City Law Firm creator Karen Holden awarded Freedom of the City for her work for LGBTQ equality

In partnership with City Law Firm


Karen Holden was invited to receive and was given Freedom of the City for her work for LGBTQ+ equality.

She is quoted saying that ‘Everyone deserves the right to be who they are’.

Karen established A City Law Firm 11 years ago.  So, why is it so closely linked to the LGBTQ community?

Our founder Karen Holden always knew she wanted to be a solicitor and she worked for a number of firms before setting up her own practice.

One of her developed specialities some time ago was employment law. She undertook a number of cases surrounding discrimination which later evolved into litigation regarding the Equality Act.

Over a decade ago Karen was asked to consult on a number of cases where claimants were denied insurance because of their HIV status or sexual orientation.

However, their counterparts were permitted cover for cancer and other serious illnesses. The law needed to change and she wanted to be part of that revolution.

She worked on a number of these cases negotiating terms with the employers, insurance companies and challenging the position at court.

This was her first understanding on how LGBT law was different and needed not only sensitivity but robust negotiation. A very different tactic to standard law.

Thereafter, she actively sought clients from the LGBT community that she could assist in their legal matters and this evolved from discrimination, harassment to the Equality Act onto surrogacy and gay divorce for same sex couples.

She was amazed that there was still such a lack of understanding of LGBT requirements both in the law and in London.

As a result, she took on a large number of cases challenging employers that were discriminating against staff based on their sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation, HIV status or time off and benefits compared to straight members of staff for parental rights. These cases were often against large companies that had HR departments and even in-house legal departments.

They should have known better and been able to deal with everybody equally. This is still having a ripple effect as many employees hide their illnesses through fear and now insurance companies and employers are denying cover due to lack of candour rather than focusing on the illness itself.

So, why did Karen end up leaving the security of a salaried position to set up her own law firm?

A challenging case that she took on to assist a gay man who was being bullied, harassed and passed over for promotion and benefits, directly because he was gay, changed her life forever. He was a fireman and the level of homophobia that he experienced from his colleagues and his employer was horrendous.

She took on the case, however on the journey she began to feel uncomfortable going forward as she did not think her client could take the stress. It was clear that the employer was going to challenge everything and take this all the way to a Tribunal hearing. Fearful for his mental state, she advised him and his husband to make a settlement offer and to walk away from the case.

Her boss, at the time, clearly did not want this case to be dropped as not only would it be a headliner for the firm but it would also bring in significant profit costs.

As such, her boss continued the case by encouraging the claimant to continue. This is one of the main reasons she left the firm as she did not agree with the bottom line beginning placed above a person’s justice or health.

There were other reasons but she had become dissatisfied with the way the legal firms approached business. 

Moving on to open her new firm she realised she had made a tough but correct decision when the news came that her former client had committed suicide during the case.

His husband contacted the founder directly acknowledging that he should have listened to her. It was a tragedy that was anticipated as such and could have been avoided if it had been handled sensitively. 

This solidified the reason A City Law Firm was established, to create a culture for both staff and clients to seek honest and cost-effective advice.

Unless the case had a good chance of success, the client could afford the legal costs and their health and well-being were not put at risk, she would fight the cause.

Thereafter, the firm has taken a number of these cases on a pro bono basis where it challenges the law and seeks equality for all.

For example, the Freddie McConnell case to enable a transgender parent to register his true legal identity on his baby’s birth certificate.

The law recognises him as a man but refuses to allow him to register as anything other than ‘mother’ on the birth certificate;

In the case of K v L and another (2019) the intended parents separated before the (surrogacy) Parental Order was awarded granting them both full parental rights here in the UK.

The non-biological parent desperately still wanted custody and contact,  which was granted despite the legislations requirements.

A surrogate has changed her mind and the intended parents are being denied her signature on the parental order, giving them full parental rights.

As such, this has led to a court battle over custody , contact and ultimately the intended parents may need to seek alternative family court orders to secure their status as parents; and

A gay man denied leave for the arrival of his surrogate’s birth overseas , then harassed because of his status which eventually led to discrimination and personal injury.

A challenging fight led to a long term settlement plan and restitution , but it took time and his health was always put first.

Areas that this firm frequently becomes involved in includes:

  • Surrogacy overseas and domestic as well as surrogacy litigation
  • Donor and fertility law including co-parenting
  • Gay marriage and divorce , cohabitation separation and all pre/post-nupital agreements
  • Harassment and breach of the Equality Act
  • Employment policies , handbooks and discrimination
  • Transgender rights

We have fought against a number of large institutions which has included airlines and law firms . Many cannot be discussed as they were settled or due to confidentiality requested of the clients but rarely has she not achieved her goal.

Awarded Freedom of the City, the firm is also listed in the Legal 500 and was given an Albert ward by AKT

It hosts the Black Orchid LGBTQ+ business networking group offering regular and prestigious events for those proactive within the LGBTQ+ business community.