Jonathan Wheeler of Bolt Burdon Kemp shared his story for our Harness Voices project as part of APIL’s celebration of #PrideMonth.
My passion originally wasn’t for personal injury necessarily but for legal aid. I wanted to help people who couldn’t afford lawyers, so I joined the biggest legal aid firm in the country as an articled clerk in Liverpool. It just so happened that the vast majority of their work was PI. Before I knew it, I had a filing cabinet full of tripping claims against the local council! That’s where I cut my teeth on litigation and when I fell in love with the court room drama of ‘the trial.’ (I had many. Back in those days we joked that the standard of proof for tripping claims in the city was ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ because the judges were so fed up of them). But I also loved the client contact too, which is why being a litigation solicitor was the perfect job for me.
I came out at work after my first year. It was the early 90’s and even though I was working in a big city, things weren’t like they are now. There was AIDS, and section 28 and a lot of homophobia in the media. My colleagues however were very supportive. I moved to another firm after a year of qualifying. To celebrate me getting through the interview I went out that night to one of the local gay clubs with friends, only to find the managing partner who had interviewed me at the same venue! I knew I was in a safe place there.
Moving to London was the next step in my career. Islington was probably one of the gayest places in the capital, and I was immediately welcomed by my new colleagues and my sexuality was never an issue. I loved the place so much I bought (into) the company. I now lead the firm and we specialise only in serious injury cases, and recently moved our offices to the City of London. I have strived to create the best place for our staff to work, where they can be themselves, and so do their best work. A diverse workforce connects better with our clients who all have diverse backgrounds too.
As a founder member of The Law Society’s LGBTQ+ Solicitor’s Network, I now sit on the Law Society’s Council representing our LGBTQ+ members and my firm has recently been awarded Diversity Champion status by Stonewall. It’s so important for us seniors to promote equality and tell our stories. By doing so we can pave the way for the next generation, and help usher in an even more inclusive profession than the one we joined.