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MIAMI � Richard Wilson, chairman of the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association, recalls that as recently as 2002 only a couple of law firms made the trip to recruit at the group’s Lavender Law Career Fair. In 2003, the National Association for Law Placement began analyzing information about the number of openly gay and lesbian lawyers at law firms. By 2004, the Lavender Law Fair attracted 40 firms to its Minneapolis conference. More than 70 firms attended the fair in San Diego in 2005. Last year, the fair attracted more than 120 firms to Washington, D.C. In September, more than 140 firms are expected in Chicago. The list of participants this year reads like a Who’s Who of large U.S. law firms. It includes a number of major South Florida players including Baker & McKenzie, Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod, Greenberg Traurig, Holland & Knight, Hunton & Williams, McDermott Will & Emery, Morgan Lewis & Bockius, Proskauer Rose, Shook Hardy & Bacon, and Weil Gotshal & Manges. “All of a sudden � overnight � we went from nothing to something in terms of interest,” said Wilson, who has his own law firm in Chicago. Gay lawyers always have made important contributions in the legal profession, whether they are out or not. In today’s cutthroat recruiting environment for legal talent, however, more large firms in South Florida and around the country are aggressively reaching out to talented gay lawyers just as they do with racial and ethnic minorities and women. One driving factor is that clients increasingly ask about the number of gay and lesbian lawyers at law firms, according to gay lawyers and law firm leaders. Some gay and lesbian clients feel more comfortable working with lawyers of the same sexual orientation. “Relationships matter a lot, and getting along with and having things in common with your client is important,” said John Lord Jr., an openly gay partner at Foley & Lardner in Orlando and co-chair of that firm’s affinity group for gays and lesbians. Recruiting gay and lesbian lawyers “is certainly a very helpful way to do client development.” INDICATORS OF OPENNESS According to 2006 NALP data, openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender lawyers comprise 1.4 percent of all U.S. lawyers. The percentage of gay and lesbian lawyers goes from a low of less than 1 percent of lawyers at firms of 100 or fewer attorneys, to a high of more than 2 percent of lawyers at firms of more than 700 attorneys. In 2003, when NALP first started collecting data, openly gay lawyers comprised less than 1 percent of all U.S. lawyers. But the reported percentage of gay and lesbian lawyers at law firms doesn’t always tell the whole story. That’s partly because, unlike with women and racial and ethnic minorities, gay lawyers may not self-report. Many gay lawyers remain in the closet. In scrutinizing law firms for friendliness toward gays and lesbians, gay lawyers say they look for the existence of gay and lesbian affinity groups and same-sex partner benefits as key indicators of the firm’s commitment to diversity in sexual orientation. Among Florida law firms, Holland & Knight has one of the longest records of commitment to inclusion of gay and lesbian lawyers. In 1996, Holland was the first business in Florida and the first law firm in the South to adopt domestic partnership benefits for gay lawyers and staffers. Adolfo Jimenez, Holland’s Miami-based nationwide recruiting director, said gays and lesbians are “an important group we wouldn’t want to shut off.” Jimenez said his firm pitches its open work environment and its active affinity group for gay and lesbian lawyers when recruiting at events such as the Lavender Law Career Fair. Holland has been sending representatives to the fair for years. Gregory Baldwin, an openly gay Holland partner in Miami who helped found the firm’s affinity group for gays and lesbians, said it’s good business as well as good social policy.
‘Clients � not all and not across the board � are more and more requesting information on [lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender] staffing.’

John Lord Jr. Foley & Lardner

“The average law firm is doing the same thing the average client is doing � it’s looking for the best lawyers,” he said. “You don’t limit your pool by ignoring where the best talent may gather.” Law firm leaders also point to client factors for targeting recruitment of gay and lesbian law students. In recent years, corporate America has pushed law firms to hire more minorities. Major corporations do not always include gay and lesbian lawyers in their diversity calculation. But that’s changing. “Clients � not all and not across the board � are more and more requesting information on [lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender] staffing,” Lord said. Not all clients are accepting of gay and lesbian attorneys. Larry Smith, an Orlando lawyer, said he had to rebuild his practice when a Fortune 100 client demoted him to second-class status after he started speaking out on gay and lesbian issues four years ago. He declined to identify the client. Smith said the client previously told him he was a “superstar.” But Smith’s progression in the representation of the client stopped when he became a public voice for gay and lesbian causes. “It was as though there was a glass ceiling,” he said. “They did not want me to move on to taking additional cases or trying the cases by myself.” FORUM FOR PROBLEMS Creating a diverse environment when it comes to gay and lesbian lawyers can be tricky for law firms. For one thing, law firms usually don’t know for sure everyone who is gay or lesbian at the firm. “It’s really pretty much a matter of voluntary disclosure,” Baldwin said. “If you want to keep track of it, you simply ask and that’s what we have done.” But Baldwin said he doesn’t consider the total number of gay and lesbian lawyers at a firm to be of critical importance. He looks for the presence of openly gay lawyers, particularly in partnership positions. “The fact that you have openly gay and lesbian people in partner positions and in associate positions tends to indicate that the firm that you are going to or considering is a diverse firm, because people don’t think that they have to hide this information in order to advance their careers,” he said. Lord said a firm’s policies on domestic partner benefits, nondiscrimination and affinity groups for gays and lesbians often can be more indicative of a gay-friendly environment than just the number of gay and lesbian lawyers at a firm. Baldwin said Holland’s affinity group has been helpful in resolving problems that arise. The group can help address inappropriate behavior or discrimination and also can talk to a gay and lesbian lawyer when allegations of discrimination are unfounded. “If somebody has a problem, they have somewhere to go,” Baldwin said. “There is nothing that becomes a bigger problem faster than a problem that’s hidden.” According to Baldwin, the increase in targeted recruitment of gays and lesbians by big law firms and the more prominent roles gay and lesbian lawyers are playing at these firms are positive signs for all minority groups. “If a law firm or a business is willing to have and protect openly gay people from discrimination, then it’s certainly going to do that for racial and ethnic discrimination,” he said. “The message is, this is a place where you will be judged on the quality of your work.” Daniel Ostrovsky is a reporter with the Miami Daily Business Review, a Recorder affiliate.

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