How to excel in legal as an LGBTQ associate? Find your mentor

The number of LGBTQ attorneys in Large Law is on the rise. Last year, the National Association of Law Placement released its diversity report, and 7% of all summer associates identified as LGBTQ.

This is a massive increase from the overall figure in 2002, where only 1% openly identified as LGBTQ. Those figures, of course, also factor in how many associates are actually willing to disclose their identity. The world has evolved, and, thankfully, many attorneys are much more comfortable disclosing their sexuality. So, when it comes to advancing in the legal arena, LGBTQ junior associates should ultimately do what everyone else is doing.

I don’t mean to be glib — I don’t think there’s a specific bias against LGBTQ attorneys in Large Law, and white gay men especially don’t typically see the same barriers that women or racial minorities face in the legal landscape. However, all three categories, and LGBTQ attorneys as a group, can benefit to take on the attitude that their straight white counterparts implicitly receive: mentorship is critically important to your legal career.

Law firm training is generally based on an apprenticeship model (albeit a highly paid one), and junior associates need to be willing to roll up their sleeves and put in the hard work to demonstrate that they will be a dependable teammate to senior associates and partners in order to get desirable assignments. There’s nothing about being LGBTQ that should affect one’s ability to do this, but it’s important to find mentors that are willing to help shepherd one’s success at the firm — regardless of whether they are LGBTQ themselves.

When I think about my success, those that served as mentors to me were not just those in my communities but were allies from the straight white world. I specifically sought out high-performing partners and indicated an interest in learning from them, which was often well received. (I mean, who doesn’t like a bit of flattery?)

There certainly are high-ranking partners in my LGBTQ community as well. In fact, I was already naturally drawn to them at social functions, and they also often would informally give me advice as I advanced in my career. They were extremely helpful, but the exciting part of working with my straight white counterparts was that I was also able to convey my struggles to them, and, in turn, they were able to talk to their partners about what our community faces. This also helped them unlock their own unconscious bias, thereby benefiting them and the entire firm.

Of course, you may be competing with your straight white male counterparts for these partners’ attention. Yet, I suggest being persistent about this. If your partners genuinely care about diversity (and are not just trying to provide it lip service), they’ll see the benefits of mentoring an associate that doesn’t look just like them. If anything, play to their interests in developing business — your contacts are probably much more different than those of the associates who look like them, so invite your prospective mentor to LGBTQ-focused events.

There’s also the greater benefit to having these mentors guide you throughout your career. At first it may just be getting the most desirable assignments but, beyond that, you will eventually need to get buy-in in order to advance your career and make partner — or even advice on a lateral or in-house move. Having a trusted confidante, particularly one that can push back and give you advice on how things may land to the legal community at large, will prove to be invaluable over the course of your career.

Indeed, the current political environment has resulted in many people “finding their tribe” and sticking with them — and there’s a bias that those that don’t look like you may not be willing to help — but I find happily that the opposite is starting to become true.

The world is waking up to the power of allyship, and it is important that you embrace that power to manifest their own destiny.

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