Amelioration, Pro Bono & You…

PIRC Director Andrew Chapin in NALP Bulletin, February 01, 2009

We may not always realize it, but we each have the opportunity to make profound differences regarding equality, diversity, and civil rights in our field. The new year, President Obama, and the economy are leading us on a pathway of major change, and, as history is being made, we are some of the ones writing it.

NALP members pioneered the area of openly GLBT lawyer demographics less than 15 years ago in our NALP Directory of Legal Employers(NDLE). Before then, gay lawyers were largely an invisible, unquantifiable pool of talent. The 2009-2010 NDLE will go to print and online shortly, and we anticipate that more than 80% of the NALP employer members included will have given their lawyers the opportunity to self-identify in demographic categories. The demographic information provided in the NDLE showcases employers’ success with diversity of several kinds—and thus helps to attract and retain both top talent and clients to law offices that can demonstrate diversity. Still, a great deal of work remains to be done, and this is where amelioration, pro bono, and you have the opportunity to make a difference.

Recently, the Law School Admission Council published some of its research findings in an article entitled “An Assessment of the Law School Climate for GLBT Students” in the Journal of Legal Education, Volume 58, Number 2 (June 2008). Among the many important findings discussed are these:

  • “….between 4% and 5% of all law students are ‘out’ GLBT students.”
  • “Nearly a quarter of GLBT respondents…reported that they had witnessed or experienced discrimination in the law school....”
  • “….some students report that they remain in, or even return to, the closet in law school because of fears that being out may limit their employment opportunities.”

Compare these facts with the following:

  • The 2008-2009 NDLE lists 1.71% openly GLBT attorneys.
  • In conflict with the anti-discrimination policy of most law schools, several branches of the armed forces recruit from law schools, although the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy actively bars openly GLBT lawyers from serving in the US armed forces.

Some discrimination and inequities are so common or subtle that they do not often prompt overt reaction or correction. Amelioration on behalf of GLBT lawyers and law students can and does make an enormous difference in the lives, law school experiences, and careers of lawyers. Best practices in which you can be engaged include institutional and individual visibility in support of GLBT people; mentoring, emotional, and financial support for GLBT affinity groups; course work and programming that include GLBT issues; and visible accessibility to openly GLBT attorneys, faculty, staff, and administration.

The best amelioration includes law school administrations and employer organizations actively advocating for repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” — perhaps by partnering with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a Washington DC based policy and legal services nonprofit, or other organizations. Students, lawyers, faculty, and staff can deliver pro bono/service hours with SLDN in a variety of ways, thereby fulfilling school or employer pro bono requirements or expectations. Fundraising, signature gathering, and other activities can easily be worked into an individual’s available time and experience.

History is being made — what is it writing about you and your organization?

Reprinted with permission from the NALP Bulletin, February 2009.
©2009 National Association for Law Placement, Inc.® All rights reserved.