Interview with Dean Clifford-Jones
What does it mean to you to be awarded the 2020 Australian Young Lawyer Award?
I’m incredibly thankful and honoured to be the recipient of the Law Council of Australia’s 2020 Australian Young Lawyer of the Year. I am deeply humbled to be the recipient of this prestigious award. The legal profession is filled with so many wonderful and incredible lawyers. To be the recipient of this award underscores that I have made a positive contribution to the profession. I must admit that I had reservations before launching Pride in Law; my own concerns about being pigeonholed as only a gay lawyer and possibly restricting my career prospects, however I’ve only experienced positive reception from the legal profession.
Receiving this award illustrates to me, and hopefully others, that the rainbow community is not only accepted in the legal profession, but we are welcome here. Verna Myers, an activist for inclusion said, the difference between ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ is that diversity is being invited to the party whereas inclusion is being asked to dance. Being the recipient of the 2020 Australian Young Lawyer Award means I belong in the legal profession; I’m accepted for who I am, what I represent and belong at the party.
Over the course of your career so far, what are some of the key highlights you are most proud of?
I have been blessed with many career highlights since graduating with my undergraduate degrees from Griffith University in Brisbane. From being a Judge’s Associate to appearing before juries to prosecute superior court offences to my current role as being a member of the Parole Board Queensland; I am fortunate to be proud (and out) of my career to date. Two key highlights that come to my mind are:
- From a professional perspective, in 2020, being appointed as a Prescribed Board Member on the Parole Board Queensland. Being one of only five appointments in the State of Queensland, was a wonderful career highlight.
- From a personal perspective, in 2017, creating and founding Pride in Law. It’s been an incredible privilege to lead Australia’s first and only national LGBTIQ+ Law Association. In my view, the Australian legal profession is more diverse than it has ever been, but the road is long for all of us to feel included. Our lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, intersex, queer, and questioning (LGBTIQ+) colleagues have concerns about whether we belong in the law because it’s an institution that takes time to change.
Is there anything you aspire to do in 2021 and beyond?
From a career perspective, in 2021, I’m unashamedly enjoying my role on the Parole Board Queensland. Beyond that time, I hope to keep learning from others, celebrating differences and understanding our past. In the legal profession, we all bring a unique perspective and experience, whether that’s for our clients, colleagues or otherwise. By establishing Pride in Law, I’ve sought to erase homophobia, gender inequality, and other affronts to individuals, families, and communities by educating the legal community about LGBTIQ+ issues. This is why I hope that Pride in Law continues to advocate on a national level and create further chapters across Australia.
On a personal level, COVID-19 permitting, I hope to travel abroad once again. While Australia is blessed with some beautiful locations, I’d love to see more parts of the world, the cultures and skylines.
What’s next for Pride in Law?
I’ve previously remarked that I believe Pride in Law will take over the world, but jokes aside, I’d love to see LGBTIQ+ Law Associations in every country around the globe. I look over the pond and see the magnificent achievement that’s occurred with women in the law and I would love to see that replicated by the rainbow community. In Australia, we have a woman leading our High Court, in my home state of Queensland 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 shorter term, I’m confident that we will launch chapters of Pride in Law in every state and territory in Australia. As a team of volunteers, we will be patient to find the right opportunity at the right time to launch each chapter, but I know the need is far and wide for greater inclusion in the law.
I hope Pride in Law will continue to show leadership, advocate for greater inclusion, and be a visible voice in the legal profession. I’d encourage those to illustrate how they have shown pride. We can all appreciate that pride is not about who you are. It is about what you represent. Equality, respect and acceptance of others (including yourself). I hope the Pride in Law will continue to represent all the colours in the rainbow community because every colour tells a story.
From your perspective, what are some of the key legal issues and challenges the legal profession needs to focus on, particularly for young lawyers?
While legal profession is not alone with the challenges that COVID-19 created, we are unique in the impact; being that around an increase mental health concerns or competition to obtain that graduate position.
Speaking from an LGBTIQ+ perspective, our colleagues may not be aware, but the rainbow community are twice as likely to be diagnosed and treated for mental health. Further according to 2020 research from the National LGBTI Health Alliance, people in the rainbow community are five times more likely to attempt suicide in their lifetime.
When we rely on these statistics and put them against the fact that 60 per cent of lawyers had experienced depression in the survey of wellness by Mertias Australia and New Zealand, we can appreciate more assistance is needed in the legal profession. In my view, this is a key legal issue facing the legal profession, including young lawyers.
As a profession, we also need to review the number of students undertaking legal studies at our universities. My understanding is that currently there is about one solicitor for every 354 Australian citizens, however by 2050, on current trends there will be approximately one solicitor for every 154 people. The competition for legal roles has never been greater and we must as a profession consider how best to address this over supply.