5 tips on best representing LGBT clients

April 2017 | Around the ABA

Developing cultural competency is key to best representing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, says Angie Martell, founder and managing partner of Iglesia Martell Law Firm, PLLC.

In “What I Wish I Had Known about Representing LGBT Clients,” published in the January/February issue of GP Solo Magazine, Martell draws on her almost three decades of experience in LGBT legal matters to share several tips on working with LGBT individuals.

“Cultural competency in LGBT legal issues means understanding not only basic LGBT terminology but also how gender, sex and sexual orientation interplay within one’s understanding of one’s identity and inform the choices an individual may make,” Martell says.

Why is this competency so important?

Martell explains that the landmark 2015 U.S. Supreme Court cases Obergefell and Windsor offers married same-sex couples some protection, but discrimination still exists and LGBT individuals lack equal protection nationwide.  By better understanding LGBT individuals, Martell says lawyers can help “avoid the imposition of dominant cultural values and morals that too often perpetuate injustice and prevent the full equality that all people deserve.”

Below are five practical tips for working with LGBT clients:

  • Never use outdated terminology (e.g., sexual preference, tranny, homosexual or hermaphrodite).

  • Revise all internal forms and documents to ensure that they are culturally sensitive (e.g., “spouse and spouse” rather than “husband and wife”). Do not assume to know someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. If it is not clear, or your client uses terms you do not understand, ask for clarification.

  • Do not “out” clients if they have not given you permission, either to people in your office or in pleadings or court proceedings.

  • Make sure members of your staff are trained in cultural competency.

  • Prepare for possible bias from the court. Plan the road map of your legal strategy—and make sure that education of the court is in that plan. Know your judge and know your forum. Be cognizant of disparity of treatment. Be cognizant of how discrimination has caused your client’s legal position to be complicated. Humanize your client’s situation.

“Remember: The lawyer who wears blinders limits creative and innovative possibilities in his or her lawyering,” says Martell.

For more advice on working with LGBT clients, read Martell’s full article here.

GP Solo Magazine is a publication of the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.

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