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State firms join alliance to address racism

In the wake of nationwide protests about racial injustice last summer, organizations across the country sought out ways to address the issue internally and externally. The legal field was no exception.

The Law Firm Antiracism Alliance was founded last June as a collaborative alliance of law firms across the country; the group was created as a partnership between the Shriver Center’s Racial Justice Institute and the Association of Pro Bono Counsel. The LFAA seeks to facilitate pro bono work in order to tackle the issue of systemic racism and ensure racial equity.

“Lawyers and law firms are uniquely positioned to analyze and advocate to change laws and policies that encourage, perpetuate or allow racial injustice,” the LFAA’s charter reads.

The alliance has 291 member firms from across the country, ranging in size from thousands of attorneys to offices in the single digits. Virginia firms of all sizes have joined the alliance as well. Alicia Russman, marketing strategist at The Geller Law Group in Fairfax, said her firm “got on board pretty early” with the LFAA.

“It was around the June or July timeframe of last year, when more awareness was coming out about the issue and organizations were looking for what they could do to better contribute to addressing injustice and inequality in the system,” Russman said. Thus far, Russman said much of the work at the individual firm level has been through introductory Zoom meetings and in laying the groundwork for future plans.

Other firms in Virginia to join the alliance include some of the commonwealth’s largest: McGuireWoods and Hunton Andrews Kurth. Based in Richmond, Hunton Andrews Kurth lists joining the LFAA among multiple ways the firm has participated in diversity and inclusion efforts. The firm’s website says in the last fiscal year, attorneys at the firm contributed 9,000 hours to diversity and inclusion activities, with 100% participation amongst full time attorneys.

McGuireWoods, also headquartered in Richmond, is catering its involvement with the LFAA to its firm’s expertise. McGuireWoods pro bono director Angie Zimmern said the firm’s attorneys will work in areas of re-entry and recidivism.

With the alliance less than a year old, the LFAA is still building the foundation for years to come. One of the first ways the alliance aimed to bring attorneys together was through summits, which facilitated discussion between alliance firms and racial justice experts. The first summit, held at the end of July, had more than 500 participants.

Russman said that in addition to attending kickoff and introductory meetings, The Geller Law Group is attending a LFAA seminar on voting rights and racial justice later this month.

“Now that the foundation has been set, they’re kicking off more programming and more focused groups on particular issues,” Russman said. In addition, Russman said her firm plans to join working committees set up by the alliance in areas that align with the expertise of the firm.

In the long term, The Geller Law Group plans to have “a couple of representatives from the firm deeply invested” within one of the working groups to advance the mission of the LFAA and the working group.

“We’re going to identify a particular topic that makes sense for our practice areas and our lawyers and specialize in that particular topic and lend our expertise,” Russman said. Hunton Andrews Kurth echoes a similar goal on their website, writing their involvement with the alliance “pair[s] attorneys with their legal expertise to amplify the voices of communities and individuals oppressed by racism.”

Outside of the LFAA, Russman said The Geller Law Group has been actively supporting groups advancing causes to help combat racism, inequality and injustice. The firm also took “a pretty firm stance” in putting out a Black Lives Matter message on the firm’s website, social media and email marketing last year.

“We wanted to make sure that our clients were aware that this is an issue of importance to the firm,” Russman said. “Thankfully, we did not get a lot of pushback from that.” Additionally, the firm has hired a professional consultant to help reinforce these issues internally and discuss “the implications of social structures and systems on inequality.”

Hunton Andrews Kurth also is extending its efforts to combat racism beyond the alliance. In addition to the hours put in by attorneys on diversity and inclusion activities, the firm has also participated in activities supporting International Women’s Day and in the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association’s Stand Against Hate. The firm calls its work on diversity and inclusion “a long-term investment” that includes committing to diversity in leadership.

McGuireWoods has received numerous commendations for work on diversity and inclusion. Last month, the firm was named as a finalist in five categories in the Chambers Diversity & Inclusion Awards. The firm also has a racial justice task force made up of a diverse group of partners, associates and other staff.

As for the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance, the group is aiming to grow both in membership and in outreach in the years to come. With more programming on the horizon, Russman said she hopes more firms get inspired to get involved.

“The more law firms and advocates against racism that get behind these messages, I think, the better luck we will have at really instituting change,” Russman said.

A list of law firms participating in LFAA is available here.