Michael Hamar

Finding LGBT Friendly Legal Counsel

Filed By Michael Hamar | May 29, 2009 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living

It can be a challenge for LGBT Virginians to find "gay friendly" legal counsel to handle their legal matters from a sympathetic and respectful perspective. gavel.jpgSince my firm has been marketing to the LGBT community for a number of years now, we receive many calls from LGBT Virginians - sometimes from hundreds of miles away - seeking legal representation in areas of the law that this office does not handle. I endeavor to refer these people to other counsel that I know are both competent and gay friendly if not actually gay to insure that the legal representation provided will be thorough and that the clients will not be sold out by counsel afraid to stand up to frequently anti-gay biased judges (two judges in Norfolk spring immediately to mind in this regard, but the problem is really state wide).

Of late, I have been receiving telephone calls providing tales of opposing attorneys - particularly in divorce cases - who advertise themselves as "gay friendly" yet who willingly and viciously play the "gay card" in courtroom hearings to harm their client's gay former spouse to the maximum extent possible in the divorce case. Obviously, most attorneys who do this hope to prejudice the court and/or brutalize the opposing party.

In this vein, I received a call yesterday from a gay man whose estranged wife is being represented by an allegedly "gay friendly" attorney with a large area firm that advertises on Equality Virginia's legal resource page. This attorney reportedly is playing the gay card for all it is worth in the divorce hearings - even to the point allegedly of representing that the gay father can only have supervised visitation. Moreover, he is with a law firm that, in my opinion, is not only extremely homophobic, but would never have an openly gay attorney in its employ.

Unfortunately, as the economy has nose dived, cynical attorneys and firms that are seeking to bolster falling revenues are waking up to the fact that the gay community is a potentially lucrative market niche. In my opinion, these attorneys and firms in reality care nothing for the LGBT community or individual LGBT clients and are after one thing only: gay dollars. As a result, they are not invested in seeing that LGBT clients receive justice in the courts. It's all about money and when a client comes along who wants to engage in vicious gay bashing to win in a case, these attorneys and firms quickly jump right on board (even though such conduct is probably a violation of the attorney Rules of Professional Conduct and raise issues under the Canons of Judicial Conduct as well).

With the growing awareness of the size and purchasing power of the LGBT community, numerous websites are springing up that allow attorneys to advertise themselves as gay friendly (some sites allow the attorney to advertise that they are gay and out) . Similarly, some LGBT organizations such as Equality Virginia, provide legal resource listings as well. The problem is, no one seems to check behind attorneys and firms seeking to be listed as "gay friendly". In the situation I mentioned, the Virginia Beach firm has itself listed as a legal resource on Equality Virginia's website, an issue that I have raised with Equality Virginia for investigation.

So what should the LGBT client seeking legal counsel do? The first advice is to check behind the listing with people in the LGBT community. Is the attorney advertising to the LGBT market out professionally? If not, does the attorney claiming to be "gay friendly" support local LGBT organizations as a member, sponsor or through some other means? If in doubt, the LGBT client should call local LGBT organizations to see what, if anything, is known about the attorney participating in and advertising to the community. Likewise, call other advertising attorneys in other areas of legal specialization to determine what they know of the attorney/law firm in question. Bottom line: do your homework to make sure you will truly be hiring an attorney who will advocate your case.

LGBT clients need legal counsel who are not afraid to call out the opposing counsel and/or the presiding judge if they engage in or allow gay bashing to occur in the case. Gay bashing and playing the gay card is NEVER appropriate. Do not allow yourself to fall victim of a cynical and opportunistic attorney who only wants your money and who will disparage you behind your back while happily taking your money.

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This is great advice, Michael. Finding LGBT friendly lawyers is a challenge no matter where you live.

Jillian Weiss | May 30, 2009 5:21 PM

Good points, Michael. I think it is important for people, especially in the middle of a crisis requiring an attorney, to look carefully at what they're getting and not take it all at face value.

Serious consideration should be given to filing a bar complaint against any attorney who advertises as "gay friendly" but clearly isn't.

First, misrepresentation in legal advertising is an ethical violation in every state that I know of, as is any kind of misrepresentation in the course of practicing law.

Second, here in Arizona, where I practice, and several other states, the ethics rules specifically forbid prejudice or bigotry based on race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity in the course of representation, unless that status is a specific issue in the case. Even if Virginia doesn't have any explicit prohibitions, a complaint alleging such biased conduct constitutes "unprofessional conduct" in violation of the ethics rules should be considered.

We can't let ourselves be taken advantage of in this way without speaking up, or it will never stop.