“We’re really looking for ways to mobilize as many attorneys as possible in the fight for social justice," said Traci Love, executive director of Lawyers for Good Government Foundation, which created the initiative.

Corporate counsel from the Bank of New York Mellon Corp., General Electric Co., Johnson & Johnson, Verizon Wireless, Dell Technologies and several other sizable companies have joined with major law firms and a national network of pro bono lawyers as part of an effort to drive systemic change and racial justice. 

The Lawyers for Racial Justice initiative is a new creation of the Lawyers for Good Government Foundation, or L4GG, a national nonprofit network of legal advocates formed after the 2016 election. 

The group says its mission is to “protect and strengthen democratic institutions, resist abuse of power and corruption, and defend the rights of those who suffer in the absence of good government.”

“We’re really looking for ways to mobilize as many attorneys as possible in the fight for social justice. Through our conversations with a number of different in-house teams we found there was also a lot of interest in their side in figuring out ways they could contribute,” said Traci Love, the group’s executive director.

Lawyers for Racial Justice and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law have already completed a 50-state voting rights research project that examined the top concerns with mail-in and absentee voting. The effort involved more than 26 law firms and corporate legal departments and $350,000 worth of pro bono service. 

Kirkland & Ellis and BNY Mellon are spearheading the initiative as leadership partners. Alston & Bird, Cozen O’Connor, DLA Piper, Mayer BrownReed Smith and Proskauer Rose are among more than a dozen law firms that are participating in the effort. 

“It’s a great opportunity,” said Jacqueline Haberfeld, pro bono counsel at Kirkland. “It’s really a home run for everyone to sit shoulder to shoulder with our partners in business and law and really try to make productive change in our legal community and in the world.” 

She added, “I think that now is a time when we’re seeing an uptick in interest, not only in study but in action. That is resulting in a significant amount of interest both at the law firms and in-house legal departments to do this work.” 

The participants are currently involved in a “massive research effort” looking at problematic legislation on law enforcement in schools, according to Love. She said the research is expected to conclude early next year when members will begin drafting model legislation based on what they’ve learned. 

“This would be something that could be tailored for different states and communities if there’s something to be done at the local level,” she said. 

The group also aims to partner with the NAACP and other civil rights organizations and provide voting rights information to historically marginalized populations. And it wants to work to ensure that communities of color have access to safe drinking water. 

“Through thoughtful pro bono service, we must lend our talents, creativity and expertise to solve the multidimensional harms caused by systemic racism,” said BNY Mellon senior executive vice president and general counsel Kevin McCarthy in a statement.

“L4GG has the purpose, sense of urgency and organizational skills needed to turn this moment into a catalyst of long-term change,” he added. 

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Reprinted with permission from the September 10, 2020 edition of Corporate Counsel © 2020 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.