By Siena Hohne
On their first day of law school, Sander Saba met with their advisor and disclosed their fear that in order to be a successful lawyer, they would have to live within the gender binary. Saba’s advisor immediately allayed their fears and reassured them that they shouldn’t hide themself just to conform to what they thought other people expected or wanted. Saba, a nonbinary attorney, has followed this philosophy throughout their career and has brought it along with them to Paul Weiss, where they were hired as a Litigation Associate after a successful interview at the Lavender Law® Conference and Career Fair in 2018.
MAKING CONNECTIONS AT LAVENDER LAW®
Saba attended Temple University for one year before transferring to the NYU School of Law. In the summer of 2018, Saba participated in on-campus interviews at NYU with some of the top law firms in the country, but says that “there’s only so much you can get to in a fifteen-minute interview where the interviewer is also interviewing dozens of people that day, so I found the interview to be a little lackluster even though I was very interested in [Paul Weiss].” A few days later, Saba strolled down the New York City streets from NYU Law’s campus to Lavender Law®, where they hoped to try their luck again with Paul Weiss. Reflecting on their experience at Lavender Law®, Saba says, “I was able to talk to folks in a less formal setting and ask them really candid questions about the culture at the firm. Knowing that [the recruiters] were queer as well, I didn’t feel like I had to put on a show about anything.” Saba kept in touch with Rebekah, one of the queer recruiters, who helped Saba through the follow-up interview process and aided their decision to accept Paul Weiss’ job offer. Saba says that this decision “had a lot to do with the connection I made at Lavender Law®. I didn’t have that kind of a connection with any of the other firms I was considering offers from, so I had less insight into the firms and less of an idea of what their cultures are like.”
FINDING THE RIGHT FIT
Saba grew interested in litigation as a student and chose Paul Weiss partially due to its reputation as one of the nation’s top litigation firms. “I wanted to be somewhere where I could learn a lot early on. I know that I like working in litigation but I don’t know what speciality draws me the most so I wanted a place with lots of opportunities.” Additionally, before Saba started as a full-time attorney at Paul Weiss, the firm implemented a policy allowing people to include pronouns in their email signature. Saba says that “every time I see an email from someone for the first time and their pronouns are in their email signature, I immediately feel welcome, accepted, and seen. I’ve seen partners, counsels, associates, and paralegals take part in the program and though not everyone participates, enough people do that I’m not the only one.” Because Paul Weiss had already instituted the pronoun policy prior to Saba being hired, the practice had been more normalized and Saba felt more comfortable informing their colleagues that they use they/them pronouns. Saba is also an active member of Paul Weiss’ Pride at Work Network’s women, trans, and nonbinary (WTNB) subgroup. This group recognizes that the experiences of WTNB lawyers is often vastly different from the experiences of cisgender gay men, and provides a space for WTNB lawyers at Paul Weiss to connect. “It’s been harder to feel seen, understood, accepted, and valued during the pandemic,” says Saba, “but going to events led by the subgroup has been nice.” Though Saba is currently the only openly trans lawyer at Paul Weiss, they appreciate that they did not have to be the first person to initiate conversations about being queer and trans at the firm.
Saba appreciates that many firms such as Paul Weiss have begun developing LGBTQ+ affinity groups, stating that “in every new space that I enter into in my life, I have to consider if I want to be a trailblazer, again, or if I want to find a place where they have already done the work to make me feel comfortable and included… I wanted to be at a firm where I was at least not the first person to bring up these discussions.” But luckily, Saba feels comfortable with themself at work outside the group as well, noting that they have been able to be open about their identity and experiences with the firm at-large. “I’m a very open person and I don’t hold anything back, which Paul Weiss knew when they hired me. I feel like I’ve been able to bring up all my experiences with the firm and haven’t received any negative feedback or treatment. Change still happens slowly, but I appreciate the openness and willingness to listen to me.” Saba hopes that their own openness will encourage other trans people to feel more comfortable entering into big law spaces or wherever else their professional interests lead them. Saba looks forward to participating in recruiting efforts from the other side of the table and showing trans and nonbinary students at future Lavender Law® career fairs that they don’t have to change who they are to fit in.