October 27, 2020

The business case for including gay lawyers

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LGBT-SummitBy Karen Sloan, From The National Law Journal

Richard Rosenbaum will never forget the day two decades ago when an associate working for him at Greenberg Traurig came out during a business trip. Previously, the Miami-based younger lawyer had passed for straight, even discussing a girlfriend in faraway Baltimore.

Rosenbaum, then a junior partner, replied that he had understood that the associate was really gay. The associate burst into tears of relief.

Greenberg Traurig CEO and shareholder Richard A. RosenbaumJ. Albert Diaz

“In that moment, I realized the amount of emotion and energy that must go into living so much of your life around this issue,” Rosenbaum (left), now his law firm’s chief executive officer, said Monday during the second annual Out in Law leadership summit in New York. “Imagine how difficult it would be to not discuss your family at a client dinner.”

The ability of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender attorneys to be open about their personal lives without fear for their careers is key to recruiting and retaining them, law firm partners and general counsel said. And because clients want law firms that incorporate a variety of perspectives, it makes business sense to foster inclusion.

“A diverse workforce is a better workforce,” said James Smith, president and chief executive officer of Thomson Reuters Corp. “If you can create an environment that celebrates a diversity of views, you have a better business.” Fail to do that, and “you’ll wind up out of touch with the clients you are serving.”

More than 250 lawyers and LGBT advocates gathered at New York Law School to discuss legal developments including the impending arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court over same-sex marriage. They also shared strategies for promoting equality and engaging on LGBT issues. Out in Law is a two-year-old offshoot of Out On The Street, which promotes LGBT leadership in the financial industry.

Maintaining an affinity group for LGBT lawyers in the workplace isn’t enough, Greenberg Traurig vice president and treasurer Brad Kaufman said. Firms need to be active.

Anne Cooney, managing director and general counsel of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, suggested law firms get involved with clients’ diversity efforts and find opportunities for LGBT lawyers to network outside the firm.

“Raise your hand and say, ‘Hey, look, we see what people are doing in this space and we’d like to co-sponsor an event,’ ” she said.

Many of Thomson Reuters’ clients get involved in the company’s Pride Week celebration in its Minnesota offices, Smith said.

Many speakers agreed that law firms and legal departments could do more to ensure that LGBT lawyers rise to influential positions. Having “out” legal leaders is a start. Jim McNasby, general counsel of insurance brokerage March LLC, wrote a letter informing the entire company that he is gay when he joined in 2007. He believed his example might help other gay employees might feel more comfortable about being open in the workplace. “I came out because I felt it was necessary,” he said.

Abby Fiorella, group executive and general auditor at MasterCard Inc., said about 20 percent of the employees in her department identify as LGBT. “To come out was truly liberating,” she said. “I was more productive and more at ease. I connected more with my colleagues.”

Lawyers who aren’t gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender should act as allies to colleagues who are, Rosenbaum said.

“Until you put people in real positions of authority in your firm and give them a seat at the table, you aren’t going to change the firm,” he said. “Unless you live these principles, it’s all bull.”

IMAGE: Credit: akindo/iStockphoto.com

For more on this story go to: http://www.nationallawjournal.com/id=1202724038095/The-Business-Case-for-Including-Gay-Lawyers#ixzz3XyFAEdvY

 

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