Perkins Coie Changes Diversity Fellowship Amid Legal Fight

Bloomberg Law reports

Perkins Coie has overhauled its diversity and inclusion fellowship program to remove race-based eligibility requirements as it faces a high-profile discrimination lawsuit.

The fellowship will now be open to all law students, without regard to race, the law firm said Friday. The program’s eligibility criteria includes relevant life experiences, academic achievement, resilience in overcoming obstacles, and proven DEI leadership.

“Our new Diversity and Inclusion Fellowship Program continues Perkins Coie’s long-standing and deep-rooted commitment to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion within our firm and across the legal profession,” said Genhi Givings Bailey, Perkins Coie’s chief diversity and inclusion officer. “We are proud of our firm’s progress and even as the legal landscape evolves, our commitment to strengthening diversity and creating a more inclusive workplace remains steadfast.”

Perkins Coie and law firm Morrison Foerster were sued in August over their DEI programs. Perkins Coie’s move came as The American Alliance for Equal Rights—created by affirmative-action critic Edward Blum—dropped its suit against Morrison Foerster after the firm made similar changes to its fellowship program.

Blum’s group accused the firms of “rank discrimination” against White law students by excluding them from the fellowship programs. It cited the US Supreme Court’s June ruling striking down affirmative action in college admissions, stemming from a lawsuit also filed by Blum.

Perkins Coie initially vowed to fight the lawsuit vigorously.

“As a firm, we have been a leader in efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the legal profession,” Perkins Coie spokesperson Justin Cole said in a statement Aug. 22. “Our commitment to those values remains steadfast. We will defend this lawsuit vigorously.”

The firm DEI fellowships were open to first- and second-year law school students “from communities historically underrepresented in the legal industry.” Participants were offered $15,000 to $25,000 stipends.

The firm will start accepting applications for the new fellowship program on Nov. 15. The program is open to first- and second-year students “in good standing in their first year at an ABA-accredited law school.”

Gibson Dunn, another major law firm, also over the summer changed the eligibility criteria of one its diversity programs to feature race and gender neutral language. The firm’s lawyers represented Morrison Foerster in the lawsuit by Blum.

Blum isn’t the only one launching attacks on private-sector DEI initiatives.

Sen Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) put 51 law firms on notice for its use of DEI programs in a July 17 letter. Over a dozen Republican Attorneys General threatened Fortune 100 companies with “serious legal consequences” over their use of similar DEI programs in a July 13 letter.

The cases are American Alliance for Equal Rights v. Morrison & Foerster, S.D. Fla., No. 1:23-cv-23189, 8/22/23; and American Alliance for Equal Rights v. Perkins Coie, N.D. Tex., No. 3:23-cv-01877, 8/22/23.