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Doug Plante is looking for certain things in a firm. It has to be big enough that he can explore different practice areas. New York is a must. And it’s got to be serious about welcoming an openly gay lawyer. The first two were easy, but Plante had a tough time figuring out which firms really mean what they say about diversity. Any serious firm is going to have a nondiscrimination statement that covers gays and lesbians, thanks to employment laws in 13 states — including New York and California — and membership guidelines for the Association of American Law Schools, which require schools to make sure on-campus recruiters’ diversity policies cover sexual orientation. But it’s one thing to say your firm doesn’t harbor homophobes, and another to create a genuinely tolerant culture. In scouting out prospective firms, Plante, a 24-year-old 2L at the University of Virginia, wasn’t interested in being discreet. “It was important to me to let these employers know ahead of time that I was gay,” he says. “I don’t think I’m ready to go back in the closet.” So, on his resume, he included his work as co-head of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) student group, Lambda Law Alliance. That alone wasn’t enough, though, to suit his purposes. Some recruiters hadn’t heard of the group, and it’s hard to gauge an intangible like office culture in an on-campus interview. So last fall, with several interviews down and more to come, Plante headed north to Philadelphia for the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association’s annual Lavender Law conference. While there, he stopped by the job fair at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel to hear what gay attorneys had to say about their firms. It’s the first job fair to target LGBT law students (a second is scheduled for this fall in New York). Though it was late in the on-campus interviewing season, coinciding with National Coming Out Day on October 11, about 150 law students met with attorneys and recruiters from 35 organizations, ranging from large firms to LGBT advocates like Human Rights Campaign. The applicants were armed with resumes and lots of questions. One of Plante’s scheduled on-campus interviews was with New York’s Weil, Gotshal & Manges. He didn’t know anything about Weil’s LGBT reputation, so when he saw a Weil table at the fair, he introduced himself to Daniel Dokos, head of the New York banking and finance practice. Dokos, 45, turned out to be a UVA law alum — and the recruiter scheduled to interview Plante in Charlottesville. He told Plante about Weil and his own experiences as an openly gay attorney. After the on-campus meeting and a visit to New York, Weil offered Plante a 2003 summer associate position. Plante’s experience shows why firms need to go beyond traditional on-campus recruiting to attract gay lawyers. “It was definitely easier to discuss what it’s like to be a gay lawyer with the attendees at the job fair, just because most of them were gay,” he says. “The same subject may not have been appropriate during on-ground screening interviews.” Georgetown University Law Center professor Chai Feldblum, who helped write the proposed federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), knows how students agonize over whether and when to come out to potential employers. She credits firms’ growing tolerance in recent years in part to students like Plante, who come out on their resumes and insist on proof of gay-friendly workplaces. Despite the changing environment, Feldblum concedes, there are “still a significant number [of firms] without atmospheres that are truly welcoming, that go beyond the nondiscrimination policy.” None of the more than two dozen students, associates, partners, or others interviewed for this article knew of a “blacklist” of hostile firms. But they all knew of firms that had pro-LGBT reputations, either through pro bono work, prominent LGBT partners, or participation in the Lavender Law job fair. Plante’s recruiter at Weil, Dokos, went through his own evolution. In 1982 he headed west to the San Francisco office of Morrison & Foerster. Dokos describes San Francisco firms in the early 1980s as “way ahead” of the rest of the country in encouraging attorneys to be out. So when Dokos moved to the New York office of Chicago’s Sidley Austin Brown & Wood in 1986 to work more with New York financial institutions, he says, “at Sidley I was pretty quiet about who I was.” When Dokos did eventually come out, he says, “it changed my life,” improving his professional and personal experience at Sidley. When he moved to Weil in 1998, he was out from day one. But he remembers well how difficult his decision to come out at Sidley was, which is why he has worked to raise Weil’s profile in the LGBT community, through participation in events like the Lavender Law job fair. It made a difference to Plante. He was impressed to see which firms took the time to be there. And, he adds, “maybe it says something for those who weren’t there.”

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