Article June 23, 2022
Now Is the Time to Step Up for the LGBTQ+ Community
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Principal and RainbowFish Affinity Group Co-Chair Jeremy Saks authored an article for The National Law Journal about how critical it is for the legal industry to support the LGBTQ+ community through supportive policies, programming, mentorship, and advocacy. Pride month is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the LGBTQ+ community and look deeper at the challenges it still faces.
Read the full article at The National Law Journal (subscription required).
Pride Month is a time to reflect on and celebrate the achievements of the LGBTQ+ community, which, despite significant headwinds, has made remarkable progress toward inclusion in a relatively short amount of time. But it can be difficult to focus on celebrating pride when the LGBTQ+ community continues to face discrimination and exclusion. This year alone, an unprecedented amount of legislation has been introduced throughout the country targeting expression and speech rights affecting the LGBTQ+ community. Now is a critical time for the legal industry to use its power, influence, and resources to support the LGBTQ+ community, both collectively and individually.
Organizational Efforts to Support LGBTQ+ Attorneys Supportive Practices and Policies
First and foremost, the easiest step law firms can take to support their LGBTQ+ attorneys and other employees is to promote inclusive practices and policies. In addition to nondiscrimination policies that cover sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, firms should emphasize the importance of respecting pronoun diversity and encourage employees to model allyship by including their pronouns in their email signatures, Zoom profiles, and LinkedIn profiles. Human resources manuals should also make clear that transgender and nonbinary employees are integral members of the firm and establish policies and procedures for supporting transgender employees through transitions. At the facilities level, firms should ensure that employees may use the restroom that matches their gender identity and that there is at least one gender-neutral restroom available, if possible.
There are a variety of ways that law firms can incorporate LGBTQ+-focused programming into their human resources and professional development activities. For example, firms may signal their support of their LGBTQ+ attorneys by publicly acknowledging and celebrating LGBTQ+ heritage months, including Pride Month in June and LGBTQ+ History Month in October. These are ideal times to provide LGBTQ+-related cultural competency training programs, such as workshops on gender-inclusive language; identifying discrimination, harassment, and bullying; understanding implicit bias; and creating an inclusive working environment. Law firms can then translate cultural competence into legal advocacy through continuing legal education programs that focus on legal issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community.
One of the most effective strategies for fostering an inclusive workplace is to establish one or more affinity groups for LGBTQ+ employees and allies. These groups provide a safe space for members to form a community and discuss issues they may not feel comfortable discussing with others in the larger firm community. Firms should also ensure that all employee benefits are LGBTQ+-inclusive. This could include, for example, choosing insurance plans that cover gender-affirming care and establishing parental leave policies that apply equally to opposite-gender and same-gender spouses. It may also be helpful to establish LGBTQ+ “ambassadors” or “champions” who can serve as points of contact with whom employees can share their concerns or workplace challenges.
DEI Considerations in Elevations
While many law firms incorporate DEI considerations into their attorney evaluation and promotion practices, firms should ensure that LGBTQ+ attorneys are not left out by regularly collecting LGBTQ+ demographic information on a voluntary basis and incorporating it as part of elevation discussions. Pro bono work on behalf of underrepresented populations, including LGBTQ+ individuals, should also be considered. Firms can boost the profiles of LGBTQ+ attorneys by being intentional about staffing them on case teams, especially in client-facing roles. Senior LGBTQ+ attorneys should also be encouraged to identify themselves as mentors and sources of support for more junior LGBTQ+ attorneys.
Vocal Support of LGBTQ+ Causes
Law firms are uniquely situated to shape law and policy and effect social change. As such, they should seek out sponsorship opportunities aimed at supporting LGBTQ+- focused legal organizations and events, such as the LGBTQ+ Bar, Lambda Legal, and the Transgender Law Center. And with vast reserves of legal talent, law firms are well-suited to put their might behind legal causes affecting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, whether it be through the filing of amicus briefs or other channels of legal advocacy.
Firms can showcase their commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion and gauge their success in those efforts by participating in surveys that track LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusion within the legal industry, such as the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, the National Law Journal’s LGBTQ Scorecard, and Diversity Lab’s Mansfield Rule. This simple step goes a long way in broadcasting a firm’s supportive culture to the legal industry more generally.
The percentage of attorneys identifying as LGBTQ+ is increasing, particularly among younger attorneys. According to the National Association for Law Placement’s 2021 Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms, the percentage of associate attorneys identifying as LGBTQ+ rose from 1.3% in 2004 to 5.4% in 2021. For summer associates, that percentage was 8.4% in 2021. On the other hand, only 2.3% of partners identified as LGBTQ+ in 2021. Law firms should capitalize on this opportunity by actively participating in LGBTQ+-oriented recruiting. This could include, for example, partnering with law school OutLaw groups, attending LGBTQ+ career fairs, and ensuring that LGBTQ+ attorneys or advocates for diversity and inclusion are staffed on hiring committees.
Individual Efforts to Support the LGBTQ+ Community Mentor LGBTQ+ Colleagues
Social isolation and mental well-being are documented challenges in the legal profession that can impact individuals from any background. The current political climate may be particularly hard for LGBTQ+ individuals, as seeing and hearing about anti-LGBTQ+ policies and legislation is extremely hurtful and difficult. For individuals who supervise or mentor openly LGBTQ+ colleagues, directly expressing your support for them and asking how you can get involved are great opportunities to have a positive impact in your firm.
Engage in Legislative Awareness and Advocacy
The volume of anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in 2023 shows that, despite great progress, LGBTQ+ acceptance is a constant struggle, and one that is not likely to be over any time soon. Estimates vary, but the American Civil Liberties Union counts 491 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in various stages of the legislative process in its 2023 legislative session tracker. Seventy-seven of those have passed into law as of the date of publication. In the current climate, it’s important for firms to let their LGBTQ+ attorneys know that the firm supports them as integral members of the firm community and has their backs.
Get Involved With LGBTQ+ Pro Bono Work
Many of the anti-LGBTQ+ bills under consideration target the most vulnerable members not only of the LGBTQ+ community, but society at large, who often have few resources with which to hire high-quality legal counsel. Given the volume of bills proposed this year alone, there is likely to be plenty of work in the near future for attorneys who want to make a difference. Lawyers can support the LGBTQ+ community by connecting their firms with LGBTQ+-focused legal service organizations and by taking on matters pro bono. Not only is this work rewarding, but it provides opportunities for even junior attorneys to gain valuable experience while effecting change in the community.
Reprinted with permission from the June 28, 2023 edition The National Law Journal©️ 2023 ALM Global Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited, contact 877-256-2472 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed are those of the authors on the date noted above and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fish & Richardson P.C., any other of its lawyers, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This post is for general information purposes only and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is formed.
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