April 30, 2015 Articles

How In-House Counsel Can Promote LGBT Diversity in the Legal Profession

By Samuel L. Felker

Over the past several years, law firms in the United States have made great strides in promoting LGBT diversity. Most large law firms in the United States now express a commitment to LGBT diversity in the diversity section of their webpages. More importantly, many have adopted nondiscrimination policies, equalized employee benefits, and dedicated resources to the recruitment of LGBT law students and laterals. Many firms now include LGBT content in their diversity training to attack stereotypes and build cultural competency regarding LGBT issues. It is also very common now for law firms to have an affinity group (i.e., employee resource group or ERG) for LGBT attorneys. My firm, Baker Donelson, has such an affinity group for LGBT attorneys and staff, and we operate alongside the long-standing affinity groups and diversity initiatives for women and lawyers of color. It is fair to say that in recent years, LGBT diversity has become entrenched in the culture of major U.S. law firms, at least on the surface. 

To measure this cultural shift in law firms, one need only look to the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC’s) annual Corporate Equality Index, which is widely regarded as the leading national benchmarking tool on policies and practices pertaining to LGBT employees. The HRC Index is a voluntary survey examining the extent to which employers demonstrate fully inclusive equal opportunity policies, equal employment benefits, organizational LGBT competency, a public commitment to LGBT equality, and responsible corporate citizenship. This year, 149 law firms, including a majority of the Am Law 200 firms, participated in the survey, and a record 89 received a perfect score of 100 and earned the distinction of “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality.” An additional 36 law firms scored 90 percent. By comparison, in 2006, when law firms were first requested to participate, only 12 law firms scored 100. That number jumped to 64 in 2009, with law firms for the first time eclipsing the number of businesses who received the top score in the banking and financial service sectors. The 2009 HRC Corporate Equality Index contained the following statement indicating that was a watershed year: “Law firms are highly competitive in their recruitment efforts for law school graduates, and are also held to increasing standards of diversity by their corporate clients. LGBT equality is an integral part of these efforts to recruit and retain top talent and cultivate clients.” 

Premium Content For:
  • Litigation Section
Join - Now