Press Release

Kirkland Donates $12.5 Million to HBCUs, Nonprofits and Organizations

Kirkland & Ellis is excited to announce that it will donate $12.5 million to seven Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), nonprofits and community organizations with missions to advance racial justice, equity and civil rights. The groups will deploy the funds for scholarships, fellowships and public interest internships for students.

The funds being donated were 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 its 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.

“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,” Mr. Jones said. “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 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.”

Each recipient of the donation is a school or organization that in some way helped Kirkland on this case. The largest donation will go to the Dillard University Center for Racial Justice in New Orleans. A $5 million gift from the Firm will allow the center to create an endowment to fund paid internships at various civil rights and public interest organizations.

Morgan State University’s Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights in Education will receive $3 million 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. 

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law will receive $2 million to establish a Kirkland Fellowships fund as a pipeline to opportunity for current HBCU law school students, and undergraduate students and alumni interested in civil rights litigation and policy, and the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) will receive $1 million to fund fellowships and paid internships, including on Capitol Hill.

The remainder of the donation will go to Howard University’s Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center, the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, and the HBCU scholarship fund of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Second District to further their civil rights and advocacy work, and fund scholarships for HBCU students. 

“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 the Firm’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.”

Kirkland 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


Quotes and Background from the Recipients

Dillard University Center for Racial Justice

Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough, President, Dillard University: “We are thrilled to receive this tremendous support from Kirkland & Ellis. It is very fitting that this gift will support Dillard University’s efforts to promote justice in our nation. The very nature of these funds emanate from Kirkland & Ellis’ work over a 12-year span to provide justice to HBCUs. We are grateful to the firm for selecting Dillard to be a beneficiary of the firm’s generosity.”

About Dillard University

Dillard University is a historically Black institution that cultivates leaders who live ethically, think and communicate precisely, and act courageously to make the world a better place. Located in New Orleans, Dillard is a private faith-based liberal arts university that offers 22 majors and two certificate programs. Founded in 1869, Dillard is Louisiana’s oldest HBCU, continuing the legacy of Straight College and New Orleans University. Find out more by visiting

About the Center for Racial Justice

Founded in 2020, the Center for Racial Justice at Dillard University addresses racism and injustice through community collaboration, lectures, research, advocacy training, civic engagement and political participation. The Center for Racial Justice seeks to bring systemic change to the way policing is done in communities of color and to promote partnerships with law enforcement including police departments and sheriff’s offices, and graduate and professional schools. Learn more by visiting


Morgan State University Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights in Education

Pace J. McConkie, Director, Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights in Education: “Accepting this profoundly generous and historic donation from Kirkland & Ellis to the Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights in Education is a dramatic and dynamic game changer in the center’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. 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 facilitates and empowers the center to be a leader and a change agent in the essential cause of dismantling the systemic, structural racism of white supremacy and 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."

About Morgan State University

Morgan State University, founded in 1867, is a Carnegie-classified high research (R2) institution offering more than 130 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

About the Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights in Education

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, 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 on the basis of 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. Learn more by visiting

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Damon Hewitt, President and Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law: “The Lawyers’ Committee had the pleasure of working alongside Kirkland & Ellis in the years-long legal battle that secured over $500 million in additional funding for Maryland’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The firm’s work, led by partner and longtime Lawyers’ Committee board member Michael Jones, was a sterling example of excellent civil rights pro bono legal work. Now, Kirkland & Ellis is further cementing its legacy of fighting for educational equity with this generous donation. With this support from the firm, we will be able to expand our efforts to create a pipeline to success for Black and Brown students and expand opportunities for them to also join the fight for racial justice.”

