What Are Affinity Groups & How Can They Help You Grow as a Lawyer
Affinity groups are critical resources for networking, training, and—most importantly—creating community within law firms. For many lawyers, these groups can have a significant impact on their professional growth and personal satisfaction. In this post, Gibson Dunn lawyers Michelle M. Gourley, Tiaunia Henry, and Emily Maxim Lamm explain what an affinity group is and share their experiences with affinity groups, including ways affinity groups have helped them professionally and personally.
1. What is an “affinity group,” and what do you see as the goal of the affinity groups at Gibson Dunn?
Affinity groups are groups formed around a common characteristic, interest, or purpose and allow members to convene, connect, and build a community. At Gibson Dunn, for example, we have active affinity groups for our Asian-American, Black, Hispanic/Latino, First Generation Professionals, LGBTQ, Muslim, and Religiously Observant attorneys, as well as for our working parents. These overlay with women’s initiatives across the globe. At many firms, affinity groups offer programming at both firmwide and local levels, providing support internally and externally through activities like networking events, group meetings, trainings, and community relief efforts. Throughout a diverse attorney’s career, affinity groups facilitate the development of meaningful connections with myriad personal and professional benefits.
2. How have your affinity groups helped you professionally?
Michelle: As a senior attorney, I have expanded my leadership skills within my local office and more broadly across the firm through affinity groups. Being involved with my local Women affinity group and the firmwide Latinx affinity group has given me exposure to other attorneys, both at the partner level and the associate level, with whom I may not otherwise have had the opportunity to interact. At any large law firm, any opportunity that allows an attorney to gain a new skill or exposure to a large number of other attorneys is likely to result in new opportunities, whether they are work opportunities like being staffed on a new case or a new matter, internal or external exposure like being asked to participate in a panel or a pitch for new work, or a leadership opportunity like being asked to lead an affinity group or to join a local nonprofit board— all are beneficial from a personal and professional development perspective.
Tiaunia: As a leader of both the Los Angeles Office Black Attorneys and Women of Color affinity groups, I have benefitted from the mentorship and advice I have received from more senior attorneys regarding how to navigate the firm and professional organizations, such as nonprofit boards and external affinity groups. Additionally, my membership in and leadership of affinity groups also led to early opportunities for client exposure. Although I am a litigator, familiarity with members of the firm’s other practice groups through my various affinity group memberships has increased both my external and internal networking and marketing opportunities. The ability to engage with and foster relationships with attorneys from a similar background also instilled in me the confidence to know that although not adequately represented in the legal profession, we do belong.
Emily: The LGBTQ affinity group helped me start my journey as an associate on the right foot and set me up for success in the firm’s free-market system. Through the many lunch meetings, dinners, and vibrant events that the group hosted during the Summer Associate Program, I organically connected with an incredible mentor that took a sincere interest in my career development. Before I even started as a Gibson Dunn associate, she connected me with associates and partners and looked out for exciting new opportunities as well. I expressed an interest in the Labor and Employment Practice Group based on my coursework in law school, and on my second day at the firm, she introduced me to a senior associate in the practice group at a DC Women’s Group lunch. This one introduction developed into a wide array of work experiences that ultimately confirmed my passion for labor and employment litigation and counseling.
3. How have your affinity groups helped you personally?
Michelle: As a Latina woman, when I first started my legal career over a decade ago, it was seldom that I would have the opportunity to work with or even meet a senior attorney that looked like me or had a similar background. Thankfully, the legal profession now looks different than when I started, and, at least in the junior ranks, we have many more women and minorities who are joining the profession and joining large firms like Gibson Dunn. For me, being a member of the Women and the Latinx affinity groups allows me to feel like I am part of a bigger community that spans the breadth of the firm and to communicate to our junior attorneys the certainty that there are attorneys that look like them and that have similar backgrounds to them who are an integral part of our broader firm community. Much like we have seen in recent years with broader representation of minorities in other aspects of life, such as entertainment and politics, representation matters, and seeing others that look like us and that share our experiences in senior positions helps our junior attorneys envision a path for themselves.
Tiaunia: Most notably, this past year has been particularly difficult for Black attorneys whose families were often disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and found that crisis compounded by the nation’s reckoning on race in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Needless to say, many members of the firmwide Black affinity group found themselves distracted at times during the summer of 2020, myself included. However, the firmwide Black affinity roup provided a safe space to be vulnerable, support one another, and acknowledge the unique experiences of Black attorneys, and also to discuss and develop an action plan to meaningfully contribute to change both within the firm and externally. These conversations and, most importantly, the actions taken were therapeutic and empowering. More recently, in response to the increase in anti-AAPI crimes, the Black affinity group demonstrated its solidarity with the firm’s AAPI attorneys by making a financial contribution to AAPI community organizations and offering to serve as a source of support.
Emily: Being an associate leader in the Women’s Group and part of the LGBTQ and First Gen groups have made me feel empowered and integrated into the fabric of the Gibson Dunn community. As a Russian-Jewish immigrant and a queer woman, I have not only felt welcomed but also celebrated and embraced by the firm. My parents came to this country as medical school graduates who did not know English and started their journey on welfare. They are both practicing physicians today, and their pursuit of the American dream has been inspiring to watch. Having this perspective has been invaluable, but it is admittedly different from that of the majority of my peers in college, law school, and the legal profession. The opportunity to connect with members of the firm with similar backgrounds and experiences has removed any sense of feeling like an outsider. Instead, throughout my time at the firm, I have been able to be my truest and fullest self.
4. Do you have to identify as a member of the subgroup in order to join an affinity group?
No! Affinity groups are open to allies and are layered within the broader structure of the Global and office-specific Diversity Committees and other diversity & inclusion initiatives. Gibson Dunn’s diversity efforts provide diverse and non-diverse attorneys alike a forum for addressing a wide range of issues involving diversity and inclusion.
Michelle M. Gourley is Of Counsel in Gibson Dunn’s Orange County office. She is a member of the firm’s Corporate Department, practicing general corporate and business law with a focus on mergers & acquisitions and corporate counseling.
Tiaunia Henry is an Associate Attorney in Gibson Dunn’s Los Angeles office. She is a member of the firm’s Litigation Department with a practice that focuses primarily on antitrust, breach of contract, and transnational cases.
Emily Maxim Lamm is an Associate Attorney in Gibson Dunn’s Washington, DC, office. She is a member of the firm’s Litigation Department, focusing on labor & employment and class action litigation. She is also involved in the Congressional Investigations Subgroup and the Artificial Intelligence and Automated Systems Practice Group.