As one of the oldest professions in the world, sometimes it feels as if the legal industry is catching up to modern inclusivity.
But, there are positive signs of change, catalysed by people like lawyer Dean Clifford-Jones.
A Griffith University graduate, Dean knew he wanted to make a positive difference to the world. The young lawyer and member of the LGBTQIA+ community embarked on the journey to become the first in his family to receive higher education.
With a promising future, Dean gained a George Alexander Foundation Scholarship to help him afford his studies.
Soon after graduation, Dean became a Judge’s Associate and later, a Crown Prosecutor and senior child protection lawyer.
He is currently a full-time member of the Parole Board Queensland, an independent authority that makes objective, evidence-based parole decisions for the community.
“At Griffith University I obtained an in-depth appreciation of the importance of protecting the community through court proceedings. I learnt how to understand and interpret the law, where to apply the law, and above all when to act ethically without compromising my integrity.”
But Dean’s bright academic path didn’t come easily.
“It was through experiencing severe domestic violence growing up, coupled with intense bullying, homophobic abuse, and other trauma, that set me on this path,” Dean says.
“It’s taken me a long time to appreciate that, while our experiences can hurt us, those same experiences can also make you stronger, both professionally and personally.”
According to a 2017 Thomson Reuters survey of 653 Australian lawyers, the “overwhelming majority” believed that their profession needed to do more to improve its diversity and the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ lawyers.
It was in the same year that Dean founded Pride in Law, a National LGBTQIA+ Law Association that connects LGBTQIA+ community members in the legal field.
“While I appreciate and recognise the importance of privacy, a few of my colleagues were not ‘out’ in their law firms because of a fear of being pigeonholed as a ‘gay lawyer’,” says Dean.
“After months of discussions with my colleagues, I created Pride in Law.”
A 2021 Australian Workplace Equality Index report states that almost a quarter of LGBTQIA+ workers aged 18 to 24 are not “out” at work while a survey by Seek found that LGBTQIA+ people are also twice as likely to be victims of workplace discrimination than their non-LGBTQIA+ colleagues.
It was through these shocking statistics that Dean felt the need to carve out a network of like-minded lawyers.
“It might sound bizarre in 2021, however in 2016, there was also concern about a double-glazed glass ceiling mentality where, despite advancements in the field of gender diversity, many in the LGBTQIA+ community feared future promotional prospects if they were open about their sexuality in the workplace.”
Whether it’s through his work as a child protection lawyer or as the founder of Pride in Law, Dean simply wants to make a positive impact.
“In my view, making a positive impact means community service; giving what you can to the public. That can be your time, leadership, tangible items, and energy,” says Dean.
“It means giving a voice for others to tell their story and it looks like taking pride, not only in others but in yourself.”
If you’re feeling as inspired as we are and want to learn more about the legal industry, Dean shares his top advice when looking to make a difference.
“Prepare to fail. There’s only a handful of careers wherein you will fail a lot because the law usually requires winning and losing sides. This is why resilience is important. While you certainly should not go into a courtroom thinking you will fail, always be prepared for the losses. It’s these losses that propel you to even bigger places.”
As lawyers are upholding justice in our society, it’s a no-brainer that more demographics should be represented in the courtroom, and hearing from Dean about the work he’s doing for the next generation of LGBTQIA+ lawyers is a positive step. Especially for the almost one quarter of young people who want to feel comfortable being their authentic selves.
So, what’s next for Dean?
“I’d love to see LGBTQIA+ Law Associations in every country around the globe. I look over the pond and see the magnificent achievements by women in law and I’d love to see that replicated by the rainbow community. In Australia, we have a woman leading our High Court, we also have a woman as Chief Justice; I hope Pride in Law can assist by putting more of our rainbow legal minds in judicial positions in the next few years,” says the lawyer.
“We can all appreciate that pride is not just about who you are. It’s about what you represent.”
If you’re feeling inspired by Dean’s story then make your career matter with Griffith University. If you need a little more inspo, try taking this custom quiz to see what study paths would suit you.