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Law firms across the country are observing Juneteenth, a day for celebration and reflection on the end of slavery in the U.S.
Firms encouraging their workforce to take the day off include Skadden, Paul Weiss, Morrison & Foerster, Ogletree Deakins, and others. Large companies and organizations, including Nike, Twitter, Target, and Thomson Reuters (FindLaw is a part of Thomson Reuters) are also observing the holiday by giving workers time off.
Juneteenth is the oldest and largest celebration of the end of slavery. While not yet a national holiday, the recent civic unrest and protests over the killing of George Floyd has led to a national re-examination of systemic inequality and racism in America today. Juneteenth celebrates the day Major General Gordon Granger issued an order informing residents of Galveston, Texas, that the Union Army had control and all slaves were freed. The date was June 19th, 1865, over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Law firms are among those needing to re-evaluate their commitment to diversity. The good news is that strides have been made in creating a more diverse legal workforce. According to recent statistics, about 25% of associates are people of color. Black Americans comprise approximately 13% of the U.S. population, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. However, black associates comprise just under 5% of associates, with that number improving only very gradually in recent years. At the partner level, particularly, black lawyers remain underrepresented.
While it can be difficult for small and solo law firms to take a day off, recognizing Juneteenth, if possible, may be a good step forward. At Dechert, for example, an internal memo encouraged employees to “invest this time in exploring, learning about and discussing with your family and friends the tragic death of George Floyd and others, the events of the last few weeks and the history that preceded them." Reuters reported on the contents of the internal memo.
While many law firms denounced the killing of George Floyd, law firms have also publicly questioned how to follow up those words with concrete action. Recognizing Juneteenth is one way to do so.