When choosing a lawyer make sure he or she understands your issues.  Make sure he or she understands the complexities of your legal case as well as the legal landscape on the issues you face.

To understand the complexities of a LGBT client’s case a lawyer must be well versed in understanding cultural competency and how it is crucial in a lawyer’s ability to effectively advocate for LGBT clients.  Issues affecting LGBT individuals and couples can be complex and if an attorney failed to see that he or she may be unable to produce better outcomes for you.

Cultural competency in LGBT legal issues means understanding not only basic LGBT terminology but also how gender, sex, and sexual orientation interact within one’s understanding of one’s identity and informs the choices an individual may make.

Legal Landscape

It is estimated that there are more than 9 million adults in America are LGBT, which is approximately 4 percent of the population. At least 287,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adults live in the State of Michigan. These estimates are conservative given that many LGBT people throughout the state and the nation are still unwilling to identify themselves as LGBT for fear of discrimination. The numbers could be even higher if LGBT youth and individuals who have refused to publicly disclose were included.

Over 4,500 LGBT households are raising children. Four Michigan cities made the top 25 cities in America with the highest number of gay and lesbian couples in the nation: Lansing, Ann Arbor, Ferndale, and Pleasant Ridge.  Yet, the State of Michigan has no civil rights protections for LGBT individuals in employment, housing, and public accommodations. While some localities have human rights ordinances, the state as a whole offers little protection against discrimination for LGBT individuals.

While Obergefell and Windsor has offered married same sex couples some protection and the legal landscape for same-sex families in Michigan has incrementally improved over the years, the absence of equal rights and non-recognition of unmarried couples makes living in Michigan both trying and unpredictable for LGBT and same-sex families.

Same-sex and LGBT couples have long experienced significant challenges

when dealing with family formation and family breakdown. These challenges arise not only from the social stigma and discrimination that same-sex couples have often endured, but also because of the unavailability of laws, procedures, and practices that heterosexual couples have always had at their disposal—whether married or not—to deal with family formation and family breakdown and their choices or the lack thereof may reflect that reality.  Lawyers working with same-sex clients around these issues have had and continue to be creative and adapt legal procedures and practices to fit these unique situations without any assurances that the remedies would hold up over time or be recognized in future disputes.

To say that the legal issues LGBT people face is no more complex in divorce, estate planning, or other areas may be missing the mark.

Why is cultural competency important to practitioners?

We live in an increasingly diverse country and a diverse world. Cross-cultural competency is a very important skill set for a 21st century lawyer.

An effective lawyer must possess skills for cross-cultural engagement by developing cross-cultural competency to that they can advocate effectively and justly. How we see the issue sets the stage for how we strategize our case. The lack of cultural competency can interfere with a lawyer’s ability to accurately assess the credibility of a witness, assess the strength of your case, effect your ability to strategize effectively, and tell your client’s story effectively. As lawyers, we are bound by a code of ethics and professional conduct to represent our clients competently, zealously, and professionally.  This means understanding our clients’ situation, the decisions they made, as well as how we will advocate our client’s positions in court.  The legal strategy of our cases must be based in a through understanding not only of the client and the legal issue being addressed but also the possibilities of emerging trends in the law.  The lawyer that wears blinders limit creative and innovative possibilities in their lawyering in these times of creative change.

Cultural competency allows the practitioner the ability to think, feel, and act in ways that acknowledge, respect, and build upon the ethnic, socio-cultural, and linguistic diversity.  Cultural competency allows the practitioner to best understand his or her client and the issues he or she faces.

Lawyers working with LGBT clients around these issues have had to be creative and adapt legal procedures and practices to fit these unique situations without any assurances that the remedies would hold up over time or be recognized in future disputes. Both Windsor and Obegerfell have changed the legal arena for LGBT people.

What should LGBT Clients expect from practitioners:

  1. Competency
  2. Non-discriminatory Language — A lawyer should never use outdated or offensive terminology.
  3. Respect — Forms. Lawyers should revise all internal forms and documents to ensure that they are culturally sensitive (i.e., to reflect spouse and spouse rather than husband and wife).
  4. Confidentiality and Safety Concerns — Make sure your safety concerns are addressed.
  5. Staff Training — Lawyers should make sure members of their staff are trained in cultural competency.
  6. Interviewing Skills — Lawyers should utilize the first meeting with the client to ask many questions. Lawyers should explore with clients a plethora of issues and understand the client’s situation.
  7. Lawyers should how legal solutions or remedies can be or will be translated or utilized in other states.  Will other states give full faith and credit to your judicial order?
  8. Has your Lawyer discussed other alternatives like mediation?
  9. Lawyers should be prepared to handle bias from the Court.

As lawyers representing LGBT clients, we need to erode the embedded ethnocentric ideals that effect impartiality within our system of justice. Until LGBT individuals have equal protections and discrimination has been eradicated, lawyers will have to be vigilant. Lawyers will need to have understood the complexities of their client’s case, be prepared to present it effectively in court, and must not allow their own inexperience to create a worse situation for their client. Most of all, we must avoid creating bad laws that continue to perpetuate discrimination.