Classroom Climate and Academic Programming
Exposure to LGBT issues in law school classrooms is important for all students who will ultimately be practicing in a diverse society. It is particularly important to students who may have come to law school hoping to pursue a legal career focused on the LGBT population. Incorporation of LGBT issues in the curriculum and programming signals that LGBT persons are fully valued and integrated into the law school environment. The offering of one LGBT-specific course is a good start, but does not necessarily indicate real integration for LGBT persons at that school. Talking to current students or faculty will help in assessing the degree of integration for LGBT persons and issues at a law school.
- Is an LGBT-specific course offered consistently from year to year? If not, why not?
- Are LGBT-specific issues addressed in non-LGBT specific courses, such as Constitutional Law, Family Law, or Torts?
- How respectful are the faculty and other students when LGBT issues are raised in the classroom? Do LGBT students feel free to raise these issues in class?
- Are LGBT persons or issues represented in any faculty-sponsored workshops or by speakers invited to campus?
- Do faculty research and write about LGBT issues? (This information should be included in faculty profiles on the school’s website.)
- Are there internships, externships, or clinical programs specific to LGBT-related law practice?
Student Organizations and Activities
Many law schools have LGBT student organizations, which can serve several purposes. They can increase LGBT visibility and create a safe place for LGBT students to be themselves. They can also organize educational programs that inform the law school and broader community about LGBT legal issues. Some student organizations are very active, mobilizing students and faculty to advocate for important institutional reforms, such as increasing LGBT course offerings, hiring LGBT faculty, and developing LGBT-specific programming.
While the fact that a school has an LGBT organization is important, if you are interested in how active the organization is and how well it is supported by the institution and students generally, you may want to ask a few important questions.
- How supportive are faculty of the LGBT student organization and its activities? For example, is there a faculty advisor, or do faculty informally support or attend LGBT-sponsored activities?
- How often does the LGBT student organization meet, formally or informally? What kinds of activities does it organize? Does it ever cosponsor activities with other student groups?
- Do LGBT students feel supported, or is a lack of organized activity due to fear of discrimination or simply due to lack of time or interest?
- Is there a university-wide organization that is open to LGBT law students?
An inactive student organization does not necessarily mean that a school is not LGBT-friendly or that LGBT students do not feel supported by the school. Ironically, students at some of the most LGBT-friendly schools may be less active in these organizations because they feel less of a need to join an organization for support. The degree of student activity depends heavily on student leadership, which changes from year to year. Organizations may be incredibly active one year but may not plan any events the next year simply because the student leaders that year are too busy with other things or are less engaged.
Other Institutional Support
Despite significant improvement in the climate for LGBT students in law schools and the legal profession over the past 10 years, LGBT students may still face discrimination or barriers that are different from other traditionally disadvantaged groups. Many law schools are proactive in acknowledging and addressing these issues, and have instituted policies to try to combat these barriers. You can assess how proactive and responsive schools are to the needs of LGBT persons by asking questions.
- Does the school publicize its nondiscrimination policy, and does it include sexual orientation?
- Have there been any incidents involving discrimination or offensive remarks made about LGBT persons? If so, how promptly were these incidents addressed? Does the school have an official plan or policies for handling such incidents?
- Does the school have a dedicated scholarship or grant for students pursuing LGBT-related legal work?
- Do current LGBT students feel supported by the administration—especially by the dean of students, dean of career services, and other officials who interact with students on a regular basis?
- Are there gender-neutral bathrooms where transgender students feel comfortable?
- Does the school offer domestic-partnership benefits?
- Does the school’s insurance plan cover transgender transition expenses?
According to a recent LSAC survey of applicants, job success of graduates is the most important factor considered by all applicants when choosing a law school. LGBT students may have unique concerns in this area. For example, some students have questions about whether they should be “out” in the interviewing process, how to field questions that may seem inappropriate or contain “hetero” assumptions, and how to find law firms that are LGBT friendly.
It is important to try to find out how proactive and qualified a school’s career services personnel are in addressing LGBT concerns. You may want to ask your contacts at the law schools that interest you some questions regarding their career services department.
- Do LGBT students feel comfortable raising their concerns with career services?
- Does the career services office sponsor workshops or informational sessions to address concerns unique to LGBT students?
- What does the career services office do, if anything, to help students identify LGBT-friendly law firms or other employers?
- Are there volunteer or public interest opportunities for LGBT-related work?
- Is there an active and engaged LGBT alumni association?
- Does the career services office or dean of students publicize external sources of support, such as the Lavender Law Conference or local LGBT bar association events? (See Resources for more information about these organizations and other career planning resources.)