In the days following the violent clashes on Aug. 12 between rival groups of protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old legal assistant with the Miller Law Group, some corporate executives have openly criticized President Donald Trump for his immediate failure to condemn white supremacists.
CEOs from Under Armour Inc., Merck & Co. Inc., Intel Corp., the AFL-CIO and the nonprofit Alliance for American Manufacturing have all resigned from the Trump administration’s manufacturing council in the aftermath of last weekend’s unrest. Doug McMillon, CEO at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., chose to remain on the council but made headlines Tuesday for his harsh critique of Trump.
“As we watched the events and the response from President Trump over the weekend, we too felt that he missed a critical opportunity to help bring our country together by unequivocally rejecting the appalling actions of white supremacists,” McMillon said in a statement on the retail giant’s website, which came amid a heated press conference during which the president appeared to squander any bit of political capital he managed to gain back in a speech Monday.
In Big Law, some large firms are also speaking out against the violence that broke out in Virginia, while maintaining their commitment to a tolerant and diverse workplace.
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom condemned the confrontations in Charlottesville, calling the chaos an “affront to the fundamental principles of equality and justice that strengthen our nation,” in a statement released Monday.
“Law firms are often uniquely positioned to respond when challenges to equality and justice arise,” said an email by Stacy Kanter, co-head of Skadden’s global corporate finance practice and co-chair of its diversity committee. “Our firm deploys resources to promote and defend these values, and to foster diversity and inclusion internally, with a great sense of responsibility every day, including in times of crisis.”
On Monday evening, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison chairman Brad Karp sent a firmwide email expressing shock at the events that unfolded over the weekend, but reaffirming the need for the firm to support diversity, tolerance and inclusion.
“As a law firm, we have always fought to protect these principles,” Karp wrote. “We will continue to fight for these basic principles and to ensure that the rights, dignities and freedoms of all our citizens are fully respected and vindicated.”
In a Tuesday conversation with The American Lawyer, Karp said he believes the legal community is answering the urgent call to step up and fight injustice, as it has previously done at critical junctures in U.S. history. (After a gunman killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando last year, Karp questioned the nation’s gun laws and encouraged his firm’s support for gun control advocates.)
Roberta Kaplan, a longtime Paul Weiss partner who left the firm last month to start her own litigation boutique in New York, said Tuesday that in order to have a democratic society, independent institutions must be able to speak up and voice their own interests.
“In American history, and in many other countries, lawyers have been a very important part of that recipe,” said Kaplan, who successfully argued a landmark same-sex marriage case before the U.S. Supreme Court. “I think it’s incredibly important for that reason [that] all lawyers speak up and denounce this kind of behavior that’s so contrary to everything that we believe in as lawyers [and] one must believe in as a lawyer.”
In another firmwide missive sent Wednesday morning by Gary Wingens, the chairman and managing partner at Lowenstein Sandler noted that the firm was founded by name partner Alan Lowenstein on the “foundation of his strongly-held belief in equality and social justice.”
Wingens noted that when his mother was 13, she returned home from a friend’s birthday party to find a mob ransacking the family home in a village north of Frankfurt, Germany. The date was Nov. 9, 1938, the beginning of Kristallnacht, an event of terror for Jewish families in Austria and Germany that would foreshadow the Holocaust. Nearly seven years later, Wingens’ mother was liberated from a concentration camp and, with his father, emigrated to the U.S.
“Were they still alive, the events of this past weekend in Charlottesville and of yesterday afternoon in Trump Tower would have been devastating to them,” Wingens said in his email. “Whether you are the descendant of immigrants who came to this country to escape persecution or to seek a better life, the descendant of slaves, a Native American or an immigrant yourself, we can all agree that the [U.S.] is at its best when we treat everyone with respect and dignity regardless of race, religion, nation of origin, gender or sexual orientation.”
Wingens, who noted to The American Lawyer that Lowenstein Sandler does not represent any Trump-related companies, said that the firm welcomes individuals with diverse backgrounds and is committed to protecting the rights of vulnerable individuals through pro bono work and supporting institutions that share similar goals.
“There is no place in this firm, our communities or this country for white supremacists or leaders who do not unequivocally name them and call them out,” Wingens said in his note to the firm. “In the face of those who give voice to divisiveness and hate, please join me in re-doubling our efforts to create an even more inclusive and equal workplace and society.”
The president’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who in April formed an alliance with Squire Patton Boggs, said on Twitter that as the son of a Holocaust survivor, he has no tolerance for racism. “Just because I support [Trump], doesn’t make me a racist,” Cohen tweeted.
Despite the comments by Cohen, Kaplan, Karp and Wingens, several other Am Law 100 firms contacted about their response to the events in Charlottesville reiterated their support for a diverse workplace, but did not directly challenge statements made by the president. Others simply did not respond.
After Trump’s press conference Tuesday, he mentioned a winery controlled by his family in Charlottesville, although that business quickly sought to distance itself from any affiliation with the president. The American Lawyer reported in 2011 on work done by LeClairRyan and a retired Skadden partner in acquiring the property.