A slew of Big Law firms, including Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, Sidley Austin, Morrison & Foerster, Ropes & Gray, and Ogletree Deakins have become the latest to declare Juneteenth a firmwide holiday, encouraging their workforces to take a full day off.
They were also joined by Shearman & Sterling, Debevoise & Plimpton, Paul Weiss, and Seyfarth.
These firms follow Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom and Dechert, which both said late last week they would observe Juneteenth, which falls on June 19. Firms and several companies have made the move in the wake of major protests across the country in recent weeks over racism and police brutality.
The Juneteenth holiday recognizes the effective end of slavery in the U.S, marking the date in 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger informed slaves in Galveston, Texas, of their emancipation. The Emancipation Proclamation went into effect more than two years prior.
“On this day, we are inviting our colleagues to celebrate the end of slavery in our nation, while reflecting on all that remains to be done to achieve a just society free of racism, prejudice, and discrimination,” Morrison & Foerster Chair Larren Nashelsky wrote in an email to employees.
Sidley remains “deeply rooted in the fundamental principles of equality, inclusion and justice. Juneteenth is an opportunity for all of us to take time to celebrate freedom and justice,” chair of Sidley’s executive committee Mike Schmidtberger said in a statement.
The firms join a long list of organizations also observing the holiday, including the National Football League, Nike, and Twitter.
Many Big Law firms have also made statements denouncing racism and inequality in the weeks following the killing of George Floyd, who died May 25 in police custody in Minneapolis.
A few have participated in related lawsuits. Perkins Coie, for instance, is representing Black Lives Matter in a suit against the city of Seattle over alleged use by city police of “unconstitutional force” against protesters. A federal judge in Washington State on June 12 granted in part a temporary restraining order in the matter against Seattle and its police force.
At the same time, law firms have been roundly criticized for the lack of diversity in their own ranks.
An October 2019 survey by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association showed that black lawyers account for just 4.83% of associates and 1.94% of equity partners in law firms.