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Few law firm chairmen would welcome discussing their sexual orientation with a reporter — much less casually show off a firm baseball cap with “[email protected]” embroidered on it — but Morrison & Foerster’s Keith Wetmore in San Francisco isn’t a typical chairman. When he began his three-year term in November, Wetmore became one of the first openly gay men to lead a large law firm. In a frank, spirited interview, the 44-year-old finance lawyer talks about coming out at the firm, being frank with his clients, and trying not to stifle the younger generation. Q: At what point in your career did you decide to be open about being gay? A: I came out while interviewing with one of the partners [in 1982]. I said, “There’s an issue that in a perfect world I wouldn’t feel the need to raise, [but] I do feel the need to raise it, and that is that I’m gay. I just want to be clear on that and what you’re getting into.” And so that partner went off and talked to a couple of people and came back with a response that was encouraging to neutral. Sort of “I spoke to people; several said they would rather not have known, but I don’t think it’s going to be a problem for you.” Q: Why did you decide to come out to your colleagues? A: I think people who know me pretty well would concur there is a bit of the urban gay sensibility in every conversation I have. So you know, when you talk law and business with me, you get a little “Will & Grace” thrown in. It’s just kind of who I am, and to pretend wouldn’t work for me. Q: Do you think that you would have been able to get to this position at a less liberal firm? A: I know how amazingly level this playing field was, and just how little pushback I ever felt about who I am. My sense is there are other institutions almost as good. I’m not sure there are a whole lot. But I think that’s changing. Q: Are you open with clients about your sexuality? A: When I’m at that point of familiarity with a client where we’re talking about what we did over the weekend and who we did it with, at that point I’m out to them. There are clients you don’t get to that point with just because you’re not that chummy. But many you do. The most important part of a client relationship is trust. Would you trust someone who was lying to you about their private life? Q: Do you think your leadership makes it more comfortable for other gays and lesbians to be open at the firm? A: There was some level of insecurity that, well, it’s okay for Keith, the managing partner of the office, or, it’s okay in San Francisco, or, it’s okay in the business department — you know, every place except me. It won’t be okay for me — or it’s not really okay. And so for a lot of people [my becoming chair] was a confirmation of the firm’s best nature. Q: Does the firm provide health benefits to same-sex couples? A: Yes. Orrick, Herrington [& Sutcliffe] was a little bit ahead of us on that. We were in an all-HMO environment at the time, they were not, so they could have a little more latitude. [In the early nineties] I worked with partners from there, partners from Brobeck, [Phleger & Harrison], trying to get these things instituted. Milbank, Tweed, [Hadley & McCloy] was kind of early on, and we dealt with some associates there. Q: What have you done to recruit diverse associates? A: Ten or 15 years ago, we would write to gay and lesbian law student organizations on campus and just assure them of our nondiscrimination policy. It was not, in fact, common. When I heard about other firms doing it, I was flabbergasted. Now we don’t have to do that. One of my partners, Ruth Bornstein, when asked how many gay and lesbian lawyers there are at Morrison & Foerster, said, “Enough so that we don’t all have to like each other.” [Laughs.] Which is a joke actually that straight white men don’t get — because they’ve never felt insular. Q: Some firms will talk about diversity and don’t have much to show for it. Why does it seem to work at MoFo? A: Well, you don’t penalize people for availing themselves of those policies. Some of our competition has beautiful maternity and paternity leave policies, but you can’t find anybody who’s ever made partner who took either. So you have to live up to your own standards. Q: What does MoFo do, specifically? A: We have an ongoing diversity task force that addresses issues firm-wide, and then there are local office task forces. We have diversity training programs rotating throughout the offices over the years with a fairly high level of management participation, of staff participation, [and] pretty decent attorney participation. Q: What would you suggest to a managing partner of a firm that hasn’t changed its policies or that doesn’t have a diversity task force or an internal group? A: [Laughing] I was gonna say, there are two answers. One is, “Fine, more good recruits for us.” But no. First, everyone has gay and lesbian employees at some level; you probably have gay and lesbian lawyers, and the question is, have you successfully driven them into the closet? Get your policies in line, and you give people a signal that it’s okay to be who they are. With respect to outside recruitment, people can at least look at the policies and [know that] you’ve paid attention. Q: Do you think your positive experience is unique for a big law firm? A: I’ll confess, I don’t go around looking for slights. I may be exhibiting some gloss of naivete. I cannot sit here and assure you that there’s never been a gay or lesbian lawyer in this firm who’s never had something between bad and horrific happen — that I don’t know. It’s a human institution, and it has human error. Q: Do you end up being a mentor to gay or lesbian lawyers? A: I represent concrete assurance that this is a place where you can succeed. The other thing I’ve tried to do is stay out of the way. A generation in this effort is about 10 years. The views on what are the important issues change so quickly. I need to shut up and let people in their twenties and thirties talk about it. I’m reluctant to attend the internal gay and lesbian affinity group meetings … because I don’t want to stifle it. Having the chairman of the firm come when what you really want to say is that our domestic policy benefits suck because we don’t do x, y, and z — I worry they’re going to be too respectful of me. I’m trying to provide for them the same opportunity I had, which was, there were gay partners in this firm who stayed out of my way but privately supported me. And that’s what I try to do. Q: What’s your advice to a young gay or lesbian lawyer at a firm with a more conservative culture or city? Would you advise that person to be as open as you have been? A: I would. There sometimes is a mistaken idea by a young associate or junior associate that if they can just cover something up for a year or two, it’ll never come up again. Or if nobody knows about something until they make partner, well, then, that’s the last time anyone will look at them critically. If it’s an organization where you can’t tell people who you love, it’s an organization you don’t want to be a part of.

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