Looking Back and Beyond for Legal Professionals

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Every year, Juneteenth (a portmanteau of June and 19th), marks the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. On that day in 1865, shortly after the end of the Civil War, Union troops arrived to take control of Galveston, Texas. This is when the remaining enslaved people in Texas finally learned they were free. June 19, 1865 was two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln enacted the Emancipation Proclamation and some months before the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery was ratified. Not surprisingly, Juneteenth was first celebrated in Texas.

Over the years, Juneteenth commemorations spread throughout southern US states. But the date is becoming increasingly well-known across the country, and many state and local governments now recognize Juneteenth as a legal holiday. To commemorate Juneteenth, gatherings are held to celebrate emancipation from slavery in the United States, and acknowledge the ongoing struggles against racism through marches, prayers, and other remembrances.

Juneteenth in the United States today

In 2020, many companies, including Nike and Twitter, made Juneteenth a paid national holiday for their employees. New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Texas recognize Juneteenth as a holiday for state employees. The only states yet to recognize Juneteenth in some way are Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

A year after the widespread Black Lives Matter protests against incidents of police brutality and racially-motivated violence, Juneteenth is attracting more attention across the United States as a call for change.

For legal practitioners, Juneteenth has become a day to renew focus on the need to end racism and push for diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI) to become commonplace strategic imperatives in the US workplace – both within legal teams and in the broader organizations they serve.

Legal teams are committing personnel, forming committees, making public commitments to advance workplace and diversity, and providing financial initiatives to build more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces. This issue was a hot topic at our Legility Symposium last month. Some organizations have policies mandating their outside counsel be diverse in their hiring practices – or risk losing company business.

For legal practitioners, Juneteenth can be a day to renew focus on ending racism and advancing work for diversity, equity, & inclusion within the legal profession.

Juneteenth and the legal industry

Last year, the Association of Legal Administrators made news when they announced that June 19 was an official holiday for its staff members. At that time, the ALA urged its staff, members, and followers to use the day productively to advance the call for DEI and to remember the reasons behind Juneteenth. To date, more than 75 Big Law firms have moved to make Juneteenth a firmwide holiday. Firms like Skadden Arps urged employees to spend June 19th “reflecting on the impact of racism and what it means for the country.”

What legal practitioners can do: Juneteenth & beyond

There are many ways that legal practitioners can advance the cause of racial equality in the workplace, both on Juneteenth and all year long:

  • Review the legal vendors you work with:
    • Do they have a DEI policy?
    • What tangible DEI goals do they have, if any?
    • Are they tracking measurable improvements in diversity in their hiring, promotional, and cultural practices?
  • Review the makeup of your own organizations’ legal team:
    • Does your team, organization, or firm have a diverse hiring policy?
    • Does your organization have a DEI committee? Consider getting involved if one exists, or form a committee if one does not exist.
    • Speak with your organizations' leadership and HR representatives about the importance of DEI in the workplace, and for the legal industry specifically.
  • Consider working with minority-owned law firms. The National Association of Minority and Women-Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF) is a great resource for sourcing outside counsel.
  • Consider donating pro bono legal advice to people or businesses affected by racism or DEI issues, and donating time or financial support to organizations working at the intersection of racial equality and the legal or technology world, such as the Minority Corporate Counsel Association or Black Girls Code.

Hire diverse, qualified lawyers today.

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