When Michelle Waites, Senior Patent Counsel for the Xerox Corporation, first attended Lavender Law in 2011, she did not know what to expect. It was the first conference she had attended exclusively for LGBT legal professionals and she had not been previously involved with the LGBT Bar.
Michelle: “I had never been to a conference where you would meet people from law firms you might work with. In my company, there’s a push for having a diverse network of outside counsel, but I didn’t know of anybody among our outside counsel who was LGBT, so I wanted to go and try to meet some LGBT lawyers who I could bring back to Xerox.”
Since it was her first Lavender Law, Michelle wanted to get involved as much as possible. In addition to being asked to speak on an intellectual property panel, she signed up for Speed Networking and Dine-Arounds, pilot programs introduced to connect outside counsel with in-house attorneys.
At the Speed Networking event, she was paired with Marla Butler, a partner at Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi LLP, whose practice focuses on patent litigation. Marla had been attending Lavender Law since 2004, when she went simply to socialize and network with LGBT attorneys. She ended up returning each subsequent year, eventually in her role as chair of the firm’s diversity committee. As a longtime attendee, Marla was asked to participate in the Speed Networking pilot program. When she received the list of corporate counsel representatives she was scheduled to meet with, she did her homework.
Marla: “I did research in preparation for the conference, Googling the people I was scheduled to meet with, and somehow, I came across a picture of Michelle. When it was time for the Speed Networking session to start, we ended up on the elevator together and started talking then.”
Michelle: “I never knew how you knew who I was! I wasn’t that famous.”
During the 15-minute networking session, Marla and Michelle realized their organizations had a lot in common.
Marla: “I sent Michelle some materials on the firm and we stayed in touch. Michelle would bounce ideas off of me about cases so we were able to keep up that professional relationship.”
Michelle: “Once I meet somebody who I think might be good as an outside counsel from a firm, that’s one of the things we do to test the relationship with the person and see how they think and how they strategize.”
Marla: “I didn’t realize I was being tested.”
Michelle: “Well, you passed!”
After a few months of corresponding, Michelle set up a meeting attended by Marla, as well as the Chair of Robins Kaplan’s national intellectual property practice, another partner at the firm’s Atlanta office, Xerox’s General Counsel and Xerox’s Chief Patent Counsel.
Michelle: “For me to invite someone to meet our general counsel, it puts my reputation on the line. Speed Networking was the first step. I have to be comfortable.”
Marla: “That is absolutely true. It is not missed by me at all, and should not be missed by any outside counsel participating in the program. Michelle put her reputation on the line when she brought me in. She took a risk. And in addition to the working relationship we’ve developed, we’ve also developed a friendship. That is valuable to me also.”
The partnership proved successful as Robins Kaplan and Xerox are still working together. Marla and Michelle reflected on their experience and how Lavender Law can be an effective tool for other attorneys trying to network and even develop long-term business relationships.
Michelle: “I would tell in-house counsel that you never know. You could meet someone who can help you down the line. Sometimes in-house attorneys try to avoid outside counsel, and I don’t think you should. People don’t expect to come up and hand you a business card and you hire them right away. You can have a conversation with somebody and keep them on the backburner for a while and then when something comes up, you call them.”
Marla: “To go to Lavender Law as an outside counsel, the best way to go about it is to do what you can to find out in advance who is attending. I go on the speakers list online to get a sense of who is attending so I can be strategic about whom I meet.”
Both value their experience at Lavender Law and continue to attend the conference, not only to try to meet future business partners, but also for the camaraderie that comes with the only national conference for LGBT legal professionals.
Marla: “Conferences like Lavender Law should and will continue. I don’t think we’ll get to a point where we won’t need the LGBT Bar. As accepted as I feel at my firm, there’s nothing like socializing with a bunch of LGBT lawyers. In terms of community, that should and will continue.”
- 30 May, 2014
- Liz Youngblood
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