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16 June 2020

Pillsbury to invest $11m in racial justice and civil rights causes over next three years

Initiative comes as US law firms line up to declare Juneteenth holiday and ABA launches racial equality resource site

By Ben Edwards

MAY 30, 2020: A protestor holds a sign that says "I Can't Breathe" in front of the Capitol to protest the killing of George Floyd

The killing of George Floyd has prompted an array of initiatives to combat racism by law firms, representative bodies and campaign groups Stephanie Kenner; Shutterstock

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman has pledged to invest at least $11m over the next three years to fight racial injustice and advance civil rights.

The firm will commit $1m in funding from the Pillsbury Foundation and at least $10m through pro bono legal services and other volunteering efforts. The announcement comes amid a wave of Black Lives Matter protests across the globe sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month.

And it is the latest of a flood of initiatives by US law firms, representative bodies and legal campaign groups to combat racism as a growing number of firms declare Juneteenth (Friday, 19 June) — which commemorates the ending of slavery in the US — a firm holiday.

David Dekker, chair of Pillsbury, said of his firm's initiative: “Over these past few weeks, the Pillsbury community has come together to listen to and support one another, and commit to doing better. After gathering input from a diverse cross-section of our firm, it is clear that only a sustained commitment of this magnitude will enable us to have the desired impact.”

Pillsbury said it will initially focus its efforts on improving and reforming criminal justice; supporting black-owned businesses and startups; striving for social equality through mentorship, education and pipeline programmes; and ensuring full representation for black Americans in Washington.

Stacie Yee, Pillsbury’s executive partner for diversity and inclusion, said: “It was readily apparent to me and all of our firm leaders that we could do something really impactful and sustainable, and that our people were passionate about our doing so. It’s no secret that law firms have work to do when it comes to parity and inclusion. This commitment to our communities is in addition to our commitment to improving the recruiting, mentoring, advancement and retention of our diverse attorneys and staff across our platform.”

To support these efforts, the firm has launched an Equal Justice Task Force to help identify suitable projects to back. So far Pillsbury is leading a grassroots effort to encourage 2020 census participation among black communities, as well as partnering with the DC Lawyers’ Committee to challenge the use of gang databases by police and and the Innocence Project to prevent and correct wrongful convictions.

Pillsbury said the initiative is on top of its ongoing pro bono commitments and charitable causes, including its financial support for the Equal Justice Works Fellowship Program, which the firm has funded for two decades. 

By 2 June, news site Above The Law had collected more than 70 statements from large law firm leaders condemning racism and pledging to take measures to combat it.

One of the first law firm leaders to respond was Skadden’s managing partner, Eric Friedman, whose all-firm email condemning racism revealed that the firm had made a $100,000 donation to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Skadden was also one of the first major law firms to declare Juneteenth as a firm holiday.

According to a report by Bloomberg Law, other firms making the move include Dechert, Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, Sidley Austin, Morrison & Foerster, Ropes & Gray, Ogletree Deakins, Shearman & Sterling, Debevoise & Plimpton, Paul Weiss and Seyfarth.

Meanwhile, yesterday the American Bar Association (ABA) announced the launch of the ABA Racial Equity in the Justice System website, which aims to collate 'ABA-related information and resources for attorneys, the legal profession and the public on a wealth of issues addressing bias, racism and prejudice in the justice system and society'.

“The American Bar Association is intensifying its efforts to ensure justice and fairness for all,” said ABA President Judy Perry Martinez. “For too long, African Americans have borne the brunt of racism through laws that unjustly and disproportionately impact people of color. Through efforts like this website, we want to make it easier for lawyers to access information and become more involved in reforming our laws and improving the justice system.”

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