Coram Celebrates LGBT History Month with Matthew Shaw

What year were you called to the Bar? 2011 What year did you join Coram? 2018. I can’t believe it’s been nearly 3 years already! What type of family law…

What year were you called to the Bar?


What year did you join Coram?

2018. I can’t believe it’s been nearly 3 years already!

What type of family law do you practice?

Financial remedy and private children work; essentially dealing with parties’ finances and / or children following breakdown in a relationship and where the court’s assistance is (or may be) required.

How has being a LGBTQ+ lawyer changed since you were called to the Bar?

I actually worked in journalism for a few years before applying for, then starting pupillage in 2014.

I was always out and knew that it would have consequences, most of them positive. I remember a pupillage interview and a leading human rights barrister on the panel noted that in my application I’d mentioned a thesis I wrote on gay marriage back when it was illegal. She said that it was braver, perhaps than I knew, to effectively ‘out’ myself on paper: for her Set it was a plus but at others it would ‘raise eyebrows’…

I don’t think she was exaggerating. I still know LGBTQ+ barristers at other sets who aren’t officially out.

Coram couldn’t be further from that. Everyone’s here to be themselves and be the best barristers they can be without having to worry about being judged for being LGBTQ+.

Do you feel like being out has affected how people behave towards you at work?

Not that I know of. Certainly not at Coram. I come from a fortunate position and have not had to overcome the barriers that others have (I’m a white male for a start). I grew up in a rural community and so, when people realised I was gay, could be treated as something of a novelty. Since moving to London, less so!

What more can be done to support LGBTQ+ lawyers and/or clients in family law?

It’s tempting to feel like the battle has been won, but I think there is more that can be done, especially for trans lawyers and clients.

It may also be less easy for LGBTQ+ practitioners and clients outside of London and other larger cities.

Family law itself has come on leaps and bounds in recognising same sex relationships and removing discrimination, but some alternative family structures will still be pretty alien to the courts and there is definitely a role for LGBTQ+ advocates (and allies) who understand that as they can best represent those clients.

Who is your favourite LGBT+ historical figure?

Tough one! Josephine Baker, Caravaggio, Warhol. I guess as a classicist I should go for Alexander the Great – but he did kill a lot of people – how about Sappho? Free from modern pigeonholes, she wrote the most beautiful poetry and became an acclaimed poet in a male-dominated society, exploring her own desires for other women in the process. She nailed it, and all 2,500 years ago.

What is the best thing about being a family lawyer?

Helping people when they most need it, the constant intellectual workout and the variety: no two cases are ever the same.