Three days before Winston & Strawn became the target of legal activist Ed Blum’s third lawsuit, another firm operating in Texas — Susman Godfrey — responded to a demand letter defending its DEI programs to Blum, which could lead it to be the next defendant in a string of lawsuits challenging the DEI programs of law firms across the country.
In a Friday letter addressed to Blum’s lead lawyer, Thomas McCarthy of Consovoy McCarthy, Susman managing partners Kalpana Srinivasan and Vineet Bhatia and general counsel Jonathan J. Ross said they believe two of their firm’s DEI programs, the 1L diversity fellowship and Susman Godfrey Prize, “fully comply with all relevant laws.”
“Your Oct. 16 letter suggests your clients may misunderstand the programs,” the Susman letter said.
In the original Oct. 16 demand letter, which was addressed to Bhatia, Blum’s legal team asked the firm to answer three questions by Oct. 20 “in hopes of avoiding litigation:” 1) Does Susman plan to proceed with its two programs; 2) Will they change the criteria and refrain from asking participants about their race or consider race as a factor when selecting fellows; and 3) If the new fellowship or prize consider race, what role will it play?
Blum and his advocacy organization, American Alliance for Equal Rights, sued Winston Monday after a similar demand letter exchange resulted in Winston doubling down on its position that its DEI programs are lawful and that it would be making no changes.
Blum’s lawyers have either sent similar demand letters to, or filed lawsuits against, several other law firms, including Perkins Coie, Morrison Foerster, Hunton Andrews Kurth, Adams and Reese and Fox Rothschild.
Blum recently dropped his two other lawsuits against MoFo and Perkins Coie after both stipulated that they will not require applicants to identify their race, will not require an applicant to be a member of a historically underrepresented group to be considered, and will only consider an applicant’s individualized discussion of how race has affected his or her life.
“The Alliance is considering similar legal action against Susman,” the Blum letter said.
In Susman’s response, the firm leaders wrote that the diversity fellowship “is open to all students who have overcome personal or systemic hardships or disadvantages, including those who self-identify with a group that is underrepresented in the legal profession.” The two-week program, firm leaders said, does not guarantee permanent employment.
The Susman Godfrey Prize is annually awarded to up to 20 students of color nominated by professors at select law schools, the Susman letter said.
“Both the 1L Diversity Fellowship and the Susman Godfrey Prize form part of the firm’s ongoing commitment to celebrate and promote diversity among civil trial lawyers,” the letter said.