within the legal industry.

Darbys have since established a scheme for gay clients called Purple/Pink, targeted at the LGBT community. Clients approach the firm with a variety of issues, usually focusing on family and employment law. The issues within these particular areas of law usually concern advice about civil partnerships, parental responsibility and surrogacy issues. Some issues also concern employment discrimination which breaches the Equality Act 2010.

Law is still a rather conservative profession and people are worried about perceptions.

What does ‘Pink law’ aim to achieve?

Due to the unfortunate frequency of discrimination, it is no wonder that the LGBT community are welcoming this emerging legal specialism with open arms. Gay people may be worried by the daunting prospect of calling a law firm and asking them for help, for example, due to discrimination they have received at work about their sexuality. ‘Pink law’ is about lawyers understanding this and offering specific help and advice based on this type of discrimination. It is also about lawyers who work in other areas of law such property or family, not immediately presuming that their female client wants to buy a house with a male partner, or that their male client wishes to divorce their wife.

Law is still a rather conservative profession and people are worried about perceptions. Some lawyers, particularly those who are older, have entrenched views about this sensitive issue. ‘Pink law’ aims to change these perceptions and revamp how the legal industry thinks about gay rights and most importantly, how they handle LGBT client’s cases.

All of the firms practicing ‘Pink law’ report high positive feedback and stress the need for this type of law in the legal industry. This suggests that across all areas of the law, whether it be family, employment, property, or human rights, there is a high demand for ‘Pink law’ services. Whether it be for those clients who wish to discuss specific LGBT issues, or those who would just feel more comfortable approaching a gay-friendly firm who understands LGBT rights, it is quite clear that a vast number of people would benefit from such services.

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