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Michael Bidwell: Let your differences be the reason you stand out

Michael is an Environment and Planning Lawyer at Herbert Smith Freehills here in Brisbane. Michael grew up in the US and moved to Brisbane by himself when he was just 19 to study a Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Environmental Science at Griffith University. Michael was supported by staff and students during his time at Griffith as an openly gay man, however, when Michael began work in a law firm, he was faced with criticism and negativity. How Michael decided to deal with this criticism is a story of strength and inspiration. 

dealing with criticism and negativity

Michael’s first clerkship wasn’t a great experience. At the law firm’s end of financial year party, one of the firm’s partners approached Michael and told him that his sexuality would hold back his career in law. This comment made Michael question his place in the legal profession. This was the first time Michael felt unsure about his career as a lawyer, having previously only been supported by the staff and students at Griffith. This negative comment held initial weight with Michael because it came from someone who was at the pinnacle of their career, being a partner in a law firm. Over the next few years, Michael faced further criticism. Another work colleague suggested that Michael needed to “tone it down” and that what he was wearing was too bright or colourful (I know, crazy, right!?). Michael internalised these comments and believed they were true for a long time. If those comments weren’t already damaging enough, two years ago Michael was criticised publicly. After this awful event, Michael decided to take a stand against the poor behaviour of his work collages. Michael reported the behaviour to HR. Unfortunately, they responded suggesting that he was “trying to solve a minority problem with the majority”. This response was extremely confronting for Michael and for the first time, he contemplated leaving the law. 

Michael decided that rather than give in, he was going to stand up and fight. After the poor response from HR, Michael decided to approach one of the senior partners of the firm. Michael explained what had happened and asked for their support to make a change. The senior partner supported Michael and an LGBTIQ+ support network was created. When launching the network, the senior partner announced that if anyone had any issue with the initiative to speak now or forever hold their peace. No one who had previously criticised Michael said a word. The creation of this network saw the power start to shift. Michael was now able to be seen as an openly gay man at his workplace and those who had previously expressed criticism had been silenced. 

be inspired to keep fighting

In January of this year, Michael started work at Herbert Smith Freehills which breathes diversity at all levels of management. Working in such an inclusive working environment has been very enjoyable for Michael. Michael is now excited about the diversity that he sees in current law students and the changes in law firms that are taking place to grow with this change. Michael’s advice when you are faced with the people who challenge you is to let that inspire you to keep fighting! There is plenty of support available, and people that you may not even know yet who will stand up and help you. Michael says that everyone has been isolated at some point in their life and told that they can’t do something, so there will always be people who understand what it feels like and who are willing to support you. While it wasn’t easy for Michael to stand up against the negativity he was facing, he decided to make it better for himself so that he could make it better for others in the future.

surround yourself with supportive people

Michael says that it’s okay to be yourself and it’s okay to not be okay. Michael’s journey of pride has not been an easy one. Michael went through a period of darkness where he was questioning who he was, whether he belonged in the legal profession, and whether he even belonged in this world. Michael says that everyone has a different journey and there may be times where you go through darkness where you are faced with self-doubt. But in those moments, it is important to surround yourself with people who support you. Michael says to avoid the people who aren’t a good influence and instead look for the people who will challenge, support and inspire you. These people will help lift you up when you have those moments of self-doubt.

let your differences be your key to success

Michael was told that his sexuality would hold back his career, when in reality it has actually been something that has helped him propel his career. Instead of hiding away who he is when he was told there was an issue with that, Michael decided to take a stand. Michael has let the legal world know that he is openly gay and proud of that. Because Michael decided to shine a light on his differences instead of give in to the criticism that he faced, he has been able to start fantastic initiatives and build a platform that has propelled his career. Michael says – if you can’t see it, then be it! He understands that it can be difficult, especially for law students, but if you step forward, someone in the next generation will see that and believe there is a place for them in the law. It is important that law students can see someone like them represented in the law – someone from a rural community, someone who came from a home with difficult circumstances, etc. Michael says it is important to talk about your differences and the adversity that you have faced so that people don’t feel alone.

expand your network

Michael says not to limit who you network with – you never know who people know! There are a lot of great people doing great things in the law and it is important to make time for the things that you are passionate about. So – go on and send those cold emails or LinkedIn messages! That’s how I got to connect with Michael after all! Don’t be afraid of what you can achieve as a student – your time and work ethic will be appreciated, especially at volunteer organisations. 

don’t give up too easily!

