Goodwin Procter’s Blake Liggio stands apart from scores of newly announced partners at firms this fall as the first transgender equity partner at Goodwin and one of relatively few transgender lawyers known to have climbed the ladder in Big Law.
Liggio first started at Goodwin as a staff employee in 2004 before heading to Northeastern University School of Law in Boston the following year. He returned in 2008 as a summer associate and two years later was offered a first-year associate position at the firm.
Before rejoining the firm, Liggio began transitioning.
Transgender lawyers still face barriers and biases that have contributed to low levels of representation in Big Law, when they are even counted at all. Liggio said he hopes his career trajectory into the equity ranks, which often comes with more input on firm decisions and interaction with clients, can inspire others.
“I really felt as though I was trying to make change and that’s really a rewarding feeling,” he said.
Only 2% of partners at U.S. law firms identified as LGBT, while 4% of associates and nearly 7% of summer associates did, according to a 2019 survey by the National Association of Law Placement. Fifteen years earlier, in 2004, only 1% of U.S. lawyers identified as LGBT, according to NALP.
There are few statistics about transgender lawyers in the profession.
One of the only sources of information, 2018 NALP data, said there were 35 transgender law school graduates at 28 schools. Of those graduates, roughly 32% went into private practice, while more than 54% of all graduates went into law firms.
Liggio said he was nervous when he started at the firm.
“I remember wanting to find somebody who had sort of taken this path in a corporate environment and really wanted to make a career out of it and there aren’t a lot of out people who fit that bill,” he said.
If transgender lawyers are unusual at law firms, transgender equity partners are even more rare.
Equity partners can carry decision-making power at some firms and reap greater benefits as shareholders, with profits per equity partner reaching into the millions at Big Law’s wealthier firms. They also take on more client-facing roles and can serve as mentors to younger lawyers.
“In his seat as an equity partner, [Liggio] plays a significant role in championing LGBTQ inclusion and creating a visible path to success for young LGBTQ lawyers and professionals,” said Goodwin chairman Rob Insolia in a statement provided to Bloomberg Law.
To the Top
In late 2016, Liggio became a non-equity partner at the firm. He was elevated to equity partner this month in the firm’s real estate industry group.
Over the last decade, Liggio has built an M&A practice involving public and private entities, including the representation of buyers, sellers and various financial advisors across industries. He is also a part of the firm’s PropTech practice, which focuses on the intersection of real estate and technology.
As his career became more client facing Liggio was working on high-stakes transactions with CEOs and management team, many of whom had never known a trans person, which presented its own hurdles, he said.
“We work with clients all over the U.S. and globally, and I have never expected that people across that breadth of cultures and backgrounds will be eager to work with me, but how do we change that?” Liggio said. “I approach it by always trying to prove that I can do a great job, but that is an extra burden and my goal is to eliminate it through education and increased exposure.”
This year Liggio helped lead Goodwin’s team that represented Centerview Partners in its role as financial advisor to Forty Seven in its $4.9 billion sale to Gilead Sciences, Inc. as well as its role as advisor to Principia Biopharma Inc. in its $3.68 billion stock sale to Sanofi.
Kristen Prata Browde, co-chair of National Trans Bar Association and president of the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York, said she’s familiar with a few other transgender associates on partner track.
Liggio’s promotion might seem different now, but as more people feel comfortable being out and transgender in the profession, there will be more, she said.
“The bottom line is it will make no difference to the practice of law, but it will make a great difference to youngsters who are coming up through high schools and colleges and law schools,” she said.