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New Tools for U.S. Law Firms to Safeguard Diversity Programs After Supreme Court Ruling
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New York State Bar Association Releases Comprehensive Plan

Three months after a pivotal Supreme Court decision that restricted the use of race in university admissions, U.S. law firms seeking to protect their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs now have access to valuable resources courtesy of the New York State Bar Association. A task force operating under a 30-day deadline has unveiled a comprehensive strategy to preserve and enhance these vital initiatives.

A Pioneering Roadmap

The plan issued a few days ago, guides law firms grappling with mounting pressure from conservative legislators and anti-affirmative action groups following the Supreme Court’s June 29 ruling. While focused on higher education, this decision carries significant implications for the legal sector. Notably, law firms such as Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and Morrison Foerster have already adjusted their diversity scholarship criteria after being sued by the American Alliance for Equal Rights in August, alleging that these fellowships are unlawful.


A Response to the Challenge

The 93-page report directly addresses the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision on law firms and private corporations. Tsedale Melaku, a sociologist and author, emphasizes diversity’s critical role in education and the legal profession. The report offers practical recommendations for law firms to legally attract and retain diverse talent, including expanding recruitment beyond the top law schools, investing in pre-law pipeline programs, and curtailing partners’ discretion in choosing associates—often disadvantaging various attorneys.

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A Warning Against Abandonment

The report highlights that abandoning DEI initiatives could perpetuate historic pay discrimination and other practices with unfair effects on certain protected classes. Rekha Chiruvolu, Chief Diversity Officer of the Rand Corporation, commends the report for providing tangible ideas that can benefit any private employer.

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DEI Under Scrutiny

The Supreme Court ruling, stemming from a lawsuit by the anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions, has prompted legal action against firms like Morrison & Foerster and Perkins Coie. Additionally, several Republican state attorneys general and Senator Tom Cotton have scrutinized law firms’ DEI programs.

An Experienced Task Force

Responding to these challenges, New York State Bar President Richard Lewis assembled a task force co-chaired by three Paul Weiss attorneys, including former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. Nearly four dozen other Big Law attorneys and law school deans joined them in crafting this comprehensive plan.

Navigating Uncertainty

Upon releasing the report on September 20, Richard Lewis emphasized its significance in defining the post-affirmative action decision landscape. With the uncertain legal terrain in this area, the report’s guidance has been well-received by legal professionals. Robin Nunn, a partner at Linklaters, acknowledges that this is an uncharted and pivotal area in law, emphasizing the report’s importance.

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Implementing the Recommendations

Some law firms are already taking proactive steps in line with the report’s recommendations. Adam Klein, Managing Partner of Outten & Golden, points out that DEI is a core competency at his firm, underscoring the importance of evaluating what works and charting a path forward.

As U.S. law firms navigate these uncharted waters, the New York State Bar Association’s plan provides a much-needed roadmap for safeguarding and enhancing diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in the legal profession.

Don’t be a silent ninja! Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.



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