Seated (L to R): William M. Hohengarten, C. Elaine Arabatzis, and Helene B. Madonick. Standing (L to R): Gail H. Morse, D’Arcy Kemnitz, and Melvin White
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues created no concern for Helene B. Madonick when she joined Arnold & Porter’s Washington office 20 years ago, because at the time she was not yet “out” to anyone, including herself. But when she did come out at the firm in the early 1990s, Madonick was unafraid: “I knew I was at a firm with an already proven commitment to LGBT issues where LGBT attorneys were valued and appreciated.”
At Arnold & Porter LLP, LGBT attorneys serve on important firm committees and enjoy family-friendly policies, including domestic partnership benefits, generous leave following the birth or adoption of a child, and even payments to help defray the cost of adoption. But much of what makes Arnold & Porter special is in the details, such as a newsletter that invites attorneys to join the LGBT affinity group while at the same informing employees that it is okay to be out, or a firm-wide directory that includes a listing for “partners” rather than just “spouses.”
“My partner comes to most firm events,” says Madonick. “I think my colleagues would be concerned if for some reason I didn’t feel comfortable bringing her.”
Helene B. Madonick
According to Madonick, the key reason Arnold & Porter is a desirable place for LGBT attorneys to work is its commitment to creating a welcoming environment that respects and embraces the individuality and diversity of its lawyers. That core commitment is reflected in policies and practices supported by the firm’s top management and down through the ranks.
The firm’s LGBT inclusion policy is admired from outside as well as within. Arnold & Porter scored a 100 percent rating on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Corporate Equality Index1—one of only 12 law firms on the list of 138 total employers. It was ranked among the top 20 U.S. firms for “Best in Diversity with Respect to LGBT” issues by Vault in 2007, and received the 2000 Ally for Justice Award from the Gay and Lesbian Attorneys Association of Washington (GAYLAW) for its efforts to implement the recommendations of the District of Columbia's Task Force on Sexual Orientation and the Legal Workplace. Arnold & Porter is the only law firm ever honored by GAYLAW. “While each of these awards looks at somewhat different aspects of our firm’s commitment to LGBT issues,” says Madonick, “overall I think we received these commendations for several reasons: our state-of-the-art workplace policies for LGBT lawyers, a clear commitment by the management of our firm to diversity issues generally and LGBT issues in particular, and our involvement in pro bono work on issues of importance to the LGBT community.”
Within the profession, LGBT inclusion has made great strides in recent years. Predictably, the firms typically leading the pack in this area are large and located in big cities. And while many openly LGBT partners and associates at such firms speak of their workplace in glowing terms, overall studies show that openly LGBT attorneys rate quality-of-life categories slightly lower than their peers.2 Also, LGBT associates continue to rate their firms lower for overall diversity by sexual orientation than do their non-LGBT counterparts, but by only a small margin.3
Jenner & Block LLP is also in the forefront as it pertains to supporting LGBT issues. Gail H. Morse, out and lesbian, is a partner in the firm’s Chicago office and heads the firm’s state and local tax practice. She says Jenner & Block recognized the need for LGBT inclusion in the workplace early on. “Today you see a lot of big-name law firms vying to sponsor galas for national gay and lesbian organizations, eager to get their names in front of the community. It wasn’t always that way. From the beginning, Jenner & Block was on the cutting edge of making LGBT inclusion as acceptable as gender and race diversity. Having done that, we can’t sit back and say we’re done; we now need to remain ever-vigilant.”
A national firm that employs more than 400 attorneys throughout its four offices, Jenner & Block was among the first law firms to be voluntarily rated by the HRC for treatment of its LGBT employees. In fact, Jenner & Block received a 100 percent rating in the HRC’s closely watched survey in 2005—making it the first Chicago-headquartered law firm to do so—an achievement it repeated in 2006.
“The HRC survey is very important. It’s the national standard, and it’s what makes firms focus on issues important to the gay community about which they would otherwise be clueless,” says Morse.
“Take transgender issues for instance: They’re a direct result of the efforts made by HRC, GenderPAC, and other groups working to educate employers. If it weren’t for the survey, there would be a lot of nondiscrimination policies without transgender listed.”
Jenner & Block was also one of the first firms in the country to sponsor its own LGBT newsletter. The fresh publication, titled Equal Time, chronicles the achievements and legal points of view of Jenner & Block’s diverse attorneys, the pro bono and community service the firm may be providing to LGBT communities, and other issues of interest.