About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of voting rights, criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities and hate crimes. Learn more by visiting


National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO)

Lezli Baskerville, President, CEO & Counsel, NAFEO: “As the membership and advocacy association for all HBCUs, it is with tremendous humility and a joy-filled spirit that I accept the unprecedented Kirkland & Ellis private investment in NAFEO, on behalf of all 105 HBCUs, and 80 PBIs: 185 presidents and chancellors, 700,000 students, 72,000 faculty, and nearly 7 million alumni. The Kirkland gift will enable NAFEO to continue its work in alignment with the Maryland Higher Education Equity Case. We will launch an elite HBCUs Justice Advocacy Corps. We will also increase our support of our member institutions in graduating disproportionate percentages of African Americans in critical arenas of national need, accelerating the growth of America’s scientific and technological workforce. This is an especially critical mission as this nation is confronted by a crisis in supply chain management. In the NAFEO work and through the HBCUs and HBCU students we enrich, your kindness and generosity will return to you a hundredfold.”


The National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education is the only national membership association of all of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs). Founded in 1969, NAFEO is a one-of-a-kind nonprofit membership association representing the presidents and chancellors of the public, private, independent and land-grant, two-year, four-year, graduate and professional HBCUs and PBIs. The association’s purpose is to articulate the need for a system of higher education where race, income and previous educational levels are not the determinants of either the quantity or the quality of higher education and to increase the active participation of Blacks at every level of American higher education. NAFEO leverages resources to create diverse higher education systems, funding and sustaining programs for HBCUs and their students, communities, administrators, faculty, staff, alumni and other groups. NAFEO has represented HBCUs in all branches of government, before international organizations and with heads of state. To learn more, visit


Howard University’s Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center

Danielle Holley-Walker, Dean, Howard University School of Law: “Howard Law and the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center are deeply grateful for the gift from Kirkland & Ellis in the wake of the resolution of the Coalition Maryland HBCU case. We were honored to work on this case, and we will use the funds from the donation to continue Howard Law’s mission of educating excellent lawyer-leaders who fight for racial justice.”

About Howard University

Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private research university based in Washington, D.C. A historically Black university, Howard has awarded more than 120,000 degrees in the arts, the sciences and the humanities, and more on-campus African-American Ph.D. recipients than any other university in the United States. For more than 150 years, the Howard University School of Law has served as an advocate for social justice and as an architect of social change with alumni that include the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, civil rights attorneys, and noted legislators and public officials across the United States. To learn more, visit

About the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center

The Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center’s mission is to serve as Howard University’s flagship institutional setting for the study and practice of civil rights, human rights, and racial justice law and advocacy. The center strives for liberation from structural racism by applying core tenets of a human rights framework and a social movement-centered approach to fighting for social change. For more information, visit


Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education

David Burton, President, the Coalition: “The latest donation from Kirkland & Ellis gives added significance to the law firm’s partnership with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in providing pro bono counsel to the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education in a very successful lawsuit against the State of Maryland for failing to make the Historically Black Universities the competitive equals of Traditionally White Institutions. The gift will allow the coalition to further its goal of promoting greater equity in programming, faculty and staffing, student financial aid and other resources among public institutions of higher education in Maryland. Moreover, the generosity of Kirkland and the Lawyers’ Committee clearly illustrates the difference pro bono legal services can make in changing the course of history for the four HBIs in Maryland and their students, and inspiring other HBIs to a better future.”

About the Coalition

The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education is an alliance of Historically Black University alumni, students, faculty, and community advocates founded in 2005 for the purpose of ensuring that Maryland make the necessary investments in Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore to make those institutions as competitive as their Traditionally White counterparts. The coalition suit against the state was filed in 2006 and ended in 2021 with a settlement of $577 million and clearance of a decades-long backlog of over $1 billion dollars of facilities and other capital improvement projects for Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.


African Methodist Episcopal Church Second District

About AME

The African Methodist Episcopal Church engages in carrying out the spirit of the original Free African Society, out of which the AME Church evolved: that is, to seek out and save the lost, and serve the needy. The AME Church has membership in 20 Episcopal Districts in 39 countries on five continents.

The Second District includes churches in the states of Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina and the District of Columbia, and regularly provides scholarships for HBCU students.