Legal Industry Updates from the National Law Review: Law Firm Moves, Hires and Response to Racial Injustice
The legal industry continues to respond to larger forces in society, and along with our usual focus on law firm moves, hires, and accolades, we take a look at the specific ways law firms are pledging to combat racism and fight for social justice in their communities and across the country.
Law Firm Moves, Hires and Recognitions
Down in Texas, Erin England joined Katten’s Dallas office as a partner in the firm’s commercial finance practice. England represents alternative lending institutions and banks in negotiating and structuring domestic and international commercial transactions. She also has experience in the real estate finance industry, representing lenders and borrowers in real estate and construction loans involving retail space and industrial properties.
“In the last two years, we’ve added leading attorneys like Erin in key growth areas such as commercial finance,” said Mark S. Solomon, managing partner of Katten’s Dallas office. “As an active member of several organizations committed to the hiring, retention, and promotion of diverse lawyers, Erin also shares in Katten’s deep commitment to diversity and inclusion, which is a fundamental part of the culture in our Dallas office.”
Also joining the Katten Dallas is Michael Gaston-Bell, who is the first labor and employment attorney in the firm’s Dallas office. His previous experience includes representing clients on Title VII, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) workplace matters in state and federal court, and working with corporate leadership on complex and often crisis level employment issues, including internal investigations, unfair competition and major transactions in health care, entertainment, banking, military contracting and retail industries.
“Michael is a talented attorney who will offer our clients in Dallas and across the country exceptional employment litigation counsel,” said David Crichlow, national chair of Katten’s Commercial Litigation group. “He has the skills to succeed and a track record for being a true advocate of his clients who often face tough, complicated issues.”
Katten opened the firm’s Dallas office with seven partners in 2018 and has grown to over 40 attorneys in the past two years.
George Howard joined the Restructuring & Reorganization practice of Vinson & Elkins (V&E) in their New York City office as a partner. Howard represents distressed debt investors, asset purchasers, companies, banks and secured lenders in out of court restructurings, chapter 11 reorganizations, distressed M&A, cross-border insolvency proceedings, and secured financing transactions.
“We are focused on growing the firm’s restructuring team particularly to meet increasing client demand for company and debtor side representations,” said V&E managing partner Scott Wulfe. “George is a great addition to the team not only because of his significant debtor experience, which perfectly complements our existing strengths but also because he is a natural team player and a great cultural fit for V&E.”
Ropes & Gray’s Chicago office added Matthew (Matt) R. Jones to the firm’s employment, executive compensation, and benefits practice group. Jones advises private equity firms and their portfolio companies on executive compensation in relation to complex commercial transactions. Jones also advises clients on Securities and Exchange Commission executive compensation arrangement reporting obligations.
“We are very excited that Matt has joined the firm,” said global private equity practice co-chair Neill Jakobe. “Chicago is a priority market for our clients and our firm, and it is critical that we continue to attract the top talent in this market. Matt is an exceptional fit from a strategic and cultural perspective and he will further enhance the value we deliver to our clients locally, and globally.”
Christopher Passodelis Jr., James M. Sander, Brandon T. Uram and Megan L. Tymoczko-Korch joined Steptoe & Johnson PLLC, working remotely from the firm’s Southpointe office in Canonsburg, Pa., with plans to move to the downtown Pittsburgh office this fall. All four attorneys practice in the firm’s Business Department, handling business transactions and corporate services and tax. Uram focuses his practice on transactions and business litigation.
“Chris, Jim, and Megan bring an entrepreneurial spirit and many decades of diverse experience representing businesses large and small to our firm. Brandon is a creative and fierce advocate for clients who are faced with litigation,” said CEO Susan S. Brewer. “As Steptoe & Johnson grows its presence in western Pennsylvania, they will play a key role in helping us meet our clients’ needs.”
Immigration attorney Sarah Hawk joined Barnes & Thornburg (B&T) as a partner, along with Of Counsel Terra Martin and Paralegal Elizabeth Wei. She has 20 years of corporate immigration experience representing universities, corporations, and individuals, and leads the firm’s Southeastern immigration practice.
“In this critical time, we couldn’t ask for a better resource for our clients than Sarah,” said B&T’s labor and employment department leader Kenneth Yerkes. “COVID-19 has complicated many employees’ immigration statuses, whether it stems from remote work, reductions in force, border closings or shortened internship programs.”
David F. Johnson of Winstead was named to the Board of Directors for the Texas Board of Legal Specialization (TBLS). Established in 1974, the TBLS is a certifies lawyers and paralegals in their specific area of law, bestowing certification upon demonstration of expertise, after passing a rigorous exam and demonstration of completion of CLE continuing education credits. Out of 110,000 attorneys licensed to practice in Texas, only 7400 are board-certified. Johnson, who writes extensively on Fiduciary law in Texas, is also Board Certified in Civil Appellate Law, Civil Trial Law, and Personal Injury Trial Law. He will serve a three-year term on the TLBS beginning July of 2020.
Law Firm Contributions to Social Justice
Law firms have responded in a variety of ways to the recent protests, civil upheaval, and calls for change surrounding the murder of unarmed minorities at the hands of police. Many law firms announced Juneteenth observances, and encouraged their employees to use the day as a chance to reflect on how to best encourage tolerance and justice in their lives and through their legal work.
Below is a sampling of some initiatives, pro-bono efforts, and other steps towards positive change announced by law firms.
