Press Release

Kirkland’s Pro Bono Work Opens Doors for Maryland HBCUs

A historic settlement that a Kirkland & Ellis pro bono team achieved for Maryland’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) has led to the creation of a number of new programs, including a potential new School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES). The school will be the first of its kind in Maryland and just the second HBCU in America to offer a veterinary medicine school, pending approval from the accrediting body.

For 12 years, Kirkland, alongside the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, represented a coalition of students, faculty and alumni of Maryland’s four public HBCUs that sued Maryland for failing to dismantle the remnants of its former segregated higher education system. Led by litigation partner Michael Jones, the Kirkland team secured a landmark $577 million settlement in 2021 to help level the playing field for the HBCUs.

“This case is among the most important pro bono matters that Kirkland & Ellis has ever handled and will have generational impact on Maryland’s public HBCUs and the educational opportunities they provide to students,” said Jon A. Ballis, Chairman of Kirkland’s Executive Committee. We couldn’t be more proud to have been part of this case.”

In addition to funding, the settlement addressed the disparity in unique, high-demand academic programs in favor (10 to 1) of Maryland’s non-HBCUs, which stemmed from the state’s policy of subordinating HBCUs during segregation. The settlement required the state to add 10 new positions to the program approval unit of the Maryland Higher Education Commission and proposed new and unique offerings at the HBCUs.

At the top of the list was a veterinary medicine school at UMES with offerings through the doctorate degree. Black veterinarians make up only 3% of the population in this country, indicating a tremendous need to diversify the profession, according to UMES. UMES has passed the first two stages of approval at the state level and will undergo review by the veterinary accrediting body for this new program.  If the accreditation process is successful, the vet school is slated to accept students in fall 2026.

“The settlement was definitely a game changer for Maryland’s HBCUs,” said Rondall E. Allen, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at UMES. “It played a role in the increase of approved programs, which we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.”

Other UMES offerings in the works include: additional faculty professional development, student scholarships, enhancing current programs; adding doctoral degrees in applied computing and engineering; adding master of science degrees in electrical and mechatronics engineering, data science and analytics, engineering and human ecology; and adding bachelor of science degrees in fashion merchandising and design, biomedical engineering, and gaming and software engineering.

“These new programs are the direct result of the litigation and remedial plan that we proposed,” said Mr. Jones. “We knew that programmatic reforms were just as important as the financial component of the settlement and could transform these schools. It’s really gratifying to see this work continue to make an impact."

Similar efforts are underway at Morgan State University, Bowie State University and Coppin State University, Maryland’s other HBCUs, to increase the competitiveness of the institutions and increase enrollment. They have launched research centers, new online programs and undergraduate and graduate programs in areas like cyber operations analysis, data science and software engineering. They have also taken steps to make tuition more affordable for students and to modernize campus buildings.

Following the 2021 settlement, Kirkland also donated the $12.5 million in statutory fees it received from the state to seven HBCUs, nonprofits and community organizations with missions to advance racial justice, equity and civil rights.