Michele Aronson is a senior managing associate at Sidley who also serves as the Washington, D.C. associate co-leader of our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee. She provides strategic advice to clients in high-stakes litigation and enforcement matters by blending her experience with complex commercial litigation, government investigations and enforcement actions, and privacy counseling.
“[E]levate the voices of those in the LGBTQ+ community and listen to what we have to say. Our community has been at times invisible, at times misunderstood or maligned. Your listening ear and willingness to help mean more to us than you may realize.”
Tell us about your experience as a LGBTQ+ lawyer at Sidley.
The shelves in my office perhaps best illustrate my experience as an LGBTQ+ lawyer at Sidley. They are filled with binders from cases over the years, legal books, family photos, and an assortment of Sidley trinkets (including Pride memorabilia). Being a Sidley lawyer means doing interesting, important work alongside the best and brightest colleagues who support me along the way. I have been out professionally for my entire legal career, and I am grateful to work someplace where I feel just as comfortable sharing weekend plans as I am discussing thorny legal issues.
How did you choose Sidley as your professional home? Did the firm’s LGBTQ+ initiatives or support for diversity and inclusion play a role?
I joined Sidley following a clerkship because it had everything I was looking for: top-tier work, wonderful people, and strong support for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and LGBTQ+ initiatives. I was moving from New York to Washington, D.C., at the time, and wanted a firm where I could feel comfortable being myself and growing as a professional.
My initial impressions of the firm have more than borne out over the past several years. Sidley lawyers are the real deal — every bit as smart and every bit as decent as they appeared throughout the recruiting process. I have had several pro bono opportunities to give back to the LGBTQ+ community, many of which have been highlights of my time at Sidley. As one of the new associate co-leaders of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee at Sidley’s office in Washington, D.C., I am grateful to give back to the broader community that embraced me when I first joined.
Do you sense that diversity, equity, and inclusion is important for the younger generation of lawyers and clients?
Absolutely. I sense that there is increased recognition of how important it is for lawyers to bring their whole selves to work, which enables them to bring valuable and diverse perspectives to the table. LGBTQ+ people in particular have had to create our own paths and stories, and those experiences often translate into the ability to empathize with others and think outside the box — skills that are critical to good lawyering.
Law students are considering DEI in making decisions about where to spend their summers or start their careers. Many clients now request teams of diverse lawyers that reflect their values and customer bases. And younger lawyers as a whole are much more attuned to issues like implicit bias and systemic racism, and they expect that their workplaces will promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.
In your opinion, what more needs to be done within the legal profession in terms of creating a more diverse and inclusive work environment for the LGBTQ+ community?
I think that the legal profession as a whole needs to expand on the work it is doing to bring diverse lawyers into the pipeline and to ensure that they are supported throughout their careers. There is no magic wand, but initiatives that begin even before law school and continue long after graduation can create a more inclusive work environment.
Additionally, the legal profession could better recognize the unique challenges and experiences of those in the LGBTQ+ community, which itself is diverse. For example, the legal profession has been slow to recognize and offer family-building benefits that are crucial for LGBTQ+ people to have and raise children. Crucially, the legal profession could better support the needs of all members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially those who have historically been marginalized, including people of color and people who identify as transgender or nonbinary. The legal profession tends to be conservative and slow to change, but it can look to LGBTQ+ lawyers and activists who are working to make the profession more inclusive.
Do you think your professional experience has been different as a member of the LGBTQ+ community?
My professional experience has been enriched as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. I have had the opportunity to build meaningful connections with LGBTQ+ clients that fostered trust, especially in pro bono cases involving deeply personal issues, such as housing discrimination and privacy of LGBTQ+ status. I have also been able to connect with other LGBTQ+ lawyers at Sidley and beyond, and worked with them to address issues that impact our community.
What is your advice for allies who want to support the LGBTQ+ community?
Speak up for those whose voices are not being heard. Better yet, elevate the voices of those in the LGBTQ+ community and listen to what we have to say. Our community has been at times invisible, at times misunderstood or maligned. Your listening ear and willingness to help mean more to us than you may realize. Although we have come a long way in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, much work remains to be done, whether it’s representing an LGBTQ+ client in a pro bono matter or simply making the effort to use a colleague’s correct pronouns.
Can you share with us a saying or quote that gives you inspiration?
I draw inspiration from the “Order of the Teaspoon” as described by author Amos Oz: In the face of a calamity like a great fire, “[b]ring a bucket of water and throw it on the fire, and if you don’t have a bucket, bring a glass, and if you don’t have a glass, use a teaspoon, everyone has a teaspoon. And yes, I know a teaspoon is little and the fire is huge but there are millions of us and each one of us has a teaspoon.”
To me, this means that even in the face of problems that appear insurmountable or intractable, each of us has something to contribute. It is only by taking action and working together that we can prevail over our greatest challenges.