The legal industry has long struggled with recruitment, retention, and promotion of black lawyers. Per the 2019 Vault/MCCA Legal Diversity Survey, only 4.8 percent of law firm associates were black or African American. The survey also found that 2 percent of all partners and just under 2 percent of equity partners were black or African American.
Representation within law schools is similarly low. This past year, black individuals comprised a mere fraction of first-year law school enrollment. According to the ABA’s data on full-time enrollment, of the 38,283 first-year law students enrolled in Fall 2019, only 2,897 were black or African American: 7.57 percent.
Many law schools and law firms have professed a commitment to improving representation and retention of black law students and lawyers, implementing various diversity programs and initiatives. At Vault, we have read thousands of law firm associate quotes over the years regarding firm diversity efforts, which reveal mixed reactions from associates. A frequent sentiment is that firms try but need to do more, especially when it comes to retention and promotion of racial minorities.
In the aftermath of George Floyd's death and ensuing worldwide protests—which have sparked deeper conversations around racial injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement—the legal community has had an opportunity to reflect on the impact of its diversity programs and its responsibility to ensuring racial equality. Some in the community have chosen to join the conversation by releasing statements, sending emails to their communities, and posting on social media. Below are excerpts from some recent statements from law firms, law schools, and other members of the legal community. (Follow the links to read the full statements.) Vault will continue to monitor not only the statements being shared but also the actions taken as we move forward.
Excerpts from Law Firm Statements
Akin Gump: "... We start by acknowledging and recognizing the most basic reality that systemic racism is a blight on our country and around the world. It has caused too much death, indignity and injustice to be allowed to fester as it has without sufficient challenge. We must commit to addressing racism and the deep wounds it has inflicted on our nation. And in making that commitment, we must combine immediate steps with a sustained, intense relentlessness of purpose. ..." Heeding the Call: Our Commitment to Racial Justice: A message from Akin Gump chairperson Kim Koopersmith
Alston & Bird: "... We are challenging ourselves to evaluate what we are doing as individuals to step up and speak out against hate and to champion equity and inclusion in our day-to-day lives. Diversity and inclusion have been and remain core values of our firm. Now more than ever, we stand committed to embodying those values in all that we do. ..." An Open Lettter from Richard Hays, Chairman and Managing Partner
Baker McKenzie: "... We have seen many tragic events unfold, like the recent killing of Mr. George Floyd in the US, with a mix of shock, sadness and disbelief. As a Firm, we are not neutral. Our values of dignity, caring and respect are unyielding, and we must hold ourselves and each other accountable for living up to these values. That means we are not, and cannot be, silent when we see injustice." We Are Not Neutral: Executive Committee Statement Against Racism and Discrimination
Cleary Gottlieb: “… Our goal is to create safe spaces where our Black colleagues can express the breadth and depth of their emotions and discuss how the Firm can best support them. We will separately hold a series of discussions with the broader Cleary community to define and discuss the importance of allyship. The ability to be an effective ally is a core tenet of inclusivity, a fundamental value of the Firm. …” Cleary Gottlieb’s Statement on Standing Up for Our Values
Cooley: “It is time to seek out education; learn about ourselves and each other; converse and collaborate; and stand together as one, united against the racism, bias and hatred that seek to divide us – it is time for action,” said Joe Conroy, Cooley’s chairman and chief executive officer. Cooley Press Release: Black Lives Matter
DLA Piper: "... As a law firm, we are firmly committed to making a meaningful contribution and thereby becoming part of the solution. To do this, we must look both inward and outward. We are listening to our communities and our colleagues who are sharing their painful realities, ideas and aspirations for a better future. ..." Underscoring our commitment to racial equality
Gibson Dunn: “… I know that many of our colleagues are struggling on a very personal level with these heinous tragedies and inequities. We, at Gibson Dunn, stand with our colleagues and will fight racism wherever we see it as we continue to defend the rule of law, civil liberties and equal justice for all. …” A Statement on Racial Justice and Equality from Gibson Dunn Chairman and Managing Partner, Ken Doran
Kirkland & Elliis: “… To be blunt, our society must do better and I promise you that Kirkland & Ellis will work untiringly toward that end.” Message from Jon A. Ballis, Chairman, Global Management Executive Committee, Kirkland & Ellis LLP
Mayer Brown: "... Even as we seek ways to channel our raw emotions of sadness, frustration, anxiety and anger, I call upon the Mayer Brown community to embrace this situation with a sense of urgency as an opportunity for transformational change. ..." Statement from Mayer Brown on the Death of George Floyd
Milbank: “It’s important that we talk to each other and listen to each other, but it’s not enough just to recognize racism and social injustice – we need to do something about it. ...” Our Commitment to Racial Justice and Equality
Morrison Foerster: “… As a firm, Morrison & Foerster stands against this injustice. We stand not only against police brutality, but also against the racism that we see poison and destroy so much around us. …” Black Lives Matter – A Message from Our Chair, Larren M. Nashelsky
O'Melveny: "... O’Melveny stands with our black colleagues and all those who have suffered racism and oppression. We mourn with you. And we pledge to advocate for those whose rights, freedoms, and very lives are under attack." O'Melveny message from firm leadership
Orrick: “… Change starts at home, and we have work to do. As lawyers and legal professionals, we have a heightened duty. We took an oath and with it comes professional responsibility to stand up and fight for racial and social justice. …” Reflections on Where We Stand
Paul, Weiss: “… Please know that we are in this together and we are in this for the long run, and we pledge that we will fight this fight with all of our collective talents and might. This cause is too great, and failure at this point in our history is not an option.” George Floyd and the Quest For Racial Justice
Skadden: “… To our black colleagues, clients, friends, recruits and peers, and your families, friends and communities: We see you. We hear you. We stand with you. And we are optimistic that, working together, we will create a more just and inclusive society.” Excerpt from message on Skadden’s homepage.
