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INSIGHT: Walking the Walk—How Law Firms Can Fight Racial Injustice

June 12, 2020, 8:01 AM

As the wave of social unrest sweeps the nation and spreads across the globe following the tragic death of George Floyd, law firms are being increasingly urged by their partners, employees, and clients to publicly take a stand against racism and police brutality.

While some law firms are still stuck playing political hopscotch in determining whether or not to openly speak out against racial injustice, and, more specifically, the many black lives that have been taken by a misuse of power, the pressure on law firm leaders is quickly shifting beyond simply “what do we say?” to “what do we do?”

Corporate leaders such as Facebook, Home Depot, Apple, and Peloton have opened their wallets to pledge large donations to organizations focused on combating racism, while Ben & Jerry’s, Nordstrom, Citigroup, HBO, and others have been vocal in their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Law Firms: “We Can Do More.”

Although the legal industry has responded more slowly and more measured than corporate America, there appears to be a common ground among the nation’s leading law firms—we can do more.

This is a pivotal moment in American history—everyone is watching—and law firms are faced with an important opportunity to demonstrate their core values and their commitments not only to African Americans but to all Americans who believe in basic human rights.

While there is no silver shield to combat racism in America, there are a number of ways that law firms can use their voices and resources to show solidarity with the current civil rights movement and address the injustices that have all too frequently been leveled against African Americans.

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  1. Donate to national and regional bailout and legal defense funds that are committed to protecting and representing civil rights protestors.
  2. Support grassroots organizations and programs aimed at addressing police brutality in areas where injustices against African Americans are most prevalent.
  3. Develop pro bono initiatives (and provide attorney credit) so firm lawyers can represent protestors and victims of racial injustice and tackle legal issues concerning qualified immunity and other areas to prevent abuses of power.
  4. Launch a civil rights practice devoted to addressing issues related to racism, discrimination, and other forms of injustice.
  5. Collaborate with clients and other law firms to advance the discussion, generate ideas, and develop strategic initiatives to address racism.
  6. Expand your support of black-owned businesses by reevaluating your roster of outside vendors.
  7. Expand your firm’s diversity and inclusion efforts to include unconscious bias and antiracism trainings to help your law firm members effectively address and combat prejudice, discrimination, and racism.
  8. Allow members of your firm to take paid time off to protest or volunteer in support of civil rights. Also, consider organizing your own programs and demonstrations against racial injustice and police brutality.
  9. Share information about the various national and regional organizations that your firm’s members can support to promote racial equality, protestors’ rights, and/or provide aid to the families of victims who have lost their lives due to racial injustice.
  10. Develop a matching gift program to encourage law firm members to donate to charitable organizations that focus on racial equality. For firms that already have a matching gift program, consider expanding it to develop a 2:1 program to enhance the firm’s support of antiracism efforts.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

Author Information

Michael Coston is the CEO of Coston Consulting, a black-owned business advisory firm that provides strategy, business development, and diversity consulting services to law firms. He holds a master’s degree in interpersonal communication and bachelor’s degrees in both African American studies and English from the University at Albany. Michael is also recognized among Lawdragon’s “100 Leading Legal Consultants and Strategists.”

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