A year on from George Floyd’s death, we asked a group of diversity, equality and inclusion specialists if anything has changed within organisations regarding race equality. Kathleen Harris, London managing partner for law firm Arnold & Porter, explains what’s been happening at the law firm.
Given the way that debates become polarised, it is sometimes difficult to achieve genuine engagement and understanding. I believe the positive change is that it has caused people to look at their organisations and ask, ‘are we diverse enough or are we a fair representation of the society we serve’. We have started to have much more open debate within the firm. The following positive actions have prompted this.
Immediately after the killing of George Floyd, the Firm (Arnold & Porter) released an external statement condemning the killing. The Firm committed to continuing to use the power of the law to protect the rights of all citizens, including those who are marginalised or whose voices go unheard.
Arnold & Porter has a long history of taking on cases to redress injustice, whether in the criminal justice system, protecting the right to vote, defending those wrongly persecuted by the Government or protecting immigrants.
The Firm launched an Equality & Justice Matters resource page. Resources include links to videotaped programming, articles written by our colleagues, helpful books, documentaries, podcasts, and avenues for action.
Arnold & Porter also launched a community service day. Each lawyer and professional staff member gets one day of paid leave to work together as colleagues to further our commitment to public service, with a particular focus on social justice.
The Arnold & Porter Foundation contributed an additional $250,000 to charitable or educational organisations that promote (i) the recruitment, retention, and advancement of racially/ethnically diverse attorneys in the legal profession and (ii) social justice initiatives.
The Firm closed for a day of reflection to recognise the significance of Juneteenth and to provide space to contemplate how we can do our part to eliminate structural and overt racism and other forms of discrimination in our communities, in our countries, and our world. We are reviewing and expanding other programmes that will provide mentoring and sponsorship so that everyone at the Firm has an equal opportunity to succeed.
In June, after Black Lives Matter protesters were sprayed with tear gas by federal law enforcement officers in Washington, DC’s Lafayette Square, Arnold & Porter partnered with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, the ACLU of the District of Columbia and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to file a lawsuit against then-President Trump, then-Attorney General William Barr and numerous other federal officials for violating the protesters’ constitutional rights.
A few weeks later, Arnold & Porter teamed up with the ACLU of Colorado to file a similar lawsuit against the City and County of Denver on behalf of Black Lives Matter 5280 and individual plaintiffs injured by police while protesting police violence.
On the policy side, the firm has launched an effort to assist community groups in engaging in the legislative process to address police brutality. Arnold & Porter has joined the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance (LFAA), an initiative created for law firms to dedicate substantial pro bono resources combating systemic racism in long-term, high impact, and collaborative ways.
The Firm hosted several events to allow Black and African American professionals to speak candidly to one another about their experiences, Peaceful Protest Questions Answered, Sharing Experiences and Empowering Allies for example.
In the US Arnold & Porter joined the inaugural cohort of leading employers committed to becoming MLT Black Equity at Work Certified, a first-of-its-kind program that provides a clear standard and roadmap for employers seeking to achieve Black equity. In taking this important step, the Firm became one of the first international law firms to commit formally to develop a comprehensive plan, with measurable standards, towards achieving Black equity within the Firm and holding ourselves accountable for progress.
We recently launched the Black Attorney Retention and Advancement Tack Force focused on the specific opportunities and challenges related to retaining and advancing Black attorneys at the Firm. We partner with the National Bar Association on its annual “Associate Advancement Academy” to improve the retention and advancement of Black attorneys at law firms throughout the United States.
We are also committed to helping to diversify the pipeline of students interested in the legal profession through our partnership with “A Better Chance” (ABC), an organisation that places high-achieving BIPOC students at college prep private schools and public schools across the country.
In the UK, we intend to Partner with Black Interns. We have increased our engagement with socially disadvantaged students to positively contribute to the pipeline issues present in Law firm Partnership.