Nearly one year to the day after the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States, one of its first and foremost lawyer architects has signed on to work for the world’s largest law firm.
Evan Wolfson will advise on diversity initiatives at Dentons, sit on the firm’s U.S. diversity and inclusion committee, and work for clients on human rights and public policy issues as a senior counsel, the firm announced Thursday.
Wolfson founded and was president of Freedom to Marry, a Washington-based advocacy organization that was among the most influential in crafting a litigation strategy to seek same-sex marriage as a constitutional right. Wolfson was also one of the first lawyers to dedicate his work to same-sex marriage. He wrote his 1983 Harvard Law School thesis on the subject, framing the legal argument for gay marriage as a human rights issue. In the 1990s, he was on the team that litigated the Hawaii case that won marriage rights for the first time for same-sex couples in the United States.
“As I embark on a new life chapter, harnessing the power and sharing the lessons from our Freedom to Marry campaign to advance human rights on other fronts and in other countries, I am excited about the opportunity to draw on and contribute to Dentons’ unparalleled global reach and deep bench of talent,” Wolfson said in a statement provided by the firm. “Dentons’ commitment to inclusion, diversity, and serving good causes makes a good fit with the other projects I am taking on here in the U.S. and globally.”
The U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationally on June 26 last year, after years of cases at the state level and in federal courts that broadened freedoms for same-sex couples. The Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision effectively ended the need for Wolfson’s Freedom to Marry organization, and he shuttered the group early this year. Wolfson has also been involved in same-sex marriage efforts in Canada, Argentina, the United Kingdom, France, New Zealand, Ireland and other countries, Dentons said.
“A legend in the LGBT community, [Wolfson's] insights will be important for client teams across the firm,” Mike McNamara, the firm’s U.S. managing partner, said in the statement. “Evan’s passion and lifelong vision for equality, which has infused his legal career, will enrich our strong commitment to building a diverse team of lawyers and professionals who accurately reflect the clients we represent on a daily basis.”
“If you’re a well-trained lawyer who has been an advocate in complex cases, you can direct those skills and experiences in a variety of contexts,” said Debo Adegbile, who similarly moved from a position focused on social justice to private practice. He had worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, was a nominee to head the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and is now at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr in New York. “There are a lot of areas of practice that overlap with areas of social justice and advocacy.”
The firm’s clients likely supported the advocacy position Wolfson took as well, Adegbile said. Many law firms are currently looking at how they can increase diversity within the firms, after clients demanded they do so.
Dentons has made other big-name hires from the political world. It brought on former Democratic National Committee chairman, presidential candidate and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean when it acquired his predecessor firm McKenna Long & Aldridge last year. And Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House of Representatives and Republican presidential candidate, signed up with the firm as a senior adviser about a year ago. Gingrich was one of the early Republicans to break with the party in support of same-sex marriage.
Historically, law firms have struggled to increase diversity of many types among their lawyers and partnerships. A survey of about 160 major law firms last year found the average number of LGBT attorneys at about 3 percent, according to a 2015 survey published by ALM Legal Intelligence. Dentons did not take part in that survey, or respond to a request Thursday for statistics on its LGBT attorney diversity.
Dentons counts more than 7,800 lawyers globally.