Q&A with McDermott Will & Emery’s Lisa Linsky: Working for LGBT Equality, Within the Firm and Outside

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In 2006, Lisa A. Linsky, a partner at McDermott Will & Emery, created the firm’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) Diversity & Inclusion Committee. That same year, McDermott achieved a 100% score on the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC’s) Corporate Equality Index, an accolade it has received every year since. And last year, Linsky was named LGBT Equality Lawyer of the Year by Chambers USA.

Linsky talked with Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law, about how the LGBT committee at McDermott began, the work it’s doing and the path ahead.

Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law: What was the origin of McDermott’s LGBT Diversity and Inclusion Committee?

Lisa Linsky: Back in 2005, we had a diversity presentation for our summer associates. At the time we had two diversity committees: One for gender, and one for racial and ethnic diversity.

The partners who headed those committees started to get questions from the summer associates about LGBT lawyers. The students asked: “ Do you have any gay lawyers at McDermott? Are gay lawyers out at McDermott? If you’re a gay lawyer, can you become a partner here?”  Our partners answered as best they could, but after the presentation they realized we hadn’t thought about including LGBT attorneys in our diversity initiatives.

About a month later, one of our New York partners asked if I’d like to start a diversity committee for gay lawyers. I asked where this was coming from, and he said, ‘I volunteered you. Because you’re a woman and mature and out and proud. And that’s what we need. Someone who will step up and take a leadership role.’

TWLL: What were the initial goals of the LGBT committee?

Lisa Linsky: We wanted to know if our policies protected LGBT workers and determine if anything was missing. Were we cutting edge? Did we want to be cutting edge? We wanted to recruit and retain top talent, and top talent had to be inclusive of LGBT lawyers.

Lisa Linsky of McDermott Will & Emery

We also wanted to focus on pro bono work and projects that would benefit the broader LGBT community. We started working with Lambda Legal,  GLAD Legal Advocates and Defenders, and HRC.  We have expanded this work over the years and now work with the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., a non-profit organization dedicated to archive activism and  unearthing the hidden histories of LGBT Americans. We have a team of 16 lawyers dedicated to this.

I can’t stress enough how relevant this work is, particulary at this time in our country’s history. One of the first things the new [Presidential] administration did was to delete any references to LGBT people on the White House website.. When we started working with the Mattachine Society, we  spoke about the need to preserve history. We were looking back. Now we’re working in real time.

TWLL: What effect has the LGBT Committee had on the firm as a whole?

Lisa Linsky: I’ve learned that people do want to understand the issues of concern to colleagues and to the LGBT community more broadly. I believe we’ve played a role there in creating deeper understanding and sensitivity to this civil rights movement.

These types of programs are also  important for attorney satisfaction, which is the other side of the coin of employee retention. We did a brief in Obergefell v. Hodges [the case that led to the nationwide legalization of gay marriage]. Young lawyers at McDermott get to work on Supreme Court briefs. People are excited about . These types of opportunities.

TWLL: Has the LGBT committee enhanced your ability to recruit lawyers?

Lisa Linsky: The Committee and its work within the firm and in the communities we serve are tremendous recruitment tools. Not only for LGBT lawyers, but for straight allies as well. Many straight allies have told me that they came to McDermott because they had a gay brother or sister and the firm’s commitment to LGBT people was the deal breaker.

Taking this on has distinguished our organization. It sends messages to our clients, to prospective lateral candidates and to young lawyers, that this is a good place to work.

You cannot have an employer say “we’re a great place to work, we’re committed to equality and inclusion”, and  not have policies in place to protect LGBT people and a culture that welcomes us. We are a country founded on equality. Equality must be across the board, and inclusion means  everyone gets a chance.