Many LGBT individuals decide to pursue a legal education each year. Like other law students, they have to navigate the difficult waters of law school’s first semester. Many LGBT law students, however, face unique questions and anxieties their classmates do not.
Should I tell people I am LGBT or keep it a secret? Should I include OutLaw or other organizations on my resume that may reveal my LGBT status? Should I change the conversation if someone brings it up directly or indirectly in an interview?
This article aims to help LGBT law students at the beginning of their legal careers with practical advice on how to best deal with some of these unique situations.
At first glance, law school may seem filled with stereotypical Type-A individuals. And it is. That said, there remains plenty of room for individuality and uniqueness within the law school paradigm.
Being genuine is essential to forming friendships, establishing connections, and impressing interviewers. And, it’s hard to be genuine without first truly accepting yourself. Regardless of the approach you take in embracing, revealing or not emphasizing your LGBT status, make sure that you are comfortable in your own skin and have made peace with the uniqueness of your life’s journey. If you are uncomfortable with who you are, people around you will sense that.
Confidence begets confidence. Despite your lack of legal experience, you still have to exude enough confidence so your future superiors, colleagues, and, ultimately, clients will also have confidence in your abilities.
The first semester of law school presents challenges to most students, including experiencing the Socratic-method of getting cold-called by professors for the first time. For any 1L, this process can be daunting. This experience can be even more challenging if you are self-conscious about your identity. For example, a gay man self-conscious about his voice may dread having the spotlight on him when the professor calls. This is where believing in one’s self is critical. More likely than not, no one knows for sure the complete right answer to the professor’s question, and many may have stopped fully paying attention right after the professor called on someone else! However, your peers will take note of how you conduct yourself and whether you sound confident in your answers.
One of the best ways to gain confidence, in the midst of the law school chaos, is to remind yourself of your accomplishments. Remember, you worked hard during your undergraduate years, prepared for the LSAT, and were selected by your law school’s admissions committee. You belong here. You are capable of succeeding.
Appoint Your Board of Directors
Just as a board of directors guides a corporation, assembling your own personal board of directors is helpful as you navigate law school, interviews, and early years of practice. These individuals can provide invaluable advice and serve as a sounding board for your professional and personal goals and ideas.
For an LGBT law student, creating a personal board of directors is especially important. Your initial thought as an LGBT student may be that finding someone with a similar experience as yourself will be difficult because few have dealt with the same issues. However, if you take the time to look, you will uncover a treasure trove of individuals who will gladly serve on your personal board and help you succeed. Your personal board of directors may include attorneys, law school professors, law school administrators, and career coaches, but don’t forget to also include your non-attorney friends and advocates who have always believed in you and provided good advice along the way.
Research and Understand Your Market
To maximize your chances of finding the right employment opportunity, you must understand the particular legal market in which you are interested. This includes extensively researching law firms and other employers to learn about their practices and whom they hire. For LGBT students, it is also important to extensively research your potential employer’s commitment to diversity. Most large and mid-size firms have diversity and inclusion committees. Research these committees on the firm websites and learn about their goals, the activities and initiatives they have accomplished, and whether you can see yourself as part of their fabric. Some firms also list the attorneys participating on the diversity committee on their websites. You can contact them to ask questions and inquire about their experiences at the firm.
NALP, the National Association for Law Placement, provides a directory of legal employers and contains information regarding the number of openly LGBT attorneys at its member law firms. Utilize this directory to understand the culture of a particular law firm, as well as a geographic market. Most major metropolitan areas have local LGBT bar associations, and there is also a National LGBT Bar Association which hosts the annual Lavender Law Career Fair in a different city each year. You should take advantage of these associations and resources to both network with other LGBT attorneys and gain a better understanding of the state of your particular legal market. Not only will the results of your research help you ask thoughtful and engaging questions during your interviews, but the research process may also serve as a powerful networking tool and a nuanced way of coming out.
Prepare to Thrive at OCI
On-Campus interviews (aka OCI or EIW) take place either right before or at the beginning of the first semester of your second year. These interviews are where potential employers (law firms, corporations, government agencies, etc.) come to your school to interview and recruit students for future employment. Depending on your school, employers may get to select their interviewees from the pool of applicants and/or be assigned interviewees based on a lottery matching system.
What do I wear? What do I say? How do I perfect my resume? What if I run out of things to say? How do I tell the firms apart?
These are some examples of the many questions that plague students’ minds during OCI. Students who identify as LGBT report a few additional concerns: Should I edit my resume with certain potential employers to omit LGBT-related activities? Do I discuss an LGBT-related event if they ask about a personal challenge I have overcome?
Unlike members of a minority race, the diverse traits of an LGBT individual might not be immediately discernible. The question then becomes whether it is appropriate to play the “diversity card,” or if it is better to “play it safe” and consciously attempt to conceal any behavior or characteristics that could lead your interviewer(s) to believe you are LGBT.
This is where all of the advice given so far ties together.
First, do not be disingenuous during an interview and be true to yourself.
Second, be confident in your abilities and the value you will bring to your future employer. During the interview, focus on your academic achievements, work experience, ambition, and leadership. And, if your honest response to a question reveals you are LGBT, do not conceal it because you fear the interviewer’s perception or rejection. There are many reasons why you may not receive a call-back interview or job offer. However, if that reason is because you are LGBT, you probably would not want to start your career with that employer anyway, and it is better to find that out early on.
Third, having someone on your personal board of directors for questions during OCI is extremely helpful. Whether they are there to provide advice about a particular employer or comfort you during stressful moments, a good mentor is invaluable every step of the way.
Finally, by knowing your market, you will be able to ask thoughtful questions revealing a genuine interest in the organization and most importantly your desire to become a stellar attorney.
The authors would like to thank Brian McDonald and Dennis Raglin (Rimon Law) for their encouragement and invaluable feedback in putting this article together.