Taking Pride in our Work for the LGBTQ Community: a Q&A with Partner Susan Baker Manning

June 26, 2018

When intellectual property litigator Susan Baker Manning joined Morgan Lewis in 2014, she and her team were knee-deep in a series of amicus briefs in the marriage equality cases that followed the US Supreme Court’s landmark Windsor decision. Having always made a variety of different pro bono matters part of her regular legal work, Susan wanted to make sure she and her team would be able to continue on the marriage equality cases and others like them at her new firm. Not only did she find the support of the firm’s management to continue, she recruited a new cadre of volunteers to create a combined team that represented hundreds of clients in making the business case for marriage equality.

“The firm was incredibly supportive of that work at every level, from senior management who were just wonderful, to partners and associates who joined the team, to staff who had really kind words about the work we were doing,” Susan said. “We had incredible support at a time when the firm had a lot going on.”

It was an easy decision for Morgan Lewis, which is both committed to serving the public good, providing more than 1,500 pro bono clients with the highest level of service, and to making the firm a welcoming place for all. In 2017, for the 10th consecutive year, Morgan Lewis earned a perfect score of 100% in the annual Corporate Equality Index and has been named among the Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

In honor of LGBTQ Pride Month, we are spotlighting some of our partners who embody that spirit of inclusivity and service. Here, Susan shares her thoughts on the importance of pro bono work and how far the LGBTQ community has come in her career.

What kind of pro bono work have you done on behalf of the LGBTQ community?

I have done a number of different LGBTQ-related pro bono-related matters over the years—everything from asylum applications to US Supreme Court amicus briefing. Most prominently, I led a team that prepared amicus briefs on behalf of businesses in several of the same-sex marriage equality cases. That was important because our clients have a unique perspective on these issues, and can explain how marriage equality is good for business.

I joined Morgan Lewis the year after the Supreme Court decided in Windsor that the federal government could not refuse to recognize marriages between same-sex couples, and at a time when there were a lot of appellate cases on marriage equality. We filed a series of appellate amicus briefs making the business case for marriage equality, and later one to the Supreme Court in Obergefell on behalf of 379 businesses, including more than 30 Fortune 500 companies. Being able to work with a number of the firm’s large clients to bring this perspective had an incredibly positive effect on the cases and the conversation, and the companies we represented expressed over and over how important it was to have their voices heard on this topic. I’ve been in the fortunate position to mix very interesting and very powerful pro bono work with my IP litigation practice, and find a way to make that all work under one roof.

What drew you to these kinds of matters?

The very beginning of my involvement in the marriage equality cases was in 2004, when then-mayor Gavin Newsom unexpectedly directed the City of San Francisco to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. For many years, a group of protesters would put on their wedding dresses or top hats and go to City Hall on Valentine’s Day to ask for a marriage license. Every year, City Hall would decline, and the protesters would then hold a rally in support of same-sex marriage. But in 2004, they were surprised when City Hall said “here you go”—and within the hour same-sex couples began rushing to City Hall to get married. That was personally important to me because my wife and I were the 32nd couple to get married that day. And in professional terms, I, and a number of my colleagues, got involved in the subsequent litigation over the issuance of those marriage licenses.

But on a broader scale, I’ve always been interested in the transformative power of law. The civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, and later the LGBTQ rights movement have all been at the intersection of massive legal and social change—those go hand in hand. I find it compelling the way law, and the legal profession, can make such a huge difference in people’s lives.

Are you involved in firm’s internal networks?

I’m a co-leader of the Morgan Lewis LGBTQ lawyer network, which serves as a resource for LGBTQ people and allies within the firm. As in many large organizations, our LGBTQ lawyers are spread out across our large number of offices. The network facilitates communication, allows us to work with each other directly, and helps coordinate the firm’s efforts to work with clients and community organizations. Personally, I also find the network to be a nice opportunity to hear different perspectives on the firm and coordinate positive change internally. 

In what ways is the firm supportive of those efforts?

The firm is very focused on diversity and inclusion—and we include LGBTQ in that definition of diversity—whether its retention and advancement of our next generation of leaders or external recruiting. I happen to be on the recruiting committee, and it brings me great satisfaction when I see all the efforts related to increasing diversity. And as part of the LGBTQ lawyer network, we have been focusing on bringing clients into our work to increase diversity and inclusion. It’s important we show our clients that we have shared values, and involving them in matters or events makes it clear that we are, in fact, walking our talk.

Why are diversity initiatives important to the legal community?

The legal community, like every other field, benefits from a diversity of perspectives and experiences. We have to make sure there aren’t any barriers to recruitment or advancement. The data is clear and powerfully shows that having a diverse workforce improves decision-making, helps ensure that all top talent is empowered to succeed, and ultimately improves a company’s financial performance. LGBTQ people are one part of that diversity.

Diversity hasn’t always been an important mandate within the legal community. Even as more and more firms started prioritizing diversity, it took time for the profession to become more inclusive for LGBTQ people. While there is certainly more work to do on every aspect of diversity and inclusion, the profession has made dramatic improvements.

I don’t think it is coincidental that the legal profession has been in step with, and sometimes at the forefront of, the changing social and legal landscape for LGBTQ people. The civil rights of LGBTQ people have been changing over the last 20 or 30 years faster than for any other group. It’s unprecedented. The legal community has an important role in that as we are uniquely empowered and privileged to make a difference. So it is incumbent on all of us to make sure our practice includes work—of whatever kind—that improves people’s lives and betters our society.

If you could give one piece of advice to members of the LGBTQ community, what would it be?

The advice I would give to any young lawyer is to bring your complete self to your work. That is not unique advice for any one group. LGBTQ lawyers are working and networking within and across one set of differences—but everyone is doing that, people just have different differences. Be who you are and recognize that you are valued for that.