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Three More Firms Facing Potential Challenges to Diversity Fellowships

In August 2023, a group called the American Alliance for Equal Rights filed a lawsuit against Morrison and Forester and Perkins Coie over their respective diversity fellowships for law students. Both firms adjusted the fellowship descriptions. Morrison said it would not require applicants to identify their race and would not consider race as a factor. However, applicants may discuss how race impacted their lives. The Alliance group dismissed the lawsuits.

The group then sent letters to three more law firms asking whether their diversity fellowship programs would continue, whether they would use race as a factor in the application process, and what role race would place in the selection process. These firms had until October 13 to respond under the threat of litigation if they did not meet the Alliance’s demands. The Alliance believes the fellowships violate Title VII by excluding participants based on race. They say, “No student should be treated differently because of their race or ethnicity.”

In response, Adams and Reese eliminated its "IL Minority Fellowship" program entirely. However, Winston & Strawn and Hunton Andrews & Kurth refused to answer the Alliance's questions. Winston issued a statement to the American Lawyer, which said, "We are proud of the program and note that your statement that it 'excludes certain applicants based on race' is simply false. Applicants of all races, ethnicities, socio-economic orientations and all other backgrounds are eligible and encouraged to apply." The firm further asserted that the Alliance’s belief that the terms “disadvantaged” and “historically underrepresented” must refer to race is “baseless,” that the firm does not make decisions based on race. Hunton declined to answer specific questions but said that it may "update" its program based on "changing legal considerations."