When second-year law student Jasper Katz met a successful LGBTQ lawyer who shared their identity, Katz was so moved that they began to cry. Now, Katz is determined to ensure that other LGBTQ law students find similar role models in LGBTQ alumni.
Katz is the president of OutLaw, the Beasley School of Law LGBTQ mentorship program. Though OutLaw has been offering student-to-student mentorship programs for more than a decade, Katz knew the members needed more.
OutLaw’s Alumni Mentorship Program, launched at the beginning of Fall 2017, aims to provide LGBTQ students with the additional support they may need as LGBTQ lawyers. LGBTQ students at Temple will be paired with LGBTQ Temple alumni who are practicing law.
“Aside from professional networking and gaining exposure to different fields of law, the focus was really on how we could make sure that LGBTQ law students are seeing themselves reflected in the profession they’ve chosen to join,” Katz said.
Katz said this program is filling a void for LGBTQ students studying law because laws have often been used to oppress these identities.
“The law, as a field…was not designed with LGBTQ folks in mind,” they said. “When LGBTQ folks were in mind, it was most often in a negative capacity. So the law was used to attack us for a really long time, or to ignore us.”
“There’s also a sort of added element of reconciling, like how do I use this tool for us when it has so often been used against us?” they added. “How do I justify being a part of a system that, for lack of a better word, attacks me and the people I care about, and other folks in other communities that we should also care about?”
The Alumni Mentorship Program matches its student members with local LGBTQ-identifying lawyers. Katz collaborated with the law school to spread the word and get the program on its feet. There are nearly 12 pairs of mentors and mentees in the program so far.
Katz worked with the communications department in the Beasley School of Law to send out a survey to other OutLaw members asking about which field of law they want to pursue and the identities that may be relevant to the program.
Katz said the program aims to pair each student with an alum based on their identity. If there are no alumni who share their specific identity, they will pair a student based on their professional area of interest.
Nikki Hatza, a first-year law student considering the field of public interest and member of the LGBTQ community, said her pairing with labor and employment attorney Miriam Edelstein has been great.
“I feel so lucky to have this opportunity,” Hatza said. “This program is essentially gifting you an automatic connection. It’s plugging you into the network.”
Lawyers sign up for the program with the intention of mentoring LGBTQ students through the difficulties of law school with the additional challenges of being an out lawyer.
The program requirements include that a student’s mentor must meet with them at least once in person, plus answering email questions and a willingness to connect them to networking opportunities.
Students can cater the program to their needs. Some may have professional questions, while others may have more personal ones.
“For some students, the questions might be, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re a public defender. What is that like?’” Katz said. “For others, it might be, “I’m [transgender] and there’s some wardrobe requirements for working in certain sectors of the legal field. How do I navigate that?’”
Hatza uses her mentor connection in both of these ways because she’s unsure of the type of law she wants to pursue, and she also wants to discuss the personal challenges she faces in the law field.
“Personally, as an LGBTQ-identified person and as a woman in law in general, there are different sorts of obstacles and challenges that you face, and having someone that you can talk to about those challenges and how to navigate them will help prepare me for my career,” Hatza added.
“The idea is just to say that sometimes support that comes from your own community means something different, even if you can get the same words and same advice from another person,” Katz said. “The program is trying to help LGBTQ law students see themselves reflected in the field and feel like this is something they can actually accomplish.”