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Recruiting gay attorneys has become a big part of the initiatives launched by large law firms to diversify their ranks. But advocates caution that it will take much more than committees, brochures and networking to lure these attorneys to the nation’s top shops. With law school enrollment down and the legal market remaining strong, tapping into the talent pool of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) lawyers makes good business sense, firm leaders say. It also helps answer the call from in-house counsel demanding more diversity from the firms they hire. But the historically conservative culture of big firms has not attracted large numbers of LGBT lawyers in the past, and transforming their environments into desirable places to practice, say many LGBT attorneys, requires a change in firm culture from the inside out. “If you’re a junior associate and you work with people who aren’t comfortable with your sexual orientation, none of the other stuff carries the day,” said Scott Eckas, a partner in the New York office of King & Spalding. He serves as the LGBT representative on the diversity committee of the Atlanta-based firm. King & Spalding is one of many large law firms touting a commitment to hiring and retaining LGBT attorneys. Its Web site includes a specific section on sexual orientation, which highlights the firm’s recruiting efforts and its support of LGBT organizations. Another firm, Washington-based Arnold & Porter, posts on its Web site a list of questions that LGBT individuals should consider when deciding where to work, including whether the firm offers parental leave to LGBT attorneys for the adoption of a child and whether the law firm supports “an open and affirming culture for gay and lesbian employees.” New York-based Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison also identifies its LGBT efforts on its Web site, and names some of the LGBT community programs the law firm supports, including those of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Lesbian and Gay Law Association of Greater New York. Among its other initiatives, Chicago-based Jenner & Block publishes a newsletter, Equal Time, which highlights LGBT legal issues. It has included a section identifying its openly gay and lesbian attorneys. The endeavors by these firms and others are important for the advancement of LGBT attorneys, said Kate Fletcher, a law student at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. But a firm’s depth of commitment is evident in more concrete ways, said Fletcher, who also serves on the board of directors of the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association (NLGLA). For example, benefits for domestic partners can set firms apart, she said, as can its participation in the NLGLA’s Lavender Law program, an annual conference of LGBT attorneys and law students, which includes a career fair. “It shows that they can walk the walk,” she said. Fletcher, a former airline pilot, said that “for a variety of reasons” she will not pursue a career at a large law firm after graduation next year. Instead, she plans to practice tax law with the Internal Revenue Service, where she currently is participating in an externship. Her decision to opt out of large-firm practice is not unusual among LGBT people. Large firms lag behind midsize firms in the percentage of openly LGBT attorneys in their ranks. According to The National Law Journal‘s annual survey of the nation’s 250 largest law firms, among the 20 law firms with the highest percentage of openly gay and lesbian attorneys in 2005, most had fewer than 300 attorneys and the average size of those 20 firms was 396 lawyers. The average percentage of openly gay and lesbian lawyers among the 20 firms was 3.2%. At the same time, only five of the country’s 20 largest firms reported their numbers of openly gay and lesbian attorneys, and within those firms, 1.8% of their attorneys were openly gay or lesbian. Some observers say that LGBT attorneys are less likely to be open about their sexual orientation at larger firms, possibly because they have a greater comfort level at smaller firms or because it is more difficult to keep one’s orientation private at smaller outfits. Big firms are trying to woo more LGBT attorneys as part of their broader efforts to increase diversity as a whole. According to the diversity scorecard compiled by the Minority Law Journal, an affiliate of The National Law Journal, 11.4% of lawyers at the 240 law firms providing data for this year’s survey belonged to an ethnic minority. That figure represents an increase from 10.4% in 2005 but still is considered woefully low compared to minority workers in other professions. The increase that has occurred in minority recruitment is largely the result of a push by firms’ corporate clients to diversify their ranks and the consequences of a brisk legal market, both of which have spurred law firms’ efforts to widen their search for talented attorneys into all underrepresented groups. In addition, some 4.6% fewer people applied to law schools last year than in 2004, according to the Law School Admission Council, which also has firms scrambling for help. But there are differences under the diversity umbrella. Historical economic disparities, underrepresentation in law schools and the outward evidence of an individual’s differences create varying experiences in recruitment and hiring. Dana Petersen Moore, chairwoman of the Minority Partners in Majority Firms Division of the National Bar Association, said that the experiences of attorneys of color and LGBT lawyers are distinct. Despite the differences, Moore said that hiring LGBT attorneys does not necessarily come at the expense of hiring minority attorneys. “I don’t see it as a takeaway at all,” said Moore, who is a partner at Baltimore-based Whiteford, Taylor & Preston. She added that in some ways, law firms have a more difficult time trying to diversify with LGBT attorneys, since it is not always evident if they are members of the LGBT community. Creating an environment where attorneys feel comfortable about being open is key to retention and recruitment, Eckas said. As the first openly gay partner in the New York office of King & Spalding when he started in 2001, he said that attorneys who keep their orientation under wraps create a wall of secrecy between themselves and colleagues, giving rise to speculation and gossip. “You’re always on your guard,” he said. “If you have some big secret that you are worried about, it will affect how you become part of the team.” Promotional efforts, anti-discrimination policies and participation in LGBT community programs are part of what Eckas calls the “macro” initiatives that many firms are instituting. “Macro is easy,” he said. “Mostly, you write checks.” However, the micro efforts, as he calls them, are the best indicators of a firm’s acceptance of LGBT attorneys. Those efforts encompass promoting LGBT attorneys to partners, who can serve as mentors to LGBT associates, and training attorneys to identify their own subconscious biases.

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