But how does the culture at a Jenner & Block extend to less-progressive firms? “I’m not looking to lose anybody,” Morse responds. “But when attorneys who have experienced being out at Jenner & Block move on to other firms, maybe they can translate that level of comfort by taking what they’ve experienced here to the new job. If an attorney arrives at a new firm and there are no out attorneys there, maybe he or she needs to be a catalyst. Reaching out to affinity groups and knowing there are other people similar to oneself helps, and no matter what the situation, it’s always empowering to strive to create a better atmosphere at any workplace.”
Not coincidentally, Jenner & Block was a key player in one of the most important LGBT legal decisions in American history. Tapped by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund (Lambda Legal), Jenner & Block’s team included out partner Paul Smith, who argued the case to the Supreme Court of the United States, and out partner William Hohengarten, who helped to lead the team that wrote the petition for certiorari and the merits briefs that resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling overturning Texas’ law against “homosexual conduct” and overruling the U.S. Supreme Court’s earlier decision in Bowers v. Hardwick.4
When he received the call from Lamda Legal, Hohengarten immediately agreed to help. “An opportunity to be involved in a major case in the Supreme Court is very attractive to most firms, and I knew I would have Jenner & Block’s support,” he says. “I’ve worked on more than one high-profile Supreme Court case, but without a doubt, Lawrence v. Texas was a career highlight for me.”
“More than anything, that decision helped to drive home just how very mainstream gay and lesbian people really are,” explains Hohengarten. “That we had the support of the American Bar Association in that case reflected the fact that the legal profession is committed to diversity, including LGBT people. In some ways, we told the Supreme Court that it was lagging behind the country and the legal community on the issue, and at the same time, the decision helped to catapult the movement further ahead.”
“After our success in Lawrence, the number of top-ranked openly gay and lesbian associates who were knocking down our door to work for us was remarkable,” says Hohengarten.
“Many of them are among our very best associates whom we’ve hired. And it has attracted other outstanding attorneys too. I don’t want to over generalize—there are obviously a number of conservative, bright people coming out of law school. But if you were to look at a cross section of really top students, you would find that most of them want to be at a progressive and diverse workplace. That we’re committed to LGBT issues is a positive signal about the overall tenor of the firm.”
—Brian T. May
There are tangible benefits to meeting diversity benchmarks that include LGBT employees. According to Hohengarten, not only does it reflect a firm’s values and demonstrate that it is following best practices rather than resting on its laurels, but also, in terms of outward effect, it helps with recruiting and marketing. “Right now, and I think rightly so,” he explains, “clients tend to be most concerned with racial and gender diversity. But having that 100 percent rating is helpful because it shows Jenner & Block’s commitment to diversity across the board and distinguishes us from our competitors.”
“Racial and gender diversity are the most pressing diversity issues facing the legal profession, because as a profession we have the longest way to go to achieve full diversity in those areas,” Hohengarten continues.
“I think LGBT diversity is also a pressing issue, and there are real barriers to achieving it in some firms, but I also believe we are making better progress with LGBT diversity than with racial and gender diversity. So, in my view, racial and gender diversity should be the highest priorities, but I think that is completely consistent with striving for LGBT diversity too.”
Nonetheless, attitudes within the profession are changing relatively rapidly. After winning a difficult battle to be recognized by the American Bar Association in 1992, the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association has grown into a federated structure with 24 affiliates nationwide. According to the association’s executive director D’Arcy Kemnitz, “Most of our early affiliates were comprised of voluntary LGBT bar associations hoping to be acknowledged by the local mandatory bar, while today, the Arizona state bar association, for example, has its own sexual orientation gender identity (SOGI) committees. We’re definitely seeing more mandatory state, regional, and local bars with their own in-house committees to address these LGBT issues.”
Brian T. May
Brian T. May, a newly minted, openly gay partner at the Chicago office of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw LLP, is very comfortable being at a place that accepts and promotes LGBT inclusion. A huge firm with more than 1,500 lawyers operating in 14 major cities worldwide, Mayer Brown demonstrates a commitment to diversity in the workplace while being active in the gay community through national sponsorship of Lambda Legal and several other LGBT causes in Chicago, including the AIDS Legal Council, the About Face Theatre, and Equality Illinois, as well as the Center on Halsted, a nearly completed focal point for Chicago’s LGBT population that serves the community’s diverse social, recreational, cultural, and community service needs.