Sidley: “… We further reaffirm our commitment to the work we are doing to combat racial injustice and to advance the fundamental principles of equality, inclusion and justice – within our firm, but also in society at large. We are committed to action in support of these principles, in the work that we pursue, the causes we support and in the time our people dedicate to pro bono representation of groups working for social justice. …” A Message of Solidarity
WilmerHale: “… With the fervent desire that this moment of national suffering and protest be channeled for meaningful and durable police reform, WilmerHale recommits itself to do its part to ensure change. …” George Floyd should be alive today.
Excerpts from Law Schools/Law School Leadership Statements
BYU Law: "In response to these recent events, I have seen varied calls to action, and I encourage you to combat racism in whatever way you feel called to act. As for me, I am striving to ensure that BYU Law School will be a place where racism is never ignored, but directly, consistently, and explicitly opposed." Combating Racism - A message from Dean Gordon Smith
Columbia Law School: That these events are only the most recent of a long history of anti-Black racism and violence in our country—and at a time when Black and Brown communities are reeling disproportionately from the deadly impact (itself rooted in that history) of the coronavirus pandemic—has left many members of our community, myself included, feeling deep distress as we reckon with the state of the country and the world. I write today to say that we recognize and acknowledge these feelings that so many among us, particularly African American and Black members of our community, are experiencing. – Message from Dean Gillian Lester to the Columbia Law School community
Cornell Law School: “… As a law school, we have a distinctive perspective to offer on these events. Committed as we are to the equal protection of the law, the killing of black Americans (by private citizens and by police) followed by the absence of the most basic legal accountability strikes at the very heart of the values we purport to teach our students. …”- Statement from Dean Peñalver on Police Violence
DePaul University College of Law: "The College of Law stands with SBA, BLSA and other student organizations in supporting the protesting of racial injustice by Black Lives Matter and other organizations throughout our city, nation, and the world. Too many lives have been lost through violence against people of color--by police officers and others--for far too long. George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many other lives taken. These protests shine a light on injustice that has plagued our systems for centuries and provide an 'inflection point' for action that I hope will truly transform those systems. ..." -Statement from Dean Jennifer Rosato Perea
Louis D. Brandeis School of Law: "... For my part, I therefore hope that this historical moment will lead all of us to re-examine the persistent disparities and inequities that too often characterize the structure and practice of our institutions, enabling systematic oppression of particular groups, and especially of African Americans. I hope that many of you feel the same. ..." -Message from Dean Colin Crawford
Loyola Law School Los Angeles: "... I do not pretend to know the entirety of the way forward, for our community or for our nation. We cannot ourselves fix the injustice and inequality in the world, conditions that predate Loyola Law School’s founding 100 years ago. But I do know that we must never stop trying, and that we need to teach and model that a better way is both an aching necessity and an inspiring possibility. ..." -Message from Dean Michael Waterstone
Loyola University Chicago School of Law: "... Inspired by our Jesuit Catholic tradition, let us stand with the victims of racial violence and racial injustice around the corner and around the globe. Let us continue to proclaim the truth of racial injustice in all of its many insidious forms. Let us give voice and power to the victims of racial injustice. Let us use the knowledge, skills, and values that we have learned at this law school to implement strategies that will eradicate systemic racial injustice. ... -A Message of Solidarity From Deans Kaufman and Gough
Mitchell Hamline School of Law: “... We are committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in our law school and in our training for our law students. There is a deep systemic injustice of racism in Minnesota that must be dismantled, confronted and changed, and we are committed to addressing that injustice.” -Deans, student leaders call for justice in George Floyd killing
Michigan Law School: “Yesterday we listened. We hear you. It’s time to begin our work toward real change. To our black students, we stand with you. You matter. You belong. We cannot say this emphatically enough: #Blacklivesmatter.” - Message on Michigan Law School twitter account
Notre Dame Law School: "... The callous murders of unarmed men like Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd are real for me. That could have been my father. That could have been me. That could be either one of my sons. And in a very real sense, like many other African-American men, I am George Floyd. Except, I can breathe. And I can do something. I must do something. While my education and position do not grant me immunity from racial violence, they do place me in a position to do something about it. ..." - Dean G. Marcus Cole: 'I am George Floyd. Except, I can breathe. And I can do something.'
