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Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives in the Legal World

July 9, 2020 | Posted at 11:19 am

Written by Brittany Prager

With Pride Month last month, and with a national spotlight on racial injustice and institutional racism, as legal professionals, it is important to reflect and notice what sort of effect these movements have had in the legal world. These movements have always been vocal; these resources have always been out there. It is important to hold major institutions, including places of work, accountable in a thoughtful, systematic way.

In the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based, global law firm Dorsey and Whitney’s diversity statement[1], Diversity & Inclusion Partner Cornell Leverette Moore states, “Diversity is not a numbers game. It’s an active, intentional process to incorporate the needs and viewpoints of diverse communities into all aspects of the Firm.” One such intentional action was taken earlier this month following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. On June 2, 2020, the firm announced that it would terminate its Minneapolis City Attorney’s program[2]. For decades prior, the firm assisted Minnesota prosecutors with their misdemeanor cases. In the announcement, Managing Partner William R. Stoeri stated, “Dorsey & Whitney shares the sadness and the outrage expressed throughout Minnesota and the world over George Floyd’s killing, as well as over the long history of such injustice… Healing can only occur by addressing the systemic racism that plagues us. Dorsey is immediately placing an even greater emphasis on pro bono work that helps rebuild communities and will no longer support misdemeanor prosecutions in Minneapolis. We must be part of the solution, and that means concrete action to assist the community and a re-examining of our own programs and practices.”

Chairman Mitchell Zuklie of the AM50 law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe put out a statement following the murder of George Floyd[3]. In it, he mentions certain efforts that the firm will undertake to “stand up and fight for racial and social justice,” including “devoting greater resources to pro bono civil rights and social justice matters.” The firm has launched the Orrick Racial Justice Fellowship Program, which will allow “at least five Orrick lawyers to devote a year each to working on civil rights and social justice issues.” In the conclusion of his statement, Chairman Zuklie states, “This is only the beginning.”

Top global law firm Sidley Austin LLP joined in for Pride Month celebrations, hosting virtual events throughout the month including a webinar series titled “The First Pride was a Riot: Corporate Support from Stonewall to the Supreme Court,” a presentation on the Supreme Court decision Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, No. 17-1618, 590 US ___ (2020), a virtual pride disco party, and more[4]. During its regular course of business, Sidley supports LGBTQ+ law students through early outreach and recruiting efforts. The firm also offers LGBTQ+ mentoring programs, networking opportunities, and pro bono opportunities in matters relevant to the LGBTQ+ community.

Tangible, insightful efforts such as the ones mentioned in this post are important steps toward enacting change in the legal profession. It is also essential to maintain and expand upon these efforts and ensure that there is a deliberate effort towards change in-house.  On a national scale, only 1.97 percent of partners are black[5]. The overall percentage of LGBTQ+ lawyers is just under three percent. While these initiatives are an excellent step, there is still work to be done towards making the legal community a more inclusive one.

[1] https://www.dorsey.com/diversity

[2] https://www.dorsey.com/newsresources/news/press-releases/2020/06/dorsey-ends-misdemeanor-prosecutions-program

[3] https://www.orrick.com/en/Reflections-On-Where-We-Stand

[4] https://www.sidley.com/en/us/diversitylanding/lgbtq-initiatives/

[5] https://www.nalp.org/uploads/2019_DiversityReport.pdf at 8, 16