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Sharpton Renews Criticism of Skadden Over Attorney Diversity

April 16, 2020, 11:43 PM

Civil rights advocate Rev. Al Sharpton has renewed criticism of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom over diversity, this time over what he said was a lack of minority representation in the firm’s recently announced partner class.

On April 1, Skadden named 13 lawyers to partner. In a letter dated Wednesday to Eric Friedman, the firm’s executive partner, Sharpton said 11 of those partners “were white” and none “were African American or Latinx.”

“How can we achieve an equitable justice system if people of color aren’t afforded the opportunity to work at the most prestigious law firms?” he wrote. “How can we expect the judges in our courts to reflect the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of the communities they represent if they do not gain the experience needed to rise to those positions?”

Sharpton, in a separate letter to Skadden sent in January, said that people of color are nearly 40% of Delaware’s population, but are only 15% of the judges who sit on the state’s Supreme, Superior and Chancery courts.

Skadden did not respond to request for comment on Sharpton’s most recent letter.

But in a Jan. 6 response to Sharpton’s previous letter, the firm’s Wilmington, Del., office leader Robert Saunders defended the firm’s record on diversity and said Sharpton’s push for diversity “resonates” with Skadden, citing ways in which the firm is building its pipeline of minority attorneys and trying to support them within the firm.

However, in a separate statement provided to Bloomberg Law, Skadden also pointed to the advocacy group, Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware, which grew out of an employee group formed during lengthy court proceedings over Delaware translation company TransPerfect Global Inc.

Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware, which has been critical of Skadden’s role in the TransPerfect proceedings, said it continues to campaign, with Sharpton’s help, to promote more transparency in Delaware’s government and court systems.

The contentiousness has been underscored by differences over the court-appointed custodian, Robert Pincus, a former Skadden attorney, in the TransPerfect matter. Pincus remains on the job and is represented by Skadden. This week, the battle over his fees resulted in Delaware chancellor Andrew G. Bouchard advising mediation to resolve some of the outstanding issues.

Skadden, in its statement, accused CPBD of using diversity and inclusion “as a means to further their vendetta against our firm and former partner, who we represent in his capacity as the court-appointed custodian who oversaw the sale of TransPerfect.”

Chris Coffey, CPBD’s campaign manager, denied the charge, maintaining the group was addressing disparities in the makeup of the state’s courts and government.

The legal industry still lags behind other sectors in diversity, including in the state of Delaware. According to the National Association for Law Placement data, in 2019, only 11.7% of law firm associates in Wilmington, Del., were people of color. For partners, that number dropped to only 5.5%.

To contact the reporter on this story, Elizabeth Olson in Washington at egolson1@gmail.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com

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