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Voice of Experience: Diane Bell, Partner, Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP

Diane BellEqual treatment as an LGBTQ professional has always been important to Diane Bell—and she has found that at Katten.

For example, she initially hesitated to bring her partner to firm events as she got to know the culture, but after several months, a more senior manager inquired as to why she didn’t bring her. “It was eye-opening to see that it was far more than acceptance that they were offering, in that they were almost offended I wasn’t bringing my partner, as though I wasn’t proud of the firm,” Bell said. And she has seen that culture embrace diversity throughout her tenure there.

Relationship Building Drives Career Satisfaction

Although Bell has been with Katten for 13 years, she originally joined a smaller firm right out of law school, selecting it due to its culture and people. However, after the tech bubble burst, she realized that the corporate group she had joined was going to be slow to recover, so she decided to look into another firm that would allow her to develop her skill set. She found a great opportunity in Katten’s Corporate practice, where she has honed her skills doing the challenging work of private company mergers and acquisitions, while delighting in the wonderful people she’s met along the way. “I’m really happy with the kind of lawyer I’ve turned out to be,” she says.

Bell values the firm’s emphasis on building relationships with their clients noting two transactions that have been particularly meaningful. In one, near the beginning of her time at Katten, she helped a small business owner, who immigrated with the proverbial “$20 in his pocket,” sell the wildly successful business he eventually built and receive the most appealing terms possible. “As a more junior member of the team, I got to know him and his wife well, and it was incredibly rewarding to act as a counselor for them,” Bell says. “When we got confirmation that the payment hit their account, they hugged each other, then bear-hugged me.”

Her second memorable moment involved another family-owned business that had gotten a valuation for estate planning purposes and were blown away by its size, leading them to consider an exit strategy much earlier than they expected. They initially decided to use a broker who didn’t seem up to the job. Bell felt that they could do better, and get a better price, with another broker, and the broker that Katten introduced the family to ultimately put together a package that led the business to realize almost twice what they had initially hoped for. “It was very rewarding to help guide this wonderful family through what to them was a very confusing process,” Bell says.

Being Open Pays Dividends

Bell always recommends that younger associates find senior attorneys willing to act as sponsors. She, for example, feels fortunate that the former managing partner of the firm’s Los Angeles office, who now serves as a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, took it upon himself to actively look out for newer professionals during the lean years of the recession—and in fact, she says it’s due to him she is still there. “You need those people up the food chain looking out for you,” she notes.

From the beginning of her career journey, Bell has made a conscious effort to be transparent about her orientation. “I thought that if potential employers weren’t accepting, then I didn’t even want to start down the road with them,” she said. For example, she noted on her resume that she interned at Lambda Legal, an organization that focuses civil rights impact litigation to benefit the LGBT community and individuals living with HIV impact while in law school.

In fact, Bell says that trying to conform in any way that’s against your authentic personality can be a hindrance to your career. She has found that as she let her true self shine through to her coworkers, she got along far better and gained more respect. Even more importantly, she says, she no longer had to expend the emotional energy on trying to be someone she wasn’t. “It frees up so much bandwidth to not try to assimilate into what I thought that the associate mold was supposed to be, which was against my character in a number of ways,” she said.

As co-founder of Katten’s LGBT Coalition, Bell says its purpose has morphed over time; it first was formed to ensure LGBT attorneys were on an equal playing field with respect to employee benefits and insurance coverage—that her wife, for example, would be recognized as family and receive the same benefits offered to spouses. When grappling with issues like this, she has found that at Katten typically it only requires explaining the concern before the issue is addressed. “If people don’t understand that there is a problem, they won’t know it needs to be fixed,” she said.

Over the years as marriage equality resolved many of those types of issues, the coalition now focuses on other aspects such as recruiting and retention of LGBT attorneys and organizing the firm’s biennial LGBT Attorney Retreats, which takes place in Philadelphia this coming year.

Away from the office, Bell enjoys spending time with her family; she has been with her wife almost 20 years, and they have two children, ages 9 and 1-1/2.

And she continues her work with civil rights organization Lambda Legal as a member of the board of directors. “Katten has played an important role in helping support this work financially and also allowing me time to travel for my duties,” she says.