January 15, 2021

Addressing the Consequences of Structural Racism

Racial justice moved to the forefront of the national conversation in 2020; the events behind this focus affirmed and highlighted the need and responsibility for Faegre Drinker to continue our work and increase our efforts to support systemic change. Law firms are uniquely positioned to analyze and advocate to change laws and policies encouraging, perpetuating or allowing racial injustice. Faegre Drinker is committed to serving underrepresented communities and individuals, supporting entities that address these issues and advancing civil rights causes.

Much of our pro bono practice indirectly addresses the consequences of structural racism. We seek to correct the effects of economic and other disparities which impact Black people, Indigenous people and other people of color (BIPOC). From housing and education to second chances, medical-legal partnerships and more, this work is vital to our communities and fundamental to our pro bono practice.

Advancing racial justice also requires a long-term effort to intentionally dismantle structural racism. The firm is participating and local and national efforts, including the Law Firm Anti-Racism Alliance, that are taking a long-term approach to identifying and dismantling laws, policies and systems and contribute to systemic racism.

In addition, racial equity starts at home. You can read about the firm's commitment to diversity and inclusion here. Read on to learn about the five main areas of focus as we strive to effect systemic change.

Civil Rights

Faegre Drinker represents clients on a range of matters to protect civil rights and liberties including equal access to education, access to information and the right of individuals with disabilities to live in the community. Much of this work directly or indirectly addresses racial injustice. We regularly partner with the national American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and local ACLU chapters, the Washington and Chicago Lawyers' Committees for Civil Rights Under Law, and other local and national nonprofit organizations.

Our firm participates in court-based appointment programs, representing low-income litigants in federal district court matters, principally civil rights claims related to police misconduct for excessive force, retaliation, failure to protect and prison conditions. We are working with the ACLU of Pennsylvania to address racial profiling by Pennsylvania state troopers. During the pandemic, Faegre Drinker successfully secured release of medically vulnerable clients in immigration detention and is pursuing a class action lawsuit against the State of New Mexico for failing to take appropriate COVID safety measures to protect the lives and constitutional rights of people housed in the state's prison system. Finally, Faegre Drinker has a long history of advocating for children and seeking to reform the systems charged with caring for them.

Voting Rights

Faegre Drinker engages in non-partisan voting rights efforts to protect democracy by making it fairer, safer and easier to vote. People of color, particularly Black citizens, have been systematically disenfranchised in this country. An example of recent work in this area is Minnesota litigation seeking to allow individuals who have been convicted of felonies to vote once they serve their sentence. Felony disenfranchisement was implemented to block Black voters post-Reconstruction. This systemic disenfranchisement is bound together with racial injustice in the criminal legal system. Collateral consequences of felonies create a permanent economic and political underclass, and this litigation seeks to address that issue.

Criminal Justice

People of color are more likely to be charged with crimes and are likely to have longer sentences. Mass incarceration has been called the “new Jim Crow," and the U.S. maintains the world’s largest prison population. Faegre Drinker's pro bono practice addresses these issues in a variety of ways. We regularly accept criminal appeals and clemency work, as well as work with local innocence projects. Volunteer teams from across the firm are fighting historic racial injustice through the Jim Crow Juries Project, representing individuals who were convicted by non-unanimous juries in Louisiana.

Re-Entry and Second Chances

Racial disparity exists in the U.S. criminal legal system, and therefore people of color comprise a significant portion of those who need help with legal issues related to re-entry. People of color are disproportionately impacted by collateral consequences after incarceration, especially in accessing resources necessary for a successful return to the community including housing, education, training and employment.

Faegre Drinker is a founding member of the Pro Bono Institute's Collaborative Justice Initiative on Reentry and provides leadership as well as direct representation to reentering individuals with civil legal needs (family law, consumer debt, drivers licenses, identification).Faegre Drinker provides representation to individuals eligible for criminal records expungement and is also participating in efforts to reduce fines and fees contributing to re-entry problems.

Housing

Homeownership and high-quality affordable rental housing are critical tools for wealth building and financial well-being in the United States. Structural racism in the housing system has contributed to stark and persistent racial disparities in homeownership and access to safe and affordable rental housing.

Faegre Drinker prioritizes work to develop and protect safe and affordable rental housing at every point on the continuum of service — including impact litigation and policy work, individual case representation and service at legal advice clinics and homelessness events. This is especially true in representing low-income renters in landlord-tenant matters. These pro bono efforts include representing clients in eviction expungement cases, eviction defense matters and in affirmative tenant remedies actions to improve living conditions in substandard rental properties, including with Minneapolis housing organizations and tenants featured in the New York Times for their work changing the overall circumstances of their housing. Attorneys across the firm are closely involved in responding to the expected tsunami of pandemic-related evictions. We also provide transactional pro bono service to nonprofit developers of low-income and supportive housing.

Faegre Drinker’s pro bono leadership, as well as individual attorneys and legal professionals, are in constant contact with local community partners to learn about the work they are doing to address racial injustice and how our law firm can contribute. If you would like to get involved, let us know! We will gladly arrange a consultation where the pro bono team can learn more about your organization’s work and interests — and identify areas where your resources intersect with our ongoing efforts.

The road to true racial justice is long, but we are dedicated to effecting change in our areas of influence along the way. We will continue to keep you updated on our efforts to dismantle systemic racism, and hope that we can partner on this important work in the future.

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