Panel gives advice on gay/lesbian firm life

BY CLINTON DICK

How can On-Campus Interviewing possibly be more stressful for a student worrying about whether his suit is the right length, his shirt displays strength, or if he should leave his cuffs unbuttoned? How about if that student is gay?

This week a Lambda-sponsored career panel confronted this issue and attempted to provide some answers to student concerns about being out in a firm and leading a gay lifestyle in an institution that is traditionally seen as somewhat traditional.

“I was out when I applied to law firms and for that I have to thank Harvard Law School,” said Mark Smith of Testa, Hurwitz & Thiebeault, who graduated from the Law School in 1986. “I was a member of an HLS-gay group and I was on a list of student organization leaders that was distributed to any firm that wanted to look at it. The hiring partner who interviewed me actually brought it up, which resulted in a very pleasant conversation.”

But some students present at the panel raised concerns about bringing up their sexual orientation during the first interview. One student remarked that he did not want to be remembered as “the gay one,” to which Smith remarked, “If you are remembered as the gay one, those first three words are important: you are remembered.”

In response, Ted Jacobs admitted that being openly gay was a problem during his interviews. “It was obvious from my resume,” he said, referring not only his gay affiliations but also his public interest work. “I had a few screening interviews that did not go well. I cannot say it was gay discrimination, but I got that impression.” Despite his bad experiences, Jacobs continued to interview and landed a job with Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson in New York.

Using the opportunity to plug his firm, Jacobs raved about its inclusive atmosphere, saying: “Every summer associate is given two mentors and they can request someone who is gay, African-American” or another group they feel comfortable with. “I was a mentor and I have a mentor myself. Once a month you can do an event and bill it to the firm.”

Gail Morse had a different experience than her colleagues. “I was not out in my professional life, but I was out in my personal life,” Morse said. “Those at my firm who thought I was gay certainly let me know that it was okay. We formed a posse of gay and lesbian lawyers. I am now the point person for gay and lesbian issues at Jenner and Block.”

Morse advised students not to judge a firm too harshly for its lack of gay and lesbian programs. “If you find a firm that may not be good at gay and lesbian issues” it may be that it is not necessarily bad, but maybe they need someone who is gay at the firm to “raise the level of consciousness,” she explained. All three lawyers urged students to research firms and talk to other law students to gauge the level of gay friendliness.

In the end Morse said students should decide whether to bring up the issue. “If it fits nicely into the conversation, you should not be afraid to bring it out.”

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