Ballard Spahr LLP, one of the largest law firms in the country, has established a Racial Justice and Equality Initiative, a pro bono plan to combat racial injustice and inequity through litigation, firm chair Mark Stewart announced Monday.
Ballard Spahr’s 250-lawyer litigation department will pursue cases, at no cost to clients, that specifically address racial justice issues involving policing, education, and voting rights.
“We recognize that, as professionals, we are in positions of privilege, and that with this privilege comes the responsibility to both acknowledge the inequities of our system and to fight them actively,” Stewart said in a statement Monday.
“By putting the vast talents of our lawyers — who have a long history of litigating these issues — and the resources of this firm behind this fight, we hope to be a part of the change that must happen nationwide.”
Ballard Spahr, founded in Philadelphia in 1885, has more than 650 lawyers in 15 offices across the country. Its largest office is in Philadelphia.
The firm began discussing a racial justice program in March, after Pro Bono Counsel Lisa B. Swaminathan attended a training program on how law firms could apply a racial equity lens to their pro bono services.
Ballard Spahr has performed pro bono work for more than 40 years, she said in an interview Monday. Usually, those cases were led by individual lawyers’ interests and passions.
“We have never tried to use our resources as a firm and bring those resources to bear on a single issue like racial equity,” said Swaminathan, who is based in Philadelphia.
She said national discussions about racial injustices sparked after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police caused the firm to move forward “much more quickly.”
“We started hearing more and more attorneys were interested in racial justice inequities, and there was more of a sense of urgency.”
Kahlil C. Williams, a litigation lawyer also based in Philadelphia, is one of six lawyers who will head up the initiative.
“But those programs were not tailored to tackle structural inequality,” Williams said on Monday.
In addition to Williams, the other litigation lawyers leading the Racial Justice and Equality Initiative are New York-based Marjorie J. Peerce, Las Vegas-based Maria Gall, and Philadelphia-based David H. Pittinsky, Leslie E. John, and M. Norman Goldberger.
The law firm was also involved in the Obama-era clemency program that helped people who were jailed for non-violent drug crimes get released, a spokeswoman said.
In conjunction with the Racial Justice and Equality Initiative, the firm’s Media and Entertainment Law Practice Group will provide pro bono legal services to media outlets and content creators who serve communities of color, the firm said.
The group has already begun reaching out to these outlets to understand and assess their legal needs, it said.
The firm said it will also work to establish partnerships with its clients and with public interest organizations that promote racial justice and will also provide financial support to those organizations.
“We’re hoping to build relationships with organizations over time and train ourselves as lawyers to understand these issues,” Swaminathan said.
“We are saying we are committed, and it’s hard work, and we want to be partners with the community, and we are in this for the long haul.”