Justin Farrance
  • BSc Management graduate Justin Farrance sets up mentoring charity
  • GROW helps underrepresented students move into the legal industry
  • Justin defied advice from corporate lawyers to hide sexuality at work
  • Now he wants other aspiring lawyers to bring their true selves to the office

A Warwick Business School graduate who spent the first lockdown setting up a charity for aspiring lawyers from underrepresented backgrounds has won two major awards.

Justin Farrance (pictured) started GROW after defying advice to hide his sexuality when entering the field of corporate law and instead vowed to improve the lack of diversity in the industry.

What started with Justin sharing advice on LinkedIn at weekends and evenings, grew to a charity that supports more than 2,000 diverse students across the world looking to move into law, with 750 people attending the GROW Law Summit in November 2020.

His efforts have been recognised with a global McKinsey & Company Achievement Award and being named Future Leader at the British LGBT Awards 2021.

The 25 year-old, of London, said: “I am completely shocked. I know how high the standards are at McKinsey and was aware that the very best from around the world would be selected, so I never imagined that I would be one of the winners.

“At the British LGBT Awards, I spoke to an audience of about 600 people about how our diversity and authenticity is a strength and a superpower to be proud of. Making it to the top 10 was a humbling experience, but to go on and win was a full circle moment from my time as a student.”

Justin, who along with his sister is the first generation in his family to attend university, came out as a gay man while studying BSc Management at Warwick Business School and took the brave step of bringing up his sexuality while interviewing for junior solicitor roles.

“I felt it was important to have an honest dialogue so I could decide if the culture would encourage me to bring my true self to work,” said Justin, who has also been nominated by his employer Allen & Overy for the UK Social Mobility Awards. 

“When it came to applying to law firms, I met very few members of the LGBTQ+ community who I could relate to and I often felt like the odd one out at firm visits and events. I felt very comfortable in Warwick Business School and was able to have open and inclusive conversations, but taking the next step in the corporate world was daunting.

“At the time, I was also told at a networking event that it would be best to hide my sexuality if I wanted to progress and ‘fit in’ at a City law firm. It made me apprehensive about whether law was right for me, but I’m very glad I decided not to listen to that advice.

“When interviewing at Allen & Overy, I decided to bring up my sexuality during an open conversation about the firm’s internal initiatives and I was informed about A&Out and all the other important initiatives at the firm. I was made to feel very welcome from the start.

“I eventually had the chance to meet members of A&Out and was also introduced to Diversity Role Models at a ‘lunch and learn’ session. I have gone on to volunteer with them in schools across London to prevent bullying of LGBTQ+ youths and facilitate inclusive classroom-based workshops.”

GROW assigns aspiring lawyers from diverse backgrounds a mentor from the legal profession who offers one-to-one advice. Justin has brought together mentors from 220 law firms globally, 70 in-house legal teams and 15 barristers’ chambers to help graduates move into the legal industry.

“GROW started with a simple message offering support to students via LinkedIn,” said Justin. “It has now evolved into a registered charity supporting underrepresented lawyers and providing mentorship to more than 2,000 diverse students globally, with 47 per cent from ethnic minority backgrounds and more than 70 per cent women - all of which are underrepresented in the corporate world.

“As a gay man, I was clearly able to see the importance of representation and visibility - many people say you have to 'see it to be it' and in many ways it's vital that students and junior professionals are able to identify with and draw similarities to those leading their organisations.

“Many of the success stories on our website and social media channels showcase how important one-to-one mentoring is and how much it can help to improve someone's confidence, outlook and ability.

“Students should have access to any profession and their background, community or upbringing should not be a determining factor in their future success. GROW is helping to break down some of the barriers students face when entering the world of work through mentorship and events.

“My background and experience has made me who I am today, and I would like to encourage other students to be proud of their roots and feel confident bringing their authentic self to work. Our diversity is a strength to be celebrated and GROW is helping to share this with students and young professionals, with the support of senior leaders around the world.”