The Human Rights Campaign has released its annual Corporate Equality Index, which assesses corporate America’s progress towards equal treatment of the LGBT community.
It’s a pretty great day to be gay and searching for career advice. Gawker has a list up right now on the top ten gay colleges, and the Human Rights Campaign is trying to help you figure out where to work when you’re done with law school.
This year, 97 Biglaw firms (out of 130 who responded to the survey) received a perfect score from the HRC. That’s up from last year and makes the legal field the best industry when it comes to LGBT issues. Banking was next and retail finished third.
Check here to see if your firm made the list.
Granted, you’d expect law firms — what with their expert understanding of “laws,” and such — to be leaders when it comes to gay and lesbian equality. But the legal field was able to achieve this distinction notwithstanding a somewhat controversial rating philosophy that may have prevented other firms from achieving perfect scores…
The survey relies on self-reporting, but the Human Rights Campaign will deduct points for a “significant official or public anti-LGBT blemish on the company’s recent record.” That hurt Foley & Lardner, since it provided legal help to groups opposing gay marriage in Washington, D.C., the Human Rights Campaign says. “Although the firm has a long history of pro bono support for LGBT causes,” the reports says, “it decided not to abandon its representation of the anti-LGBT organization and has not provided HRC with evidence that such clearly discriminatory clients will not be engaged in the future.” Absent the 15-point deduction, the firm would have received a perfect score.
Wait, so a law firm can’t be LGBT-friendly if it takes on bigoted clients? I’m all for the aggressive shaming of anti-gay marriage groups, but everybody is entitled to competent representation, right?
Let’s take a closer look at the metric HRC used to ding firms and corporations like Foley & Lardner. Here’s the Corporate Equality Index’s rating scale as it pertains to these issues of “responsible citizenship”:
Responsible citizenship (-25)
Employers will have 25 points deducted from their score for a large-scale official or public anti-LGBT blemish on their recent records. Scores on this criterion are based on information that has come to HRC’s attention related to topics including but not limited to: undue influence by a significant shareholder calculated to undermine a business’s employment policies or practices related to its LGBT employees; directing corporate charitable contributions to organizations whose primary mission includes advocacy against LGBT equality; opposing shareholder resolutions reasonably aimed at encouraging the adoption of inclusive workplace policies; revoking inclusive LGBT policies or practices; or engaging in proven practices that are contrary to the business’s written LGBT employment policies
Okay, reading through the metric, you understand why it’s included. Obviously this is the HRC’s attempt to point out that anti-gay groups are funded by somebody, and the corporations that fund them probably shouldn’t be able to spout pro-equality rhetoric with their mouths while supporting bigoted ideas with their wallets.
Fair enough. In a post-Citizens United world, having an extra set of eyes on what these
people corporations are doing with their speech money is probably more important than ever.
But it seems to me that a law firm representing a client is altogether different from the kind of clandestine corporate contributions HRC is worried about. Maybe Foley & Lardner didn’t have to represent anti-gay marriage groups, but somebody had to — literally some lawyer or law firm had to advance these legal claims. Sometimes doctors must treat and cure bad people, and sometimes lawyers must represent clients whose views they do not share. It’s a duty, it’s one that most lawyers take very seriously, and it’s one of the things that separates lawyers and doctors from many other people out there trying to make a buck.
It strikes me as unfair to ding a firm for performing that duty (even though, again, Foley could have just as easily let some other firm take up the cause of anti-gay rights). If you told me that at a specific firm, 90% of the partnership made private contributions to an anti-gay group, I’d say that yeah, that firm is probably not going to be the most welcoming place for LGBT associates. Those contributions would be decisions that firm leaders made with their own dime, to support a cause that is antithetical to equal rights.
But if a firm was representing an anti-gay rights group, however that representation came about, I’d expect 100% of the partners to do whatever it is they could do in order to help the firm win the case. That’s how lawyers roll. Just look at all the firms who have taken on some BP work since the BP oil spill. The BP client doesn’t have the highest Q rating right now, and we can talk about that, but at the end of the day, every client is entitled to a competent defense. You wouldn’t say WilmerHale hates waterfowl because of its BP defense, and you wouldn’t say Foley hates gays just because of its client roster.
All that said, I imagine members of the LGBT community at Foley were less than happy when Foley took on this client. I mean: eek, if we are going to reexamine what it means to take on controversial, divisive clients in a workplace that otherwise promotes fairness and equality, that’s a much different and longer discussion.
97 BigLaw Firms Get Perfect Scores on LGBT Issues [ABA Journal]
Workplace Equality Takes Center Stage with Record Number of Companies Rated in HRC’s 2011 Corporate Equality Index [Human Rights Campaign]