Kirkland & Ellis — the law firm that represented historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in a 15-year discrimination suit against the state of Maryland — has announced that it will donate the $12.5 million in fees it received to colleges and nonprofit organizations.
The firm received the fees for securing a $577 million settlement after more than a decade of working to help students and supporters from four local HBCUs combat state underfunding.
“Kirkland is deeply invested in using our legal skills to help our communities and advance civil rights, and this work to bring financial equity to Maryland’s HBCUs has been incredibly meaningful to us,” said Kirkland Executive Committee Chairman Jon Ballis in a press release.
“We are proud to make this donation to schools and programs that are advancing justice and creating opportunities for diverse students to succeed,” Ballis added.
Maryland vs HBCUs
In 2009, Kirkland & Ellis stepped in to provide legal assistance to Morgan State, Bowie State University, Coppin State University, and the University of Maryland (Eastern Shore) to challenge state underfunding and unconstitutional academic programs which competed for enrollments.
Bloomberg Law reported that a federal court reviewed these state programs in 2013 and found that they caused an unlawful dual and segregated education system. Following its commitment to social justice and community service, Kirkland lawyers devoted 38,000 hours to see the case through and did not ask for payment.
“We fought this case on so many playing fields with two trials, five mediations, a Fourth Circuit appeal and three legislative hearings, as well as numerous press conferences,” Kirkland litigation partner Michael Jones said.
“So many of us became lawyers to fight injustice and give our clients a fair shake not only in the courtroom but also in society. This case has allowed me, and my colleagues, to do that. I’m gratified by this entire experience,” he concluded.
Governor Harry Logan officially ended the legal battle by signing legislation approving “nearly $58 million in annual payments to the institutions for a decade.”
Champions of Racial Justice and Equality
Seven entities focused on advancing racial justice, equity, and civil rights will share the multi-million dollar donation, creating scholarships, internships, and fellowships to benefit HBCU students.
The recipients comprise schools and organizations that offered assistance to the firm during the lawsuit.
In its press release, Kirkland confirmed that $5 million will go to the Dillard University Center for Racial Justice in New Orleans, allowing the center to fund paid internships benefitting local civil rights and public interest organizations.
The Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights in Education at Morgan State will receive $3 million to fund racial justice initiatives. Meanwhile, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law will receive $2 million to create fellowships for like-minded lawyers.
The remaining funds will be allocated between the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, Howard University’s Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center, the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church Second District.
“This donation helps the HBCUs in Maryland, other schools across the country and organizations that work with communities in need. I am proud of the pro bono work that Mike and the team did on this case, and it’s really a testament to our Firm,” said Leslie Smith, head of Kirkland’s pro bono program.