Kirkland & Ellis may have a lesson or two to teach other law firms about how to shed a conservative, stodgy image.
The 1,100-lawyer firm recently went all out helping a Bay Area gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender law group send several dozen law students to the National Lavender Law recruiting event in Washington, D.C.
The annual gathering, sponsored by the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association, is considered a must-attend event by many LGBT law students. But this year, according to second-year Stanford law student Luke Itano, a board member of Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom, a minority bar association with more than 600 gay and lesbian members, not everyone who wanted to attend the event could afford to fly out to D.C.
So BALIF started calling on firms to sponsor students. The first Itano called was Kirkland, which earlier in the year had sent e-mails to Stanford's LGBT organization, Outlaw. Immediately, Itano said, Kirkland gave the maximum suggested donation of $5,000. (Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe also gave $5,000, and the Bryan Cave firm contributed $1,000.)
And when the group failed to raise enough to send all 38 students who wanted to go, Kirkland gave another $5,000 to cover the remaining cost.
"I was surprised that our strongest support came from Kirkland," said Itano. "We've always thought that Kirkland is one of the more conservative firms in the country; we did not anticipate such a generous reception. They didn't just meet our request, they helped us accomplish our goal."
Kirkland's responsiveness could probably be attributed to its recently revamped diversity program. Early this year, the firm conducted a census to help identify various minority groups and "get a better handle in dealing with the firm's diverse population," according to Walter Lohmann Jr., D.C. partner and co-chairman of the firm's diversity committee.
Based on the results, the diversity committee was reorganized and three subcommittees formed to focus its efforts: a racial/ethnic subcommittee, a gender subcommittee and an LGBT subcommittee.
"It was our first internal effort to identify our openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender population," Lohmann said.
Kirkland, he added, also had the largest delegation of recruiters at the Lavender Law event, held on Sept. 7.
"Our gay and lesbian lawyers have really quickly formed a very cohesive community," Lohmann said, "and they promise to be one of our most active groups."
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