Ahead of next month’s OutLaws 2019 — the Legal Executive Institute’s conference on advancing LGBT+ professional leadership — we interviewed three LGBT+ lawyers on what being part of the LGBT+ community has meant for them and what role it has played in creating community in the workplace and advancing their careers.
Russ Korins, Senior Counsel and Director of Business Strategy at Cohen Tauber Spievack & Wagner; Justin D. Lee, a Partner in the Banking & Finance Group at Weil, Gotshal & Manges; and Matthew Putorti, Senior Associate in the Insurance Recovery and Commercial Litigation group at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, share how their active involvement within professional networks outside of their employers created opportunities for success and visibility.
Korins says he has been active in the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York since the early 2000s and served in its leadership for more than 10 years. Indeed, he recognized that the Bar Association could lead to professional connections.
Lee explains how he got involved in OutLaws in law school, saying it was “a great way to get to know other law students who are involved in the LGBT+ community, including allies.” Doing so provided the opportunity to get to know and to meet similarly situated attorneys or aspiring attorneys who are interested in advancing or promoting LGBT+ causes and supporting each other.
All of those we interviewed indicated that the LGBT+ community has played a big role in their ability to develop business. “Affiliations and communities matter in client development, whether it be an alumni network, religious organization, or LGBT+ bar association,” says Korins, adding people will give business and opportunities to others whom they feel comfortable with, share a certain set of values with, and get to know over the course of time. Korins says his involvement in the “New York LGBT Bar, the national one and attending Lavender Law for many years has produced client relationships for my firm.”
Guidance to the Early Career Lawyers
Lee explains that he is using his community to cultivate future client relationships and advance intersectional allies at the same time. To illustrate, he is bringing together Weil’s LGBT+ and African American/Black employee resource groups to do a joint event with a general counsel, who is both gay and black, to learn about his career journey as he grew professionally in a law firm then made the transition to GC.
Young attorneys who are building a career should definitely develop these affiliations and community connections now and even in law school, according to Korins. Today, law is a business, not just a profession, he adds.
You can register for next month’s OutLaws 2019 event here.
Putorti agrees. “It’s important to start tapping into that network and getting to know people as early as you can in your career,” he says. “There’s no reason to wait until you’re a year or two before partnership consideration. It should be something that students and junior lawyers are starting as early as possible in their careers.” Putorti says he knows the value of this first-hand, having gotten involved in the LGBT+ student group at his law school and within a number of community organizations after graduating.
Korins, as a more seasoned attorney, elaborates. “Everybody should be mindful of the opportunity that these community connections present,” he says, adding that lawyers should be prioritizing and solidifying these relationships early.
Creating a Sense of Authenticity
The group also shared how critical their involvement in professional communities was for their sense of authenticity and belonging at their employers and in their overall career success. They all underscored the importance of authenticity and the feeling like they could bring their whole selves to work. “When I was approaching law school and approaching legal careers, it was important to me that I found a home that was a place where I could bring my full self to the office and not have to kind of cordon off any part of my life,” says Lee.
None of the attorneys mentioned any concerns about fully embracing their LGBT+ identity openly, particularly in big law. Korins, whose career in consulting and legal practice has mostly involved small and midsize law firms, says he has great respect for the investments that larger firms have made in “forging a sense of belonging through affinity groups” and creating supportive policies and practices. These policies include parental leave for couples who adopt children to subsidizing medical expenses for transgender lawyers.
Putorti was out and visible before he started his legal career, and for him, it was critical to be his authentic self in the workplace. He recognizes, however, that it is a privilege for him to be out and that not everyone has the same sense of safety.
Because not everyone in the LGBT+ community has the same fortuity, most in the LGBT+ community in New York believe the community is obliged to advocate for anti-discrimination workplace protections across the country because there are still states where it is legal to fire somebody for being gay. Putorti says that he “would love for everybody who is LGBT to be out and to be authentic, but recognizes, practically, that this isn’t possible for everybody. We, therefore, all have an obligation to make sure that we’re working to allow that.”
Getting involved in the LGBT+ community within your law firm can serve as a launch pad for building internal networks. “When I arrived at the firm, one of the first things that I did was to email the LGBT group to let them know that I was here,” Putorti explains. “I also emailed the LGBT+ partners and associates in the New York office to introduce myself, and within the first week, a couple of the partners stopped by my office to introduce themselves.”
Having access to the legal employer’s internal LGBT+ network can create a greater sense of belonging, Putorti says, adding that getting active “breaks down what it could be a very behemoth organization or institution and makes it feel a little bit more personal. It makes me feel a little bit more connected to it.”