More law firms earned a perfect score than companies in any other industry on a survey that tracks how well employers protect their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers.
Of the 156 law firms included in the Corporate Equity Index survey, which was released Monday by the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign (HRC), 112 received perfect scores, up from 95 last year. Another 14 firms scored 95 out of 100, while nine earned scores of 90 and 14 received scores of 85. Only four firms earned below a score of 80.
“The legal field in general has been a strong leader in LGBT workplace equality,” said Beck Bailey, deputy director of employee engagement at the HRC, adding that the industry received “the largest number of 100s across any sector.”
Bailey said that law firms, like the Fortune 500 companies that respond to HRC’s survey, feel pressure to do well on the rankings in order to attract and retain the best talent in their field.
HRC creates the Corporate Equality Index by rating companies’ non-discrimination policies, LGBT competency training, LGBT recruitment efforts and employment benefits, including benefits for same-sex partners and transgender-inclusive health insurance coverage. HRC also retracts points for corporate giving to non-religious organizations that have a written policy of discrimination and awards points for donations to LGBT organizations, such as HRC, which is a registered nonprofit.
Some firms that made big jumps this year include Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney—where a transgender lawyer who spoke with The American Lawyer last year about her experience transitioning in Big Law—and Lowenstein Sandler, which did not appear on HRC’s 2015 survey but earned perfect scores this year. Willkie Farr & Gallagher, which was penalized when it did not submit data last year, jumped up 40 points to earn a score of 95 this year, while LeClairRyan saw its previous score of 50 rise to 80.
If a company or a law firm has answered survey questions in the past, but failed to do so this year, Bailey said that HRC uses their last submitted score as a way to incentivize organizations to continue to participate.
This is what seems to have happened with Howard & Howard, a Michigan-based firm that has appeared in sibling publication The National Law Journal’s NLJ 500 rankings and which received the lowest law firm score of 20. The firm said it did not participate in HRC’s survey.
“Howard & Howard believes in and supports a policy of nondiscrimination in all aspects of employment,” a firm spokeswoman said in an email. “The firm is an equal opportunity employer and will not unlawfully discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, marital or veteran status, height, weight, disability or any other protected status.”
Holland & Hart, a Denver-based Am Law 200 firm that received a score of 55 on HRC’s survey, said it did not receive an invitation to participate this year, even though it reached out to the organization last year because it was interested in completing the survey. The firm said in a statement that it would have received a high score had it been able to participate.
“Holland & Hart has historically, and continues to be committed to our LGBT employees by providing parity for same-sex benefits; having a strategic plan specific to Diversity and LGBT concerns; providing LGBT-specific employee training; annually sponsoring a regional LGBT gala; and providing pro bono services for LGBT litigants, to name a few examples,” a firm spokeswoman said in an email.
Loeb & Loeb, another Am Law 200 firm with an HRC score of 55, also said it did not participate in the survey this year and that its current score was based on old data.
HRC also surveys Fortune 500 companies. After law firms, banking and financial services institutions had the highest number of institutions earning perfect scores. In total, 887 companies were rated the year, with 517 employers receiving a 100, the best scoring year since HRC began its survey 15 years ago.