The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery in 2020 and the ensuing unrest that occurred around the country left us feeling waves of anger, frustration, and sadness. Believing that the Kelley Drye community’s many talents could be leveraged to foster change, the Firm established the Task Force on Racial Equality to increase awareness of racism and anti-racism efforts and leverage the talent and energy of the Kelley Drye community to assist in the fight for racial justice.

The Task Force took definitive action over the course of six months, and set in motion several initiatives that are being carried forth through the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion and Pro Bono Committees.

Targeted pro bono assistance

The Task Force forged a partnership with Legal Aid Society Cop Accountability Clinic, which was launched to support New Yorkers who were arrested or were the victims of police misconduct and brutality. Through this partnership, Kelley Drye attorneys represented complainants who were unjustifiably arrested during protests or were victims of police violence. We provided legal advice and assisted clients with filing complaints in New York. One associate who participated in the program highlighted the importance of the work:

Our client was wrongfully detained while participating in a [Black Lives Mater] protest in Brooklyn, and although the charges against him were eventually dismissed, it was obvious that he appreciated the opportunity to talk about the traumatic event with people advocating on his behalf who were taking active steps toward correcting police misconduct. I wanted to get involved in righting the injustices that were done to so many individuals, and work to increase the accountability of people in positions of power.”

We also partnered with other organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana and are working with them as part of their Justice Lab: Putting Racist Practices in Policing on Trial. Kelley Drye attorneys are participating in cases involving racially-motivated stops and seizures that occurred within the State of Louisiana in 2020.

Kelley Drye took an active role in the Law Firm Anti-Racism Alliance, which is a collective of law firms, now numbering more than 250, committed to fighting systemic racism. As a member firm, Kelley Drye is committed to advancing legislative and regulatory advocacy strategies to change federal, state and local laws, and practices identified as resulting in disparate outcomes for people of color.

Another Task Force initiative raised awareness of federal and state ban the box” laws that aim to increase employment opportunities for certain ex-offenders by delaying criminal history inquiries to a later stage in the hiring process, thereby giving the applicant a fairer chance at a conditional offer of employment.

Assisting our communities and businesses

Recognizing that certain businesses may lack equal access to resources and opportunities, the Task Force developed a webinar series to provide information about essential business and legal topics. The webinars, which are made available through partnerships with black and brown chambers of commerce, cover labor and employment issues, corporate formation, advertising rules, and more.

The Task Force also continued developing Kelley Drye’s supplier program initiative to ensure that a substantial percentage of its vendor spending supports businesses owned by people of color, women, persons with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ community. Continued implementation of this initiative, along with others, was assigned to the Firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

Kelley Drye also worked to support the young in our communities, increasing the firm’s engagement with an elementary school serving a population of economically disadvantaged students through mentoring, tutoring and book donations.

Financial support for organizations making a difference

Kelley Drye provided financial support to organizations that work to foster racial equality and equal justice. The Task Force initiated a charitable contributions drive, resulting in donations of $200,000 from the Kelley Drye community and the Firm to four charitable organizations:

  • JobsFirst NYC is dedicated to solving the problem of economic mobility and justice for young adults, large numbers of whom are out of work and school;
  • The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth works to prevent the problem of extreme sentences for youthful offenders;
  • The Equal Justice Initiative fights for the abolition of the death penalty, targeting wrongful convictions by exposing prosecutorial and police misconduct and advocating for better defense for the indigent; and
  • The Shriver Center helps win law, policy, and systemic changes to promote pathways out of poverty and fights for fair work and a living wage; access to affordable and comprehensive health care; affordable, fair and safe housing in inclusive communities; and environmental justice for poor communities.

Looking inward and learning together

The Task Force emphasized the importance of fostering dialogue within the Kelley Drye community about systemic racism and privilege.

The Kelley Drye community was invited to participate in three discussion groups during which people shared their thoughts regarding Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy, the podcast Nice White Parents, and the film In the Heat of the Night. The discussions focused on the issues of race and bias in the criminal justice and education systems, allowing for robust discussions among individuals from a number of Kelley Drye offices.

The Task Force also hosted author and diversity and inclusion consultant Michelle Silverthorn for a presentation titled, What if I Say the Wrong Thing?” during which Ms. Silverthorn provided strategies for overcoming the fear associated with having hard conversations about issues of race and bias.

Recognizing the critical importance of the Task Force’s work, the Firm has incorporated its initiatives into the work of Kelley Drye’s standing Diversity and Inclusion Committee and its Pro Bono Committee for continued implementation.