Taking Pride in our Work for the LGBTQ Community: a Q&A with Partner J. Goodwin Bland

As an openly gay lawyer, Morgan Lewis partner J. Goodwin Bland has spent his entire career championing the ideals set forth in the New York City Bar Association’s Statement of Diversity Principles. J. understands that diversity isn’t simply about quotas, but about ensuring that each unique voice, perspective, and experience is represented and recognized in the legal profession. He has remained steadfast in his commitment to recruiting the best and the brightest diverse candidates, and ensuring that law firms create programs and initiatives that enhance the retention and advancement of women and diverse lawyers.

As co-chair of the firm’s global Diversity and Inclusion Committee and vice chair of the New York office’s Hiring Committee, J. is uniquely positioned to influence the recruitment and retention of diverse lawyers from the ground up. In many ways, his efforts are the culmination of a career spent blazing a trail for diverse lawyers, mentoring associate and student talent, and finding opportunities within the firm to promote initiatives that support diversity and inclusion. In promoting an inclusive environment that supports a variety of viewpoints and experiences, J. is a highly visible leader at Morgan Lewis. He is not only a successful real estate lawyer, but also a champion of building a diverse team of legal talent to serve clients that span industries, sectors, and geographies.

In 2016, J. was recognized by the University of Virginia Lambda Law Alliance with its Alvarez-Coughlin Award, which honors those who have made significant efforts on behalf of the LGBTQ community by “creating an open, supportive, and welcoming environment for diversity” at the law school and beyond.

In honor of LGBTQ Pride Month, we are spotlighting some of our partners who embody the firm’s spirit of inclusivity and service. Here J. details his work with LGBTQ civil rights and law firm diversity.

How did you start working for LGBTQ civil rights?

Today, we live in a world with lots of laws to protect gay rights. But 30 years ago, even in New York, there were no laws to protect LGBTQ rights. When I met my partner in 1990, he was already very engaged in gay civil rights. Together, we were very involved with the Empire State Pride Agenda, a NY LGBTQ civil rights group, which counts among its biggest accomplishments passing SONDA (the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act), marriage equality, and an executive order for transgender rights. I was involved with the organization for its entire life of 26 years.

While those are huge accomplishments, I think I’m most proud of how we reached people. We were able to get people engaged in civil rights in a really fun way—whether that be a dance on Fire Island or a beautiful celebrity-and-politician-filled dinner in New York City. I enjoy fundraising, connecting people, and planning a great event.

What was the most fun event you planned?

The Pride Agenda would have a dinner every year that would attract 1,000 to 1,200 people and raise $1 million for our cause. It was magnificent to stand in front of a room full of people who were energized to support LGBTQ civil rights. The Pride Agenda not only enjoyed corporate sponsors, but was supported by many individuals committed to civil rights.

What drew you to these kinds of matters?

I want LGBTQ people to live in a world free from discrimination.

As a hiring partner, how do you seek out diverse candidates to work at Morgan Lewis?

The firm’s commitment to diversity has been enormously helpful to creating new avenues to find diverse talents. I’m personally doing this on many different levels. As vice president of University of Virginia Law’s Alumni Council, the school connects me and other diverse alumni to students before they ever choose a law school. I help recruit them to UVA and then reconnect with them through affinity groups at the school long before they ever think of on-campus recruiting.

For example, I keynoted the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) 1L Winter Diversity Reception twice at UVA Law. The networking reception was attended by more than 90 diverse 1L law students representing 10 diverse organizations, and the firm was able to connect with those diverse students at a very fun event.

And it’s paying off. In New York, our office’s diversity statistics for the last three years have significantly exceeded the national and New York City averages as reported by the National Association for Law Placement.

In what ways is the firm supportive of those efforts?

At Morgan Lewis, we have a number of affinity groups that bring together people along shared interests to both socialize and raise important issues to firm leadership. In New York, every year our LGBTQ affinity group raises awareness on important issues, including by hosting office events highlighting our pro bono work, including for LGBTQ asylum seekers.

The firm also hosted a 1L Diversity Workshop to support 30 diverse first-year law students from top US law schools. The inaugural workshop kicked off with a welcome dinner and was followed by a full day of programming, in which I was part of the organizing team. I was involved in team-teaching attendees the skills necessary to successfully interview for law firm positions.

Why is it important for lawyers to support diversity efforts?

If you are a lawyer, you are in a position of privilege and you should give back—not just to the LGTBQ community but to other groups that need our support.

There may be an unexpected bonus to giving back. After many years of volunteering in the LGBTQ community and supporting many LGBTQ not-for-profits, I met many folks who became clients or introduced me to clients. And now many of the firm’s clients are large not-for-profits in the LGBTQ Community.

What is the next frontier for gay civil rights?

Holding onto them. Just 30 years ago, we didn’t have any discernible rights and I don’t want people to take them for granted. We all fought too hard for them.

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

Always give back to the community. To paraphrase Mary Church Terrell, one of the founders of the National Association of Colored Women, “lift as you climb.”