NYU Law School: “… It is hard to find the words to meet this moment. It can be even more difficult to know what to do. Yet it is clear there is tremendous work that must be done to address the injustices in our systems and the acute ways they affect the most marginalized among us. We must pledge to do more as individuals and as a community. …” - A message from Dean Trevor Morrison to the Law School community on recent events
Santa Clara University School of Law: "... As a law school, we talk about diversity and inclusion, and we are proud of our achievements, but that it is not enough. We can’t be proud of having faculty, staff, and students of color when Black men, women, and children are dying. We need to do more and we have the tools as legal educators, lawyers, and law students. We teach social justice but must recognize that the system is not always just. We must commit to change it. I commit to change it. ..." -Message from Interim Dean Anna M. Han
UCLA Law School: “… At UCLA, we believe deeply that equity, respect and justice are central to the character of our institution, to the health of our democracy and to the well-being of our world. Still, we recognize that UCLA also can and must do better. As campus leaders, we recommit ourselves to ensuring that our policies and actions value the lives, safety and dignity of every Bruin. …” - The Pain Behind the Protests.
University of California, Irvine School of Law: "... And for us at UCI Law, change not only begins with asking how we can do better to fight against Anti-Blackness and racism, in all of its manifestations, here, but also asking how we can use our voices, our power, and our influence to make changes in the profession and society. The two are not mutually exclusive, but the former is a prerequisite. ..." -A Time for Action, Not Platitudes by Dean L. Song Richardson
University of Minnesota Law School: "... I hope you will all stand with me in acknowledging the deep, troubling, and systemic inequities in this country, as well as dedicating ourselves to making the changes necessary to address injustice. The Law School can’t solve this problem on our own, but we can contribute to meaningful advances. ..." -A Message from the Dean: George Floyd and the Fight for Justice
University of Texas at Austin Law School: “… We all have to be thinking about these events not just as citizens but as lawyers—as those charged with responding to injustice and to the call of distress. It is my hope that we can turn these events into a renewed sense of urgency and purpose. That is what goes through my mind when I watch the world and think about you, our students: more than ever, the world needs you and your passion for what is right. …” - Message from the Dean
USC Gould School of Law: “As lawyers we can all be the ‘first responders’ to attend to those who suffer race-based injustice and to the system that imposes it. Thus, we call on our Gould community to do whatever each of us can do, by way of teaching and learning about racism unflinchingly, offering legal services, participating in protests, supporting anti-racism causes, engaging in politics, offering informed voices to public discourse—whatever we can do to assist the cause of justice to which we are professionally sworn. No one is better equipped than you are to make a difference. And in those efforts, we, your faculty, pledge to join you. We stand with you.” -Message from Faculty Signatories: Open Letter to USC Gould Students and Alumni
Vanderbilt Law School: “As lawyers, we aspire to uphold the rule of law, ensure equal treatment for all and protect individual rights. In recent days, we have seen how far we are from our aspirations. We are called to close that gap. The recent killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and countless others form part of a long and tragic history of racial violence and injustice. It has been painful for all of us to witness these tragedies, but I know that it has been particularly difficult for our students, alumni, staff and faculty of color, particularly the Black and African-American members of our community. Our BLSA chapter issued a powerful statement that speaks to this anguish.”- Time to Act: A Message from Dean Chris Guthrie
Excerpts from Student Groups, Law School Deans, & Law Professors
Boston University Law School Dean Angela Onwuachi-Willig: “… As a black woman and dean of a law school—the first dean of color at Boston University School of Law—I struggled with what message I should send to my students. I even wondered if I could send a message about the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Tony McDade, imagining the backlash when certain words come out of my black mouth. I listened to friends and spoke with other black women deans who felt equally silenced—all of us still cautioning each other against speaking out through a public message. All of us knew we could, and would, act more freely were we not black. Perhaps surprising to some of you, racism regularly disempowers the seemingly powerful dean. And yet, if we feel powerless, imagine what it feels like for those not so economically or professionally privileged. …”-The Fire This Time
Berkeley Law Student Association Co-Presidents: “… As law students, we have the opportunity to go forward in the world and make real change. People look at lawyers as leaders and it is never too early to start acting like one. If you are looking for opportunities to help, the links to donate money are below, but there is much more you can do. Take some time to question your own privilege, reflect on the way you perpetuate White supremacy, openly question others who devalue Black lives, call out friends/family/co-workers for anything they do that is anti-black, and educate yourself on these issues if you haven’t already. In the midst of this pandemic, it can be overwhelming but we implore you to volunteer time where you can. …” - A Message from the Student Association of Berkeley Law Co-Presidents
UK Rosenberg College of Law Faculty: "... Now it is your time to act. Your generation is called to take a stand for principles larger than yourself. You can breathe new life into the ideal of equal justice for all by working to make it real for all people. ..." -To our UK law students: Now is the time to act for equal justice in the world
Please note: Vault will continue to update this post with additional firm and school comments. If you are a school or firm that would like its statement shared, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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