What We Say When We Are Silent

June 8, 2020

Last week, we, like many of our clients, paused our external communications. In the early days of what has become a national and sustained movement for change, it felt essential to ensure that the most important voices — Black voices — were heard loud and clear without interference.

Internal communications went on, of course, and the best statements to employees directly acknowledged the systemic injustices in this country, condemning racism and the state-sanctioned violence that has supported it. We were also proud to see law firm leaders stepping up to acknowledge the incredible burdens borne by people of color as they live their professional lives while also dealing with the real and constant trauma of systematic dehumanization and murder.

These messages are important and we are deeply honored to have been trusted to help write some of them.

But, while conversations among ourselves are vital, they are not sufficient. Public statements are essential.

Law firms are the business community’s point of connection to the justice system. You embody for your clients the daily shape of the rule of the law. And it is incumbent on you to speak to the legitimacy of systems of which you are a part. This is not a political matter; it is existential.

Lego, Ben & Jerry’s and the Mars Cheese Castle have managed to meet this moment with moral clarity. Your firm can too.

The movement toward long-overdue justice will not stop and, while it is true that some corporate clients might be put off by a statement that goes beyond “both sides” equivocation, it is also true that the whole world is watching. You are either on the side of those who are standing up to say “stop killing us” or you are not.

If you feel it’s important to position your firm as “pro-business” and be seen taking a stand against the looting or other instances of criminality that were the exception to days and days of overwhelmingly peaceful and lawful protests, you can make a meaningful statement by contributing to the small business relief fund set up by My Block My Hood My City or other similar initiatives. Ultimately, though, if you or your clients are more concerned about property crimes than you are about the underlying causes of the righteous grief and anger of your fellow citizens, communication strategy isn’t really your challenge.

Not so long ago, law firms considered their diversity statistics to be a purely internal matter. Now, it is standard practice for firms to have a “diversity and inclusion” page on their website spelling out their philosophic approach, the steps they’ve taken to put it into action, the results they’ve achieved and the goals they aspire to attain.

Law firms moved with impressive speed to build Covid-19 resource centers on their websites and to push out enormous quantities of information related to the pandemic and its consequences for employers and the economy. The protest movement against police brutality merits the same sense of urgency. Staying silent on this issue is not a gesture of respect or humility. Staying silent is allowing your discomfort with a difficult subject to enable the continued erasure of the lived experience of the Black men, women and children who are being harmed or killed by law enforcement in this country on a routine basis.

Start today with a statement laying out the steps you will take, as a firm, to ensure that you are not complicit with the violent oppression of Black people.

If you’re struggling to find the right words, explore the resources here.

And if you need more help, call us. As part of our “Pay It Forward” initiative, our writers and editors will work with you on anti-racism messaging at no cost, other than your commitment to contribute meaningful pro bono work to your community.