By M. Dru Levasseur, Deputy Program Officer of the National LGBT Bar
Last week I spoke to Law360 about “How BigLaw Is Starting To Embrace The Full Gender Spectrum.” It is truly significant that law firms are taking a visible stance to include transgender and nonbinary attorneys in the legal workplace, particularly with the current backdrop of attacks and rollbacks on transgender people by the U.S. government and beyond. Providing all employees with the option of including pronouns in electronic signatures helps transgender people feel less singled out, as Holland & Knight’s Senior Counsel, Jamie Rodriguez notes in the article. And ensuring that your law firm has fully inclusive benefits is a critical step to attract and retain transgender talent (and avoid pesky lawsuits). But are these steps enough to help law firms attract and retain diverse attorneys, and how many attorneys will this really impact?
While we don’t yet have specific numbers, each year we meet more openly transgender and nonbinary attorneys and law students at our Lavender Law® Conference and Career Fair, the largest LGBTQ+ legal conference in the world. Yet, in 2020, we can still count the number of openly transgender attorneys working in BigLaw on one hand. In general, the number of LGBT attorneys in U.S. firms has risen in the last fifteen years (from 1.07% to 2.99% overall) according to the 2019 National Association for Law Placement Report on Diversity, but this still reflects a majority of white, cisgender, gay men, and includes a significant gap between summer associates (6.86%) and partners (2.07%). To change those numbers, BigLaw needs to consider how to more deeply commit to including the full LGBTQ+ spectrum.
To create a welcoming workplace for transgender and nonbinary attorneys and for LGBTQ+ women and attorneys of color, law firms need to go beyond the starting place of pronouns in email signatures, and take a close look at all of their policies and practices that may impact their current or future transgender or nonbinary employees, as well as their lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees. Do you offer the most cutting-edge LGBTQ+ inclusive policies from restroom facility use, to benefits, to methods of Self-ID? Are your decisionmakers, including hiring attorneys and HR employees, aware of the needs of employees with intersectional identities? It is vital to set up your entire staff for success by making sure everyone has the information, training, and practice necessary. Not everyone may be familiar with or knowledgeable about the experiences of LGBTQ+ people, particularly transgender and nonbinary people. We know firsthand that even where a workplace is a leader in LGBTQ+ equality on paper, it only takes one person on staff to say the wrong thing to a key client, or ask an inappropriate question of a colleague, and trust can be broken. Information on language, etiquette, and best practice skills must be made available to all staff to create a welcoming culture.
The National LGBT Bar is proud to offer coaching and consulting on LGBTQ+ inclusion for law firms through our Lavender Law 365® program. If you would like more information, please visit our website or contact Deputy Program Officer, Dru Levasseur.