The Big Interview...Blake Liggio
When did you decide to become a lawyer? Why?
I have always enjoyed problem-solving and once I was ready to choose a career path, I knew this was the right one for me.
Starting out, what did you expect from a career in the law? Has it lived up to your expectations?
I expected to learn new things every day and to help people. So far, the career has definitely met these expectations.
Can you tell us a little about why you chose the career path that you did? What was your big break?
First, I knew that I did not want to be a litigator, so transactional law was an attractive option for me. I was lucky to become involved very early in my career at Goodwin with various M&A matters and was immediately drawn to the fast pace and substance of that type of work.
In terms of one big break, I don’t really view my path in that way. I view the job as more of a marathon run than a sprint, and so I took the approach of focusing on improving my skills each day by getting involved with as many opportunities as possible and learning as much as I could along the way.
What differences do you see in today's legal market compared to when you started?
I started my career right after the financial crisis, so I was grateful to have a job coming out of law school. Following the crisis, I think that the legal services industry has adapted in order to remain relevant with clients by focusing on specialized areas and developing more client-centric approaches in terms of cost demands and other strategies around efficiency.
Corporations also evolved out of the lessons of that time in terms of understanding the need for innovation, and one of the areas of focus has been around the values of diversity. There has also been an increased commitment to diversity initiatives in law firms, in many instances driven by the demands of clients. As companies have developed knowledge about the benefits of diversity within their own organizations, some have also focused on the diversity profiles within the organizations that they engage as external advisors.
"I think a central challenge to openly transgender people in any career is overcoming negative conceptions about who we are and stigmas typically associated with transgender identity."
What are the biggest challenges you have faced in your legal career as a transgender person?
I think a central challenge to openly transgender people in any career is overcoming negative conceptions about who we are and stigmas typically associated with transgender identity. Most people have not met or come to know a transgender person and this is part of the challenge for us. Unfortunately without context, people tend to develop ideas about things that they do not know, and in our case those ideas tend to be negative.
I think that any openly transgender person starting a career is likely to enter their organization with the burden of having to overcome certain misconceptions about who we are and what we will bring to work. That being said, our presence within organizations that have not seen us before is an opportunity to educate people that we are not earth-shattering and that we are there to do our jobs, just like everyone else.
What achievement are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my family; my two kids and my wife.
What has been your biggest failure or regret?
Based on my personal experiences, specifically gaining acceptance around my own identity as a transgender person, I don’t really believe in regret or failure. I look back on certain events and recognize that as they happened, I might have felt regret or failure, but as I moved on and time passed, I revisit those events and they always have taught me something more about myself or maybe out of a failure, how to later achieve success.
What have you enjoyed most during your career in the legal profession?
There is rarely a day when I am not faced with a new challenge.
And enjoyed least?
Feeling like there are not enough hours in the day.
What law would you change, abolish or create?
I would change (abolish) any state and local law with negative impact on LGBT people, whether in the area of relationship recognition, parenting, non-discrimination, school safety, health benefits or restricting transgender people from modifying name and gender information on identity documentation.
Who is your legal hero?
Sandra Day O’Connor.
"I look back and recognize that being trained as a lawyer helped me with certain elements of my transition, like navigating the legal requirements around name change and knowing how to effectively advocate for myself."
What career would you have in your second life?
I am an avid rare sneaker collector so would want to be the owner of a rare sneaker shop.
How can Biglaw firms improve diversity, and what notable initiatives does Goodwin have?
I think the next step for BigLaw firms is to take the diversity initiatives that they have developed in concept in recent years and to continue to translate those initiatives into real changes in their workforce and workplaces. Firms have taken significant steps forward to create policies embracing diversity and the next step is to focus on being mindful of all of the practical changes that can translate policies and initiatives into real on-the-ground changes within organizations.
At Goodwin, we have an Inclusion Advisory Committee, a Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity, an LGBT Pride Initiative and a Women’s Initiative. We also have a professional development team who have done a great job of translating the work that we do within these various initiatives to progress within the firm whether through mentoring opportunities, training, internal feedback programs or internal and external events focused on diversity issues. The efforts to advance from talking about these issues to implementing real changes is where Goodwin has succeeded in moving its diversity efforts forward.
What advice would you give to students and young lawyers who are simultaneously going through the gender transition process while trying to forge a career in the law?
My advice would be to remember that while it is certainly a challenge to be setting out on two significant journeys, beginning your career and transition, it is possible to do it and you will experience great satisfaction and growth along both paths.
Based on my own experience, I look back and recognize that being trained as a lawyer helped me with certain elements of my transition, like navigating the legal requirements around name change and knowing how to effectively advocate for myself whether regarding health care benefits, employment or other day-to-day challenges that transgender people face.
Finally, what advice would you give to students trying to enter the legal profession today?
First, I would be thoughtful in making the decision to pursue a legal career and also try to take the time to determine what type of lawyer you want to be. There are so many different types of lawyers, and there is no shortage of stories about people who start their careers as lawyers and end up making a change to another profession. Going to law school and becoming a lawyer is a big commitment so I think it is a good idea, whether through internships or post-undergraduate work, to be certain that a legal career is a good fit.
If you do decide to enter the legal profession, my advice would be to work hard and to be humble. I think the learning curve is steep at the entry level, but if you have the attitude that you have a lot to learn, and work hard to do it, you will succeed. I would also try to find a good mentor and don’t hesitate to use them. Having someone to discuss your professional goals with who has the benefit of experience that you don’t have, is a valuable resource.