One thousand attorney law firm BakerHostetler announced the firm’s intention to develop firm-wide plans to become a more “inclusive, diverse and successful place to work and thrive.” The firm announced plans to partner with civil and human rights organizations to develop an environment welcoming of honest conversations about race and discrimination, as well as resources to educate firm-wide to effect change. As an initial step, the BakerHostetler Foundation is donating $100,000 to the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to justice, ending mass incarceration and police reform. Along with the donation, BakerHostetler acknowledges “like many other law firms, we have work to do to increase diversity among our attorneys and leadership, and we will not stop working to address these issues.”
A global law firm focused on technology and innovation, Orrick has also announced plans to advocate for racial equality and diversity in the legal industry. Along with increased resources devoted to the firm-wide pro-bono program, Orrick Cares, Orrick has also announced the Orrick Racial Justice Fellowship Program. This program will allow at least five attorneys within the firm to devote a year each to focus on social justice and civil rights issues.
Additionally, two associates with Orrick, Tatyanna Senel and Yasmina Souri rallied almost 1,000 attorneys to provide pro-bono representation to protesters in Los Angeles. Senel and Souri helped formalize a working relationship between Orrick and the National Lawyers Guild, an established bar association with a mission of using the power of the law for the people, by bringing together lawyers, law students, legal workers and jailhouse lawyers to work together on a wide spectrum of issues, and create change on the local, regional, national and international levels. The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) is one of the most progressive bar associations in the country, as well as one of the oldest, and the first to be racially integrated. Additionally, Senel and Souri activated their own networks to rally friends and colleagues to the cause. Senel says, "We're [Senel and Souri] both passionate about the message, and we felt like there was something we could do with our law degrees."
According to the LA Times, almost 3,000 protesters were arrested in Southern California during the upheaval surrounding George Floyd’s death. Through this partnership, NLG is able to deploy almost 1,000 attorneys with varying levels of expertise to provide legal defense to protesters arrested. Criminal Defense attorneys will handle the more complex matters, while attorneys with limited or no experience in criminal law will handle lower-level issues, like curfew violations. Additionally, the volunteers will provide training on how to act as a legal observer.
Wiggin and Dana LLP, in response to racial inequalities brought to the forefront by recent events, has announced the Wiggin Opportunity Initiative, a pledge to provide $10 million in pro-bono legal services to minority-owned businesses over the next decade. Managing Partner, Paul Hughes, said, “While born of current events and frustrations, the firm wants to do something that will outlast the spotlight of this particular moment and support long-term improvement in opportunity and equality in our communities. By leveraging the particular skillset of our sophisticated lawyers in a sizeable, sustained and focused effort over time, we hope to make real change in a way that we could not achieve by more modest, incremental efforts.”
The next step in the initiative is to identify, through collaboration with community partners businesses that could benefit from the initiative. The legal services will be available across a variety of practice groups in order to meet a variety of needs in the business community. With a ten-year commitment, the firm is hoping to develop long-term relationships with the minority businesses to form partnerships to amplify the success of the businesses, to best impart lasting change on the landscape.
WilmerHale is a full-service, international law firm with 1,000 attorneys is focusing their racial equality efforts on police reform. WilmerHale announced their intention to donate at least a quarter of a million dollars to organizations working on police reform efforts, and select two fellows to work with civil rights groups addressing issues related to systemic racism, criminal justice and holding police accountable.
Focusing on WilmerHale’s proven track record in Police Department Counseling, the firm has established a pro bono client initiative focusing on police reform and social inequities affecting minorities, focusing on police accountability—using WilmerHale’s long-standing expertise in advising police departments in Baltimore and Chicago under Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation to assess practices and bolster public safety by helping departments adopt best practices. WilmerHale indicates these steps are just the beginning, saying: “These are our initial steps in our efforts to ensure meaningful change. We plan to build on and expand this work.”
Many law firms have announced their intention to contribute financially as well as look internally and find ways to make their own workplaces more inclusive, by formalizing initiatives to increase diverse attorney representation across the industry. In fact, to further this goal, over 125 law firms have joined the Law Firm Antitracism Alliance, with the purpose of:
. . . leveraging the resources of the private bar in partnership with legal services organizations to amplify the voices of communities and individuals oppressed by racism, to better use the law as a vehicle for change that benefits communities of color and to promote racial equity in the law.
Through coordination of Pro-bono efforts, law firms will partner with legal services organizations to “identify and dismantle structural or systemic racism in the law.”
On June 18, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Trump Administration could not continue with its plan to dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and the 700,000 DACA recipients are protected from deportation and their work authorization remains valid. The decision, the Department of Homeland Security et al. v. Regents of the University of California et al. was celebrated as a major victory by immigration activists working on behalf of DACA recipients.
Akin Gump, wrote an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the respondents, in conjunction with the American Historical Association, the Organization for American Historians and the Fred T. Korematsu Center for law and Equality, along with over 40 individual historians, supporting the legal challenge to the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind the DACA program. The brief looks at the historical context of decisions such as these, with a focus on the coded language and implicit bias used by the government to support policies. The brief indicates, in part:
. . . [A]mici seek to ensure that this Court understands the ways in which racially coded language has been used by government actors, both past and present, to mask illicit discriminatory motives—particularly in the immigration context, including the rescission of DACA.
Pratik Shah, co-head of Akin Gump’s Supreme Court and appellate practice, pointed out that many DACA recipients have only ever known the United States as their home, and all who earn DACA protection had done so by furthering their education or serving in the military. He says, “The Court’s decision that the administration cannot arbitrarily upend the lives of hundreds of thousands who arrived in our country as children . . . is a victory for both the rule of law and common decency.”
It’s impossible to say what will come next in 2020, but we’ll have more legal industry news in a few weeks. Stay safe and sane until then!