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Law firm that won settlement in Maryland HBCU case is donating $12.5M in fees

The law firm that represented Maryland’s historically Black universities in a long-running lawsuit against the state is donating $12.5 million to colleges and nonprofits from the fees it was awarded when the case settled.

The Kirkland & Ellis firm, led by attorney Michael D. Jones, represented alumni and supporters of Maryland’s historically Black colleges and universities as they challenged systemic underfunding of the schools by the state government. After a 15-year legal and political saga, the case was settled this year when state lawmakers approved hundreds of millions of dollars in extra funding for the HBCUs in future state budgets.

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As part of the settlement, the state agreed to pay $22 million in legal fees and costs, with $12.5 million going to Kirkland & Ellis. The remainder went to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, which also provided legal representation for plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Kirkland & Ellis is now sending all of the money it received back into the community because it took the lawsuit on a pro bono, or charitable, basis.

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“So many of us became lawyers to fight injustice and give our clients a fair shake not only in the courtroom, but also in society. This case has allowed me, and my colleagues, to do just that,” Jones said in a statement. “I’m gratified by this entire experience, including knowing that this donation will go directly to helping future lawyers gain valuable experience and to fight for justice for others.”

The donations include:

  • $5 million to the Dillard University Center for Racial Justice in New Orleans to create an endowment that will fund paid internships for students at civil rights and public interest organizations.
  • $3 million to Morgan State University’s Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights in Education to fund the center’s racial justice initiatives and fellowships for students.
  • $2 million for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law to establish a fellowship program for students including those studying law at HBCUs.
  • $1 million to the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education for fellowships and internships, particularly on Capitol Hill.
  • $600,000 to Howard University’s Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center.
  • $600,000 to the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, which is the group that brought the HBCU lawsuit in Maryland.
  • $250,000 to the African Methodist Episcopal Church Second District for advocacy work and scholarships for HBCU students.

Under the law sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones that was passed this year, for the next decade, an extra $57.7 million per year will be divided among the state’s four public HBCUs: Coppin State University and Morgan State University in Baltimore, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore in Princess Anne.

University leaders have been working on plans for how to spend the money, which will start flowing in 2023. Ideas include expanding academic programs for in-demand fields such as technology and healthcare, providing more services and financial aid to low-income students and expanding graduate and certificate programs.

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