“LGBT attorneys coming out of law school today came of age with more visibility, and they’re not afraid to ask for what they need. I refer to them as the Will & Grace generation,” says May.
Like many of the big firms, Mayer Brown offers domestic partner benefits. In fact, May explains that Mayer Brown is currently working on implementing certain changes to these benefits “to reflect a more current reality with regard to domestic partner and marriage initiatives in Massachusetts, California, and Vermont.” May says that by adapting its domestic partner benefits to incorporate these recent initiatives, even in jurisdictions such as Massachusetts where the firm does not have an office, Mayer Brown would again demonstrate its commitment to an inclusive workplace.
2007 Vault/MCCA® Legal Diversity Career Fair Series
Vault, Inc. has partnered with the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA®) to produce three legal diversity career fairs for law students and lateral associates. These events will connect top legal employers with the best and brightest minority, female, and LGBT law students and lateral associates.
August 14, 2007
Vault/MCCA Legal Diversity Career Fair—Chicago
8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
McCormick Place Convention Center and the McCormick Place Hyatt
August 16, 2007
Vault/MCCA Legal Diversity Career Fair—New York
8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Marriott Marquis Hotel
August 21, 2007
Vault/MCCA Legal Diversity Career Fair—San Francisco
8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
San Francisco Marriott Hotel
For more information go to www.vault.com/legaldiversity.
The current DC Bar president-elect Melvin White, a litigation partner at LGBT-friendly law firm McDermott, Will & Emery in Washington, DC, is the first out African American bar president in the nation. His swearing-in is scheduled for June.
According to White, McDermott is the ultimate meritocracy. With a 100 percent rating from the HRC, an active LGBT Diversity Committee, and a package of domestic partner benefits considered among the best offered by large law firms, it is a desirable workplace for LGBT attorneys. In fact, Todd Solomon, a partner in McDermott’s Chicago office, co-authored an early and widely used textbook on the subject titled, Domestic Partner Benefits: An Employer’s Guide.
“My focus has always been on the work, and though I was out to some people at the office, I never made a general announcement,” says White. That changed during his campaign for bar president, when White addressed a forum of mostly LGBT attorneys. “It seemed like the right time and place considering that I was seeking to lead the bar,” he adds.
“As bar president, I can’t further the interests of one diversity group over another,” says White. “Fortunately, the DC Bar, a mandatory bar with members of all persuasions, already has a policy in place to support diversity, and in that context, I can speak on the LGBT issue.”
Because the out–attorney population is only self-identified, it is difficult to pin down its exact number. Reportedly, however, the count goes up each year.5 As that tally increases, and as codified policy and evolved firm culture reaches throughout the profession, the lot of the gay attorney continues to improve. Today, the forecast for LGBT legal professionals is brighter. DB
Patrick Folliard is a freelance writer based in Silver Spring, Md.
- The Corporate Equality Index is a tool to rate American businesses on how they are treating lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees, consumers, and investors. Companies are using the index as a road map to equal treatment for LGBT Americans in the workplace and marketplace, as the Human Rights Campaign (www.hrc.org) had intended. The index has also had a profound impact on many workplaces, and has spurred significant change among companies that initially had been slow to adopt more equitable policies.
- See Vault, Inc., “Vault Top 100 Law Firm Survey Corporate Research Report 2006: Executive Summary,” p. 16.
- Id. p. 13.
- See Jenner & Block’s website at http://www.jenner.com/firm/ourfirm.asp?type=LGBT%20Diversity.
- The number of openly LGBT lawyers reported in the NALP Directory of Legal Employers (NDLE) rose again in 2006, as it has every year since NALP began analyzing this information in 2003. However, overall, the numbers remain relatively small. Four years ago, the number of openly gay lawyers reported in the 2002–2003 NDLE was just over 1,100, less than one percent of the total lawyers represented. Last year, in the 2005–2006 NDLE, those numbers stood at 1,458 which was 1.18 percent. In the 2006–2007 NDLE, the number of openly LGBT attorneys now stands at 1,733, which is 1.42 percent of the total lawyers represented in the most recent directory. (NALP Bulletin, Dec. 2006).
From the May/June 2007 issue of Diversity & The Bar®