Law Scribbler

Law Scribbler: Acclaimed same-sex marriage advocate Evan Wolfson joins Dentons

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Victor Li

Photo of Victor Li by Saverio Truglia.

When the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that same-sex couples had a fundamental right to marry, it marked the culmination of famed civil rights attorney Evan Wolfson’s three decade-plus struggle to bring about marriage equality, and an end to Freedom to Marry, the organization he had founded in 2003. But what does a lawyer do after winning a transformative and landmark victory like that?

In Wolfson’s case, he’s decided to join the largest law firm by headcount in the world. Last week, Dentons announced that Wolfson had joined the firm as senior counsel. According to the firm, Wolfson will be in charge of diversity initiatives within Dentons, and will counsel clients on human rights and public policy issues. In an interview with ABA Journal, Wolfson says that he will work part-time at the firm while continuing to teach at Georgetown Law School and speaking all around the world.

“Evan Wolfson is among the most important civil rights leaders of our generation and we are very proud to welcome him to our Firm,” said Dentons U.S. Managing Partner Mike McNamara in a press release. “A legend in the LGBT community, his insights will be important for client teams across the Firm. Evan’s passion and lifelong vision for equality, which has infused his legal career, will enrich our strong commitment to building a diverse team of lawyers and professionals who accurately reflect the clients we represent on a daily basis.”

Wolfson has been dubbed “The Godfather of Gay Marriage” by the Daily Beast as a result of his early, pioneering work on the issue. In 1983, while a student at Harvard Law School, he penned an influential thesis calling for marriage equality, years before anyone really knew what it was. Before embarking on his goal of making his thesis a reality, he worked as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn and served as assistant counsel to Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh. Wolfson had also spent more than a decade at Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund before founding Freedom to Marry.

Wolfson says that he was drawn by Dentons’ global reach, and notes that the firm gives him a good platform to promote global human rights. “What attracted me to Dentons was that the firm fits in perfectly with the other things I’m doing,” says Wolfson. “It seemed like a real good opportunity for cross-pollination with the global human rights work I’m doing.”

Wolfson recently went to Australia to speak at a conference about his experiences running a successful single-issue campaign at Freedom to Marry, which closed earlier this year. When he told Dentons about the trip, the firm quickly convened an event at the Sydney office for lawyers and their clients so that they could meet their new senior counsel and hear him speak about diversity and human rights. “There are lots of opportunities for synergy that we’ll have to explore,” says Wolfson.

He also says that he was attracted by the firm’s commitment to diversity. “I made it very clear that I’m not an expert in human resources,” says Wolfson. “But I share their commitment to diversity and demonstrating that the firm and its clients benefit from bringing in talent from different backgrounds.”

Meanwhile, he is quick to point out that his decision to move on from Freedom to Marry doesn’t mean that he thinks his work is done. “The point of Freedom to Marry was to accomplish a certain goal,” says Wolfson, whose cousin, Peter Wolfson, is Dentons’s U.S. co-chief executive officer. “There is still plenty of work to do; that was clear all along. As with any civil rights movement, you always have that struggle and you always have to move forward. But the work of the campaign is over. The work of our movement is far from done, and I’ll continue to advise on that.”

• Victor Li shares his reporter’s notebook at and on Twitter as @LawScribbler.

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