An LGBTQ Associate’s Guide to Succeeding in a Large Firm

Alain VilleneuveBy Alain Villeneuve

Chapter 1: The Dreaded Golf Outing

“Alain, we need you. As a new partner, the IP Associates will only come if you do. They like you… for some reason,” joked the head of the IP Group. He knew emotions worked on me every time. Golf, now that hit a nerve.

I had never travelled from Chicago to Indiana and much less entered a guarded community where each suburban house paraded a golf cart. Unsurprisingly, most straight partners bowed out after learning I had agreed to attend for the sole benefit of our eclectic group of associates. Bob, the head of IP, knew one thing too well about the LGBTQ hospitality. If I was there, everyone, even our most reclusive, would be entertained and that mattered to him.

Associates today are all equally unique. Thanks to the millennials, I lost any power to define anyone using sexual orientation, gender or even color. Some skydive, while others master in darkness Call of Duty. Frankly speaking, today, everyone is shockingly different physically, mentally, ethically, or sociologically. There is no mold, no normal. I am not surprised to read that few of them enjoy hitting the proverbial Links, but those who do excel at it.

As a true victim of fashion, my first obstacle was the dress code. I own no shoes ready to be ‘greenified’ by a fresh cut lawn. My legs refuse to wear any pair of shorts dropping to my knees and I simply cannot wear a single color t-shirt. Being outside in the sun means to this queen wearing something tight, colorful and breezy. But, I was a partner and life had to go on and as others had cancelled, I was all there was left and I refused to let Bob regret his decision to invite me. Guess what, for $39.99, I dressed myself from head to toe. The next week, I donated these clothes to the local charity.

Between you and me, my first real shock of the day came on the first tee. I saw my seven classmates each amusingly fail miserably at securing a drive that even a grossly inebriated Tiger Woods could launch. There was no ‘clink’ or ‘snap’ in the silent fields but instead two dozen ‘wooshes’ by embarrassed players. As it turns out, I spent most of my teens hiding away from the jocks by being a caddy at the local golf club. As my hormones kicked in overdrive, I quickly stored those memories far away. Like riding a bicycle, to my surprise, golf cannot be forgotten so easily.

In my dreams, I stepped on the tee to be ridiculed. But instead, everyone unimpressed by their own performances was looking down at their shoes. The sound of the 300 meter drive was perfection in the silent morning. There was awe, shock, but more importantly relief in their eyes.

I tell this story not because I overcame something but quite the contrary. I am, to say it mildly, an insecure overachiever as are most in my community. I fear the images I play over and over in my head. In my little stupid mind, for several sleepless nights, I envisioned being ridiculed by foursomes of pro-golfers. Golf seriously was seriously not the point of the day.

I spent a wonderful day getting to know others as they transformed grass into brown and green Swiss cheese. Golf was the great equalizer in that no one, except the head of IP cared about or even counted strokes. One associate, Lucy, had a couple of great putts. Lucy hit one amazing ball out of the sand trap. Half way into the night, back at the club house where salads are roadkill to microwaved burgers, I finally understood law is like golf. When you begin, out of a hundred swings, a handful at best will feel good. The rest, you know, will suck. As you master this activity (because I can’t get myself to call this a sport), you feel better about a handful of swings, then a few more and so on. Even a pro golfer can be humbled as his ball hits water next to a beginner who manages across the distance. Law is quite similar. Even the best litigators will look at your work and once in a while, they will be amazed by an argument or two. With time, as you get better, more arguments will land, but the game is never about a single shot. A legal problem is not about one brilliant idea. It requires hard work, time and dedication.

But, let’s be honest. To this day I cringe each time I see on the firm’s website images of myself wearing khaki pants.

*This blog post series has been created to celebrate Pride.