Left to right: Scott Webster and Blake Liggio of Goodwin Procter ()
In 2009, Goodwin Procter partner Scott Webster received a call from the firm’s recruiting director that incoming first-year associate and former summer associate Katherine Liggio would now be known as Blake Liggio.
A week later, Webster met Liggio at a Cosi near the firm’s Boston headquarters. Over a cookie and some coffee, they discussed what this now meant for Liggio and Goodwin Procter.
Liggio had first started at Goodwin Procter in 2004 as a paralegal in the firm’s M&A group before deciding to attend law school in 2005. Liggio returned to the firm in 2008 as a summer associate and two years later was offered a first-year position at the firm.
But in 2008, when Liggio was a third-year law student at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston and preparing for a potential career in Big Law, he began the process of transitioning from Kate to Blake.
“He had a lot questions about how it was going to be coming back to the firm,” Webster recalled of their initial meeting. “He was like, ‘There are partners that I worked with as a paralegal and as a summer associate, how do I tell them?’”
Webster reassured Liggio that this was not an issue, and that he and Goodwin Procter were there to support him in his transition.
“When you’re going through this process, you’re grappling with a lot of issues, aspects of your life are changing and you have a lot of issues you’re dealing with,” Webster said.
Last October, Blake Liggio became partner in Goodwin’s real estate industry group and one of the first transgender partners in the Am Law 100. ( The American Lawyer reported in 2015 on a former Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney partner’s transition at 68.)
Since joining the firm, Liggio has worked on a multitude of M&A deals, including Onyx Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s $10.4 billion sale to Amgen Inc. in 2013 and Trulia Inc.’s $3.5 billion buy in 2014 of rival online property website Zillow Inc.
“I can’t say that as a transgender person you think about—at least I didn’t—working with big corporations as necessarily the easiest career path,” Liggio said. “But I approached the process of transition by just saying I really didn’t want it to completely define me and who I wanted to be. I wanted to be a business lawyer.”
Liggio had always been interested in the contemplative and problem-solving nature of the law and resolved to become first a lawyer, and then a corporate lawyer. But also from a young age, Liggio knew there was something different about him.
“I have memories, probably my first memory was knowing that there was something off about me relative to gender,” Liggio said. “In my mind I just forged ahead with what I was at that time, being born a female.”
But Liggio reached a point in his life where he wanted to transition.
“It was what I wanted to do and I felt ready,” Liggio said.
Liggio was one of the first students to transition at Northeastern and was the first attorney to do so at Goodwin Procter. The firm, which went through a rebranding last summer, and Webster took steps and worked with Liggio to modify and develop firmwide inclusion polices.
“We looked at it top to bottom a year before Blake showed up as a first-year,” said Webster, chair of Goodwin Procter’s GLBT Initiative and head of its ERISA and executive compensation group. “We revisited everything and there were definitely whole sections we rewrote.”
When he joined the firm in January 2010, Webster frequently met with Liggio to ensure that any perceived issues with partners, associates or clients were sorted out.
“I think it was important for Blake to have somebody, a partner, that he could go to, close the door, and say anything he wanted, express anything he wanted, and not worry about politics, his career or how he came across,” Webster said.
Looking back on his first meeting with Liggio, Webster said he confessed to Liggio that he didn’t know a lot about transgender issues and, despite his best efforts, would mistakenly refer to Liggio as “her or she, at least once, probably a hundred times.”
Firm partners and associates have to accept that they’re going to make those mistakes, but they shouldn’t avoid making those mistakes by running from the whole situation, Webster said.
But it was that confession that Webster said helped create an open dialogue that has allowed both Liggio and the firm to succeed.
“Don’t be afraid to talk to the person. Don’t be afraid to show your ignorance,” Webster said. “These are people. These are budding lawyers starting their career. Help them with their career like you help anyone else with their career.”
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