When Thomas Rucker chose to attend the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, he knew that he would have to push himself to build his own networks and seek out his own opportunities. After seeking out the Lavender Law® Conference and Career Fair in 2016, Rucker landed his dream job as a summer associate at Jones Day, where he now practices antitrust law. Rucker credits his success to finding people and places that made him feel comfortable while pushing him to excel.
Rucker’s decision to go to law school came from his experience working as an office clerk at a divorce law firm in Chicago. After completing his undergraduate studies, Rucker cast a wide net when applying to jobs based on his interest in policy studies and landed at that law firm. While working as an office clerk, Rucker found that “there were so many times where I wanted to stay at the table.” Six months into working as an office clerk, Rucker realized he wanted to get involved in corporate law because he felt connected to “the problems of the day.” Seeking a program that was strong in law and economics, Rucker decided to attend GMU.
Attending a small law school meant that Rucker often had to put more effort into seeking out personal and professional resources. Up until this point, he had to build his own support network by connecting with various individuals to help guide him throughout his personal and professional life. Because Rucker came out while he was an undergrad before becoming a legal office clerk, he knew what it was like to be out at a law firm, but not what it would be like to be out as a lawyer. These mentors provided guidance on numerous aspects of a budding career, including how to navigate the legal field as an openly LGBTQ+ professional.
Additionally, Rucker struggled with finding professional resources while attending a small law school. While studying law, Rucker came to realize that he wanted to work at a big firm and that his relatively small law school did not have the resources to fully support him in this pursuit. Rucker realized that he would have to “hustle” and “really put [himself] out there” if he wanted to land a job at a large firm. “Even for the big firms on campus, there wasn’t a guarantee that they were even going to take someone for a callback,” states Rucker, reflecting on his job search experience as a student. After hearing about Jones Day from an older student, Rucker knew he wanted to work there but wasn’t sure how to connect with them given that they were not conducting interviews on his campus. Luckily, Rucker’s mentors connected him with the National LGBT Bar Association, which led him to attend the 2016 Lavender Law Conference and Career Fair® in Washington, D.C., with his sights set on getting an interview with Jones Day.
What I was struck by when I walked in was that the access was there but I still had to be prepared. [Lavender Law] isn’t handing you anything – it makes you work to highlight your strengths and find the right fit . . .
Reflecting on his experience at Lavender Law®, Rucker praised the Career Fair for providing law students with full access to firms that they might not have been able to access on their campuses. Rucker states, “[Lavender Law] allowed me to get in front of the people I wanted to when those opportunities weren’t otherwise available.” Additionally, because the conference is centered on the LGBTQ+ legal community, Rucker felt comfortable speaking with recruiters given that he knew they would already have something in common. Rucker states, “even if they were strangers, when I went into the Career Fair I felt like I was going to be heard.” Despite feeling at ease, Rucker still knew that he would have to be prepared to make a good impression with the recruiters at his dream firm. Rucker states,“what I was struck by when I walked in was that the access was there but I still had to be prepared. [Lavender Law] isn’t handing you anything – it makes you work to highlight your strengths and find the right fit, which is definitely what I respect about [the conference].”
While at the Career Fair, Rucker waited in line at the Jones Day table for his opportunity for a screener interview. In his words, “the universe really aligned,” when he found out one of the recruiters was also a GMU alumnus. “Lavender Law connected us in ways that there would have been no other way really to make that connection happen,” says Rucker. Because the recruiter went to GMU, was working at Jones Day, and was also an openly LGBTQ+ lawyer, Rucker felt that he could trust him to determine if he was a right fit for the firm and advocate for him. “If I wasn’t in a forum like Lavender Law where I felt comfortable and I was surrounded by like-minded ambitious people, I maybe wouldn’t have been as comfortable and open with [the recruiter].” Rucker’s performance in the screener interview led him to get a call-back, which the recruiter and his newfound mentor helped him prepare for. This led Rucker to get an offer to be hired as a summer associate at Jones Day “and the rest is history.”
Rucker was drawn to Jones Day because he wants to be “challenged and pushed out of [his] comfort zone,” so that he has the opportunity to grow. He also appreciated how members of the firm are still deeply interested in the academic side of the law. Rucker states that he wanted “to go where it was valued and desired from the younger associates to still stay in touch with what the enforcers are saying and what’s coming out of the agencies and current thought leaders.”
In addition to affirming his identity as a self-described “antitrust nerd,” Rucker appreciates how Jones Day affirms his identity as a gay man. “[My identity] is a non-issue… if I talk about my boyfriend it doesn’t give pause.” Additionally, Rucker says that he feels incredibly lucky as well to have the support of the LGBTQ Affinity Group at Jones Day. Similarly to his experience with Lavender Law®, this group has led Rucker to feel at ease in the workplace because it has provided him with mentors that he truly feels comfortable speaking with.
Now that Rucker has a few years under his belt at Jones Day, he’s excited to provide this same mentorship to current law students at GMU. Reflecting on the importance of having a support network, Rucker states, “it takes energy and proactivity but it transcends everything and makes all my endeavors worthwhile.”