Gay, lesbian students cast wary eye on OCI

BY YONI ROSENZWEIG

After years in academia, where administrators freely brandish their statistics on diversity of sexual orientation, gay and lesbian students at Harvard Law School face a recruiting process with a shabbier pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Though no firm explicitly gives students the ghastly choice of the U.S. military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ — keep your sexuality to yourself or be fired — not all make clear the atmosphere and policies that gay and lesbian lawyers will find at a firm.

Among large firms on the coasts, most firms express some level of gay-friendliness, if only through a non-discrimination clause.

The more hospitable firms publish the number of gay associates and partners at their firm. According to OCS Director Mark Weber, fewer than 20 percent of firms report their percentage of “openly gay” lawyers to NALP, compared to nearly 100 percent reporting of other minorities.

According to Weber, “those firms who do not report are not necessarily unwelcoming” and, thus, students must pursue other avenues to determine how welcoming a firm is. Students often consult the firm’s record of clients and pro bono work, their diversity statistics for other minorities and women, as well as medical, life insurance and family leave policies for same-sex partnerships. At HLS, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender network is available, as are resources from the OCS website. This all helps a great deal when few firms are as candid as San Francisco-based Morrison & Foerster, which publicly professes a commitment to hire and promote gays and lesbians to “important management positions.”

Some firms offer to pair students with gay and lesbian recruiters if so requested in order to ask specific questions. Dan Lefler, recruiting partner at Los Angeles-based Irell & Manella, considers these interviews part of the process of finding the lawyers who would make the best fit at the firm.

In light of this available information, most gay and lesbian students find that expressing sexual orientation does not disadvantage their prospects in “big liberal markets,” as 3L Geoff Upton described them. “If anything,” Upton continued, “being gay can present an advantage in hiring at such firms.”

Some studies support the contention that, at least when submitting resumés, indicating a sexual orientation does not have an overall disadvantaging effect in receiving interviews.

But the openness and broad acceptance found at some large firms may serve to mask problems that gay and lesbian 2Ls and 3Ls face during the recruiting season.

Those firms that do not publish the number of gay and lesbian lawyers and have no particularly welcoming policies — such as same-sex benefits — leave gay students to take a gamble. Many simply take the firm’s silence to be an unwelcoming sign, and there is at least some good reason for that. When 3L Lindsay Harrison inquired about gay partners at D.C.-based Williams & Connolly, she says she was bluntly told, “I don’t know any partners who are out. We are kind of an old-school firm and that’s not going to change anytime soon.” She said the firm ultimately apologized.

In the end, Irell & Maella’s Lefler pointed out, firms end up hiring “many more gays than indicate that on the resume or in interviews,” touching on the phenomenon of unmentioned sexual orientation.

To many gay and lesbian students who do not submit or inquire about sexual orientation, they consider it a private, irrelevant, matter. “Does it really matter?” one 2L, who is gay, said anonymously.

Yet for many, questions such as about whether or not sexual orientation will affect success at the firm, or whether they will be discriminated against, continue to crop up. Weber suggested that this is because “there is more social pressure to keep sexual orientation secret than religion .” Some gay and lesbian students, he pointed out, do not even tell their parents for fear of a negative reaction. How, then, can they tell someone they have just met?

OCS does not recommend a specific course of action for gay and lesbian students considering whether to include their sexual orientation on their resumes or in interviews. Rather, they suggest that students consider how fundamental that particular factor to their identity and to consider generally, as Weber puts it, “what story you want the resume to tell.”

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