In response to the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police, Minneapolis law firm Dorsey & Whitney has ended its 42-year-old pro bono program with the Minneapolis City’s Attorney’s Office.
Dorsey associates had helped the city prosecute hundreds of misdemeanor cases per year.
An important factor in Dorsey’s decision to end its involvement with the program, which has had notable alumni such as Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, was research that showed that the prosecution of misdemeanor crimes disproportionately impacts the black community, according to Dorsey leaders.
“Dorsey & Whitney shares the sadness and the outrage expressed throughout Minnesota and the world over George Floyd’s killing, as well as over the long history of such injustice,” said Bill Stoeri, the firm’s managing partner, in a Tuesday statement. “Healing can only occur by addressing the systemic racism that plagues us.”
Dorsey will shift its pro bono work in ways that will help rebuild communities, he said. “We must be part of the solution, and that means concrete action to assist the community and a re-examining of our own programs and practices.”
The Dorsey program, which started in 1978, was seen as a way to help young associates receive litigation experience and at the same time reduce the workload of city attorneys.
Dorsey associates served in three-month stints and handled about 400 trial cases annually ranging from domestic assault to indecent exposure and 600 to 700 traffic-court issues, according to a 2018 Star Tribune story.
At the time, the City Attorney’s Office full-time attorneys would usually receive about 1,200 to 2,000 trial cases a year.
Dorsey’s diversity and inclusion and pro bono chairs are leading an effort within the firm to provide legal services to “communities most affected by destruction that has occurred in the civil unrest gripping the country,” according to Dorsey’s release.
Dorsey, which is one of the largest law firms in Minnesota, isn’t the only organization to sever its ties to city authorities in recent days.
On Tuesday night, the Minneapolis school board voted unanimously to end its contract with the Minneapolis Police Department to provide school resource officers. Last week, University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel declared that the university would cut some ties with the Minneapolis police, including no longer contracting for off-duty security at football games, concerts and ceremonies.