Michael says you have worked so hard to get where you are, so don’t give up too easily! As a law student you have studied late, probably cried, been stressed out of your mind about exams. So don’t give up on your career in law if the first place you walk into isn’t great – that’s fine – it’s just where you started your career and it doesn’t have to be where you finish it! Michael explains that you have an opportunity to move on from an initial experience that wasn’t positive and try something different within the law. Michael says that if you try a few different firms and different areas of the law and decide that you aren’t passionate about the law – that’s fine. But considering you have spent at least four years getting your law degree – why not give yourself at least four years in the profession before you decide it isn’t for you!? Michael says it can be easier just to give up and go back to study or do something else – but instead, see it as an opportunity to challenge yourself and stay persistent. 

pride in law

Pride in law is an association that was launched in 2017 by Dean Clifford-Jones following the same sex marriage postal vote. It was created in order to create to a safe space for openly out lawyers and for allies to learn how they can help. Michael is the Events Coordinator and has hosted many events with panels and workshops where people can learn about stories, just like Michael’s. Since standing up and being a voice for pride in law, Michael has had a Tribunal member come out to him, something they had kept to themselves for 64 years. Moments like that remind Michael that he is making a difference by allowing people to feel comfortable enough to be themselves. Michael feels it is important for everyone, not just the LGBTIQ+ community, to be able to feel comfortable to express who they truly are at work without judgment. 49% of millennials who are LGBTIQ+ are not out at their workplaces and Michael says that we need to change that. Michael has taken this on as his part in the legal profession – by attending events being openly gay and making it clear to the naysayers that if they have a problem with it, he doesn’t care! If you’d like to learn more about Pride in Law and how you can get involved, click on the link at the bottom of this blog – or reach out to Michael!

the legal forecast 

The Legal Forecast (TLF) was started in order to address the disconnect between law school and the profession. TLF is collective of passionate individuals coming together with technology and innovation at the heart of what they do. The first initiative of TLF was to have law students write articles on technology and innovation which were then sent to law firms. One of TLF’s biggest events is called Disrupting Law. This is an event where law students compete with law firms to come up with ways to disrupt the legal profession. It’s a fantastic event and I would suggest that you get involved at the next event if you can! TLF also has a mental health and social justice aspect and has recently launched TLF Creative. This brings together lawyers and law students who want to express their creative sides through art, music and other forms of creative expression. This initiative helps law students and lawyers to find their tribe – a group of like-minded people in the profession. Finding your tribe is so important because it makes you realise you are a part of something bigger than just your day job. If you’d like to learn more about TLF and how you can get involved, click on the link at the bottom of this blog – or reach out to Michael!

michael’s awesome tips

Let your differences be the reason you stand out!

If you’re faced with criticism or negativity – change the narrative and take a stand!

Surround yourself with people who will support you through times of self-doubt!

Expand your network and reach out to people you don’t know!

Don’t give up too easily – if you first job isn’t a great experience see it as an opportunity to challenge yourself!

Get involved in the wonderful initiatives that now exist – like Pride in Law and The Legal Forecast!

Michael says that if you are facing self-doubt or questioning law school and whether it is right for you – reach out! If you want to reach out to Michael, you can contact him by messaging him on LinkedIn or sending him an email:

Michael’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-bidwell-09780980/

Michael’s Email: mikebidwell@live.com

Check out Pride in Law here: https://prideinlaw.org/

Check out The Legal Forecast here: https://thelegalforecast.com/