Varnum Celebrates Black History Month

In recognition of Black History Month, Varnum will provide a series of internal events and activities that commemorate and reflect on achievements of African Americans throughout history and in our community.

Central to the commemoration will be a firm-wide viewing and reflection on the locally-produced stage play “Frederick,” about the life and times of social reformer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The firm is offering two video presentations of the performance, by local theatre company Samber Productions.

Throughout the month, the firm will also feature, purchase and promote products from Black-owned businesses in our communities.   

“We’re very excited to bring more awareness of historical figures as well as present day Black business owners to our internal audience,” said Varnum partner Luis Avila, who chairs the firm’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. “Our goal is to provide interesting opportunities for our internal audience to grow in awareness and appreciation of the rich history of Black Americans, in addition to their personal observances of Black History Month.”

“Each year, we see wider participation and more engagement in our awareness activities and programs,” Avila said. “It is gratifying to know that members of the firm recognize the importance of a culture that values and welcomes diversity.”

More about Varnum’s commitment to diversity and inclusion can be found on the firm’s website.

Varnum Achieves Mansfield Rule 5.0 Certification

Varnum is pleased to announce that the firm has achieved Mansfield Rule Certification 5.0, following an extensive, year-long process.

The Mansfield Rule is a program for law firms designed to boost the representation of historically underrepresented lawyers in firm leadership. The program measures whether women, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ lawyers and lawyers with disabilities have been considered for leadership opportunities, promotions, lateral positions and career-enhancing work opportunities.

“We’re very pleased to be among the 160 law firms across the country who achieved certification this year,” said Varnum Chair Ron DeWaard. “We understand the value of the program and we will continue to participate in the coming year.”

DeWaard noted that the process was intensive and worthwhile.

“This isn’t a ‘check the box’ exercise; it’s an ongoing process throughout the year with the intended result of broadening awareness of everything from how we staff matters to who we promote for leadership and recognition,” DeWaard said.

To achieve Mansfield Rule Certification, law firms are required to demonstrate year-long progress in increasing diversity in senior recruitment and leadership decisions and consider a minimum of 30% diverse candidates for these roles. Based on the premise that “you get what you measure,” the process includes establishing and tracking certain data points in more than a dozen areas which are evaluated and discussed at regular intervals throughout the year.

The Mansfield Certification program is administered by Diversity Lab, an incubator for innovative ideas and solutions that boost diversity and inclusion in law. The inaugural version of the Mansfield Rule began in 2017 with fewer than 50 law firms. Participation has increased in subsequent years and the program continues to evolve in order to better meet its goal of boosting and sustaining diversity in leadership and the pipeline to leadership.

Varnum Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee Chair Luis Avila said he is excited about the firm’s continued participation in the program.

“Because of the certification requirements, firms that take part in the program are making notable gains across aspects of firm culture and leadership,” Avila said. “I’m pleased with our certification this year and proud that the firm is continuing its commitment to this measurement of our diversity efforts.”

The Mansfield Rule is named after Arabella Mansfield, the first female lawyer in the US, and was inspired by the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires every NFL team to interview at least one minority candidate for head coach vacancies. Mansfield Rule raised the bar on expectations, having learned from the Rooney Rule outcomes, by requiring law firms to consider diverse lawyers for all leadership roles, lateral hiring, promotions to partner, participation in client pitch meetings and other tracked data points.

Varnum LLP’s Statement on the April 4 Killing of Patrick Lyoya

We extend our deepest condolences to the family of Patrick Lyoya and the Grand Rapids community on the tragic and heartbreaking loss of a neighbor, a beloved son, a big brother, and a loving father to two young children. 

Patrick Lyoya’s death has reverberated from Grand Rapids to the entire country, and we stand in solidarity with our Black colleagues, clients and community, and all who are grieving this loss. 

In the wake of such a tragedy, we believe it is important to reaffirm our commitment to true equality and the inherent dignity of all people. As legal professionals who believe in the rule of law, we share the feelings of many shaken after a killing that feels all too familiar and seek to end violence caused by discrimination. We join in our community’s demands for justice.

The status quo is unacceptable. 

Varnum Celebrates Confirmation of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to U.S. Supreme Court

With the recent confirmation of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court, Varnum has issued the following statement:

The historic confirmation of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the United States Supreme Court is a welcome sign that our country believes in the civil, political and social rights of all people and the self-evident truth of equality. The naming of an African American woman to the highest court in the land is inspiring and cause for celebration, not only for women and people of color, but for all Americans who believe in the great ideal of justice for all.

We congratulate Justice Brown Jackson and applaud her confirmation as we celebrate this momentous occasion.

Varnum Celebrates Black History Month

Varnum is proud to celebrate Black History Month with a variety of community-oriented and educational initiatives in furtherance of our commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Throughout February, firm members will have opportunities to engage, educate and support efforts focused on driving change in both our communities and the legal profession.

“Opportunities to create awareness and celebrate minority communities have a role in healing the social diseases of racial, social and economic injustice,” said partner Luis Avila, Chair of the firm’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. “We are pleased to present a variety of programming to our internal audience as well as offer support to community organizations in their Black History Month recognitions.”

