At least two large law firms have changed their inclusion, equity and diversity (IE&D) programs recently, after being sued by an anti-affirmative action group, the American Alliance for Equal Rights, founded by conservative activist Edward Blum.
Separate lawsuits brought by another group founded by Blum led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that outlawed affirmative action in college admissions in June.
We’ve gathered a group of articles on the subject from SHRM Online and other trusted news sources.
Law Firms Under Fire
Blum’s group sued U.S. law firms Perkins Coie and Morrison & Foerster over fellowships they offer to promote diversity in the workforce. The group is considering similar legal action against law firms Winston & Strawn, Hunton Andrews Kurth, and Adams and Reese. It said the diversity programs excluded white students and applicants.
In response, Adams and Reese said it would not continue its summer-associate program that was open to first-year law students who were members of racial and ethnic minority groups and other disadvantaged groups.
Meanwhile, the law firm McGuireWoods has created a dedicated team to help companies reduce their legal risk, noting increased legal, shareholder and other scrutiny of corporate IE&D programs. McGuireWoods is at least the third large U.S. law firm, after Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, to announce an initiative for clients facing such legal threats.
Widening Program Criteria
Perkins Coie’s fellowship program previously sought applications from students of color, those who identify as LGBTQ+ and students with disabilities. The firm, which previously vowed to fight Blum’s lawsuit, recently said it revised its fellowship criteria and expanded the applicant pool because of the Supreme Court’s decision.
Morrison & Foerster said it had already been in the process of implementing revised criteria for its fellowship program for the 2024 class, even before the firm was sued by Blum’s group. The firm said it will no longer require fellowship applicants to identify their race and will not consider race as a factor, but it will consider an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life. Blum’s organization recently agreed to dismiss its suit against the firm.
The legal industry has long struggled with IE&D, lagging behind in the highest ranks. Women and people of color have made incremental progress in representation for associate-level positions at firms, according to recent data from the National Association for Law Placement.
Attorneys General Disagree
After the college admissions ruling, Republican attorneys general from 13 states sent a letter to business leaders, warning them to end racial preferences in hiring. The letter said companies will face “serious legal consequences” if they continue hiring practices that take race into consideration.
The attorneys general of Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia signed the letter, addressed to Fortune 100 CEOs.
The Democratic Attorneys General Association called the letter “anti-diversity, anti-business, and anti-economy.”
Twenty-one Democratic attorneys general wrote in a July 19 letter that corporate IE&D programs remain legal, applauded employers for their diversity and inclusion efforts, and condemned the Republican letter’s “tone of intimidation.” The attorneys general of Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Washington, D.C., signed that letter.
(SHRM Online and SHRM Online)