Alums Talk to LGBT Forum about Diversity in the Legal Profession

Author: Kevin Allen

Two NDLS alums, Jim Basile and Karen DeSantis, recounted the history, progress, and current issues for diverse lawyers, including racially and culturally diverse lawyers, women, and lawyers with diverse identities, while speaking Wednesday to students from the LGBT Law Forum at Notre Dame Law School.

Basile, ’86 B.A., ’89 J.D., recounted how diversity programs have moved from virtually non-existent to prevalent and central in the practices of major legal institutions. Discussing the history of LGBT lawyers in the profession, he noted that 25 years ago, it was very uncommon for LGBT lawyers to be open about their identity at work, and fear of professional repercussions was significant.

Addressing diversity from her perspective as a woman in the profession, DeSantis, ’86 J.D., remembered that early in her career, women in meetings and at court hearings were a rarity. The two lawyers explained how much things have changed in the legal profession over the past 30 years. Both continue to see signs of hope and progress for all lawyers who bring diversity to the profession.

Basile, one of the founding partners of Kirkland & Ellis LLP’s San Francisco office and the office’s head of litigation from 2003 to 2015, noted that the vast majority of major firms now have diversity programs and policies aimed at inclusion. He advised diverse law students to do their homework about potential employers ahead of time, by researching online policies of potential employers, as well as their reporting of numbers of diverse lawyers.

DeSantis, a partner in the Washington D.C. office of Kirkland & Ellis, the mother of a member of Notre Dame’s Class of 2016, and a member of University’s Board of Trustees, said that she believes the legal profession will continue to diversify and include more opportunities for women, for racially and culturally diverse lawyers, and for others bringing diversity. She also sees promising and dramatic changes in attitudes about diversity and inclusion in her children’s generation.

She told the students that in the legal profession, “You will be valued – like any lawyer – based on your academic and professional background, your experience, your knowledge, and your skills. I hope that you also recognize that what you can bring in terms of any unique background or experience should be valued. Your identity, your perspective, your experience – along with your training as lawyers – enables a potentially unique contribution.”

Both lawyers praised their firm’s industry-leading role in diversity efforts.

In observing the opportunities and challenges facing all young lawyers, Basile spoke of the toll that pressures of the legal practice can take on personal values and about how NDLS uniquely prepares students to handle those pressures and preserve fundamentally important values.

“Notre Dame, with its emphasis on values, puts you in a strong position to handle challenging situations,” he said. “Thomas More, patron saint of lawyers, asked his compatriots whether they were more than their mere appetites and ambitions, and NDLS always put you in a position to use your practice to express your real and best values and self.”