Highlights of Varnum’s Black History Month initiatives include:

  • Varnum is once again a sponsor of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Celebration of Soul: Soul of the City Gala, to be held virtually on Feb. 27. The event benefits the symphony’s Mosaic Scholarship Program, one of 18 Gateway to Music education and access programs, providing African American and Latinx students with private lessons from a professional GRS musician, as well as supplies such as instrument rental and free season tickets to Symphony performances.
  • Varnum is also a sponsor of WGVU’s Diversity and Inclusion programming during Black History Month. Featured programs include “American Experience: Voice of Freedom” about singer Marian Anderson on Feb. 15; “Finding My Roots: Write My Name in the Book of Life” featuring musician Pharrell Williams and filmmaker Kasi Lemmons on Feb. 16; and “Independent Lens: Mr. Soul” and “Kindred Spirits: Artists Hilda Wilkinson Brown and Lilian Thomas Burwell,” on Feb. 22
  • The firm is also promoting a book discussion Q&A with Richard Rothstein, author of “The Color of Law,” to be held Wednesday Feb. 24 as part of the American Bar Association’s Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law. Subtitled ‘A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America,’ the book provides insight on how segregation in America is the byproduct of explicit government policies at the local, state and federal level. The book was recently featured by Varnum’s Diversity Book Club, with three facilitated discussions held virtually. The book club began in 2020 as a way of keeping connected on diversity issues, especially during COVID as other networking and social events are limited. The firm’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee provides support by providing books or reimbursing their cost and materials and moderators for facilitated discussions.
  • As part of Varnum’s commitment to provide meaningful diversity, equity and inclusion educational and training opportunities, the firm is hosting a presentation on Structural Racism 101: Basic Training for the Legal Profession. The presentation, offered internally on two separate dates to Varnum staff and attorneys, is being conducted by Wayne State University Law School Professor and Director of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights, Dr. Peter Hammer. The presentation will define and distinguish the many forms of racism that we confront: express racism, structural racism, spatial racism and forms of implicit bias. It will also give people a framework to better understand the dynamics of structural racism as an evolving dialectic between belief systems and institutions that have mutated in form from slavery, to Jim Crow segregation, to the forms of spatial-structural racism that often define our state.

Varnum Provides Support to Organizations Fighting Racism and Injustice

Varnum is committed to supporting efforts across the nation in demanding changes to end racism and ensuring social justice.  In furtherance of our condemnation of racism and in the shadow of recent atrocities, the firm recently demonstrated our support of this movement with a meaningful contribution to organizations that support Black communities across our state. On July 21, we announced a $20,000 donation shared among the following Michigan-based organizations which focus on ending racism, eliminating racial disparities in health, education, and access to capital, and ensuring social justice:

  • Grand Rapids Urban League
  • Focus: HOPE
  • Grand Rapids African American Health Institute
  • Durfee Elementary-Middle School 

Our advocacy for change neither starts nor ends with these contributions.  Together with our community partners, Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Council and our pro bono legal efforts, we will maintain our long-term commitment and support of these important causes to end the injustice that has impacted people of color far too long.

Varnum Proudly Supports Grand Rapids’ ‘GRow 1000’ Youth Employment Program

Varnum is pleased to join in the City of Grand Rapids’ “GRow 1000” youth employment program by sponsoring the creation of five meaningful jobs for high school and college age students this summer.

“We understand how important it is for young people to have exposure to a variety of career experiences,” said Varnum Executive Partner Scott Hill. “This program provides opportunities at some of our community’s most respected institutions, and we are proud to be among those taking part in this important initiative.”

The GRow 1000 program will provide employment for Grand Rapids residents between 15 to 21 years old, with emphasis on those residing in areas of Grand Rapids most heavily impacted by disproportionate outcomes. There is a significant diversity aspect to the program, with 73 percent of eligible youths being persons of color.

Participants in the program will work 20 hours per week for a total of 120 hours over six weeks. The program also includes a training component for all participants, including workplace safety protocols, workplace etiquette, dressing for success, and stress and conflict management.

“We applaud the city for this initiative and the businesses who have made the commitment to hire or fund positions,” Hill said. “This is a good investment in our youth and the future of our community.

Varnum’s Celebration of Juneteenth

June 19 (Juneteenth) is a day of both celebration and reflection. Today, we celebrate the announcement of freedom that was granted to the remaining slaves in America, in Galveston, Texas 155 years ago, and the strides our country has made towards racial equality since that time. At the same time we reflect on the many challenges and obstacles that still stand in the way of true racial equality in our country, including the recent events that highlight the racial disparity that remains today. 

Awareness is the first step to change, and today we remain aware of the racial inequalities that still persist. Varnum, led by the efforts of its Diversity Committee, continues to strive to break down the barriers that lead to this disparity, and supports all efforts of inclusion and equality within the legal community and beyond.

A Statement from Varnum’s Diversity Committee Regarding George Floyd

On Monday, May 25, George Floyd died while in the custody of a group of Minneapolis police officers. While the incident remains under investigation, we as members of the legal profession are deeply committed to the pursuit of justice, and are profoundly troubled and saddened by the death of Mr. Floyd. We acknowledge and find unacceptable the repeated injustices people of color in America have long endured. Varnum is committed to working to fulfill the promise of justice for every American and to add our voices to the chorus demanding change. We fully support our attorneys’ and staff’s efforts in this arena, from pro bono representation to community engagement activities. Varnum’s Diversity Committee will actively seek out opportunities for those interested to engage in conversation and education on these important issues, as well as make meaningful contributions to organizations engaged in social justice issues.