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Protest Philanthropy / Giving

Law Firm Kirkland & Ellis Donates $3 Million to Morgan State University’s Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights in Education

by Morgan State U
November 18, 2021

Funds Will Advance Racial Justice and Equal Education Opportunities, in Addition to Supporting Civil Rights Fellowships for Students


BALTIMORE — International law firm Kirkland & Ellis today announced a $3-million donation to Morgan State University’s Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights in Education. The gift to the center comes as part of $12.5 million that Kirkland is donating to a group of recipients that includes seven Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), nonprofits and community organizations with missions to advance racial justice, equity and civil rights. The funding is being deployed to support scholarships, fellowships and public interest internships for students.

The Robert M. Bell Center will utilize the $3-million donation to create endowed and operating funds for the center’s racial justice and advancement program initiatives, including funding for civil rights and public interest organization fellowships for students from HBCUs in Maryland and nationally.

“Accepting this profoundly generous and historic donation from Kirkland & Ellis is a dramatic and dynamic game changer in the Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights in Education’s capacity to advance racial justice and equal educational opportunity, dismantling any continuing policies and practices in education that foster discrimination on the basis of race and which perpetuate the inequities of segregation by race,” said Pace J. McConkie, director of the Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights in Education. “And because racial injustice and inequities in education cannot be addressed in isolation from racial injustice and inequities in virtually all facets of society, this donation permanently empowers the center to be a leader and a change agent in the essential cause of dismantling the systemic, structural racism of white supremacy, replacing it with racial justice and social justice in every institution of society with which all people interact every day, everywhere. We are deeply grateful for this foundational and enduring support for the mission, purpose and objectives of the Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights in Education and for what it means for the cause of racial justice and advancement.”

HoganThe donation comes as the result of statutory fees awarded to Kirkland by the State of Maryland as a part of its landmark $577-million settlement with a coalition of students, faculty and alumni of the state’s four public HBCUs. For 12 years, Kirkland represented the coalition on a pro bono basis, alongside the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The coalition sued the state for failure to dismantle the remnants of its former segregated higher education system. The historic settlement earlier this year provides funding that will help level the playing field for the HBCUs competing with the state’s other schools. Morgan is one of the four Maryland HBCUs to benefit from the settlement.

“Kirkland is deeply invested in using our legal skills to help our communities and advance civil rights, and this work to bring financial equity to Maryland’s HBCUs has been incredibly meaningful to us,” said Jon A. Ballis, chairman of Kirkland’s Executive Committee. “We are proud to make this donation to schools and programs that are advancing justice and creating opportunities for diverse students to succeed.”

Led by litigation partner Michael Jones, the Kirkland team engaged in a multipronged strategy in the courts, the legislature and the media to get backing inside and outside the courtroom. Since 2009, the firm devoted more than 38,000 hours to this one-of-a-kind case brought entirely by private litigants.

“We fought this case on so many playing fields with two trials, five mediations, a Fourth Circuit appeal and three legislative hearings, as well as numerous press conferences,” Jones said. “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 that. 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.”

Other groups receiving donations from Kirkland are: 

  • Dillard University Center for Racial Justice
  • Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
  • National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO)
  • Howard University’s Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center
  • The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education
  • African Methodist Episcopal Church Second District

“This donation helps the HBCUs in Maryland, other schools across the country, and organizations that work with communities in need,” said litigation partner Leslie Smith, head of Kirkland’s pro bono program. “I am proud of the pro bono work that Mike and the team did on this case, and it’s really a testament to our firm. It’s a great example of how we never give up and keep pushing for the right result.”

The Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights in Education unites research, teaching, training and advocacy on integral civil rights issues in education at the pre-kindergarten, elementary school, secondary and postsecondary levels. It identifies and studies current issues and challenges related to equal educational opportunity, particularly with respect to African-American and other minority students seeking opportunities for educational excellence and advancement. The center develops and promotes strategies, programs, public policy initiatives and legal and community-based advocacy to overcome obstacles to educational achievement, eliminate policies or practices that foster discrimination by race or perpetuate the inequities of segregated conditions in education, and enhance educational opportunity for all students. The center provides critical leadership, resources and focus for educational issues in communities throughout the nation.

About Kirkland & Ellis

Kirkland & Ellis is an international law firm with more than 3,000 attorneys representing clients in private equity, M&A and other complex corporate transactions, litigation and dispute resolution/arbitration, restructuring and intellectual property matters. The firm operates from offices in 18 cities around the world: Austin, Beijing, Boston, Brussels, Chicago, Dallas, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Munich, New York, Palo Alto, Paris, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Shanghai and Washington, D.C.

The firm is committed to providing legal services without charge to those who cannot afford counsel, with the goals of improving lives, bettering communities and deepening our attorneys’ professional experience. Kirkland attorneys at all levels pursue pro bono matters dealing with a variety of issues such as immigration, disability rights, civil rights, prisoner rights, death penalty cases and criminal appeals, guardianship, veterans’ benefits and the representation of nonprofit organizations, among other areas. In 2020, Kirkland attorneys devoted more than 139,000 hours of free legal service to pro bono clients. Learn more about Kirkland’s commitment to pro bono and corporate social responsibility at

About Morgan

Morgan State University, founded in 1867, is a Carnegie-classified high research (R2) institution offering nearly 140 academic programs leading to degrees from the baccalaureate to the doctorate. As Maryland’s Preeminent Public Urban Research University, and the only university to have its entire campus designated as a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Morgan serves a multiethnic and multiracial student body and seeks to ensure that the doors of higher education are opened as wide as possible to as many as possible. For more information about Morgan State University, visit

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