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Lawyers Discuss LGBT Barriers

By Hana N. Rouse, Contributing Writer

A panel of experienced lawyers assured law students that being gay does not need to be a barrier to workplace success at an event yesterday at Harvard Law School.

The discussion was designed to address the concerns of gay law students entering the current job market.

The panelists were members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

Mark A. Weber, assistant dean for Harvard Law School Career Services, said that when he graduated from law school, the work environment was entirely different.

“You didn’t have ‘Will & Grace’; you didn’t have ‘Glee,’” said Weber, who moderated the event.

“We’re in a whole different world than we were 10, 15 years ago.”

MJ Edwards, a counsel at WilmerHale, advised students not to put concerns about diversity above the quality of a firm when choosing a place to work. Citing her own experience, Edwards said that ultimately she joined a firm that had a “well-roundedness” that spoke to her.

Lisa Lofdahl, a lawyer at Sullivan & Cromwell, urged students to keep sexuality in perspective, as one piece of a greater whole. “Don’t think it needs to overshadow all of the rest of who you are,” she said.

All members of the panel said that at their progressively minded law firms, discrimination in the workplace has never been a barrier to their success.

Instead, said Sarah Boonin, an assistant clinical professor of law at Suffolk University Law School, the issues she faces are less consequential, such as a common assumption that she only wants to work on LGBT issues.

Lofdahl, who helps with her firm’s recruitment process for new lawyers, said that being gay “does nothing but help in your favor,” because hiring gay employees helps firms like Lofdahl’s to reach their diversity goals.

Though the panelists were generally optimistic, they acknowledged that discrimination does exist.

Boonin advised that to make the biggest change in the workplace, students should “be professional allies” of other minority groups.

By doing so, she said, a person can “contribute to an overall feeling of diversity.”

The event was sponsored by the Harvard Office of Career Services, LAMBDA and the Massachusetts LGBTQ Bar Association.

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