photo of the State Bar building

Jan. 5, 2024 – As a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, you may be aware that a lawsuit was filed last month against the State Bar in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, Inc. (WILL) filed the lawsuit on behalf of State Bar member Daniel Suhr.

Suhr challenges the State Bar’s Diversity Clerkship Program, alleging the Program is unconstitutional because it discriminates between students based on race.

However, the Diversity Clerkship Program does not discriminate based on race; race is not a consideration for participation in the Program, which will be clearly shown in the litigation.

Larry J. Martin headshot
Larry J. Martin is the executive director for the State Bar of Wisconsin.

The State Bar’s Diversity Clerkship Program facilitates paid summer internships at private law firms, corporate legal departments, and governmental agencies in Wisconsin that choose to participate by coordinating opportunities for applicants to the Program to meet, interview, and be connected with those employers who participate in the Program.

The State Bar does not make any hiring determinations, nor recommendations, and does not provide any compensation or other remuneration to any participant in the Program (applicant or participating employer).

To be eligible to participate in the Program, an applicant must:

  • attend a Wisconsin-based law school; and
  • demonstrate a record of academic achievement.

All students who meet these two eligibility requirements and apply are welcomed and considered.

As part of the application process, applicants are asked to reflect on how diversity has affected them, or how they have contributed to or hope to contribute to diversity.

The State Bar defines “diversity” as an

inclusive concept that encompasses, among other things, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, age, sexual orientation and disability. Inclusion helps to create a culture that embraces people from the widest range of talent and experience and promotes understanding and respect for all people and different points of view in the legal profession.

This expansive definition could include diversity of political or ideological thought, as well as geographic diversity – such as law students from rural areas or urban centers. It can also include students who have been historically excluded from the legal field based on socioeconomic status or other factors.

Diversity is not a distinct feature but a panoply of unique features or circumstances that make law students different from one another; it is not race-based. Rather, the term “diverse” is tied to the “unique, special, distinctive, and/or impressive” background of individual applicants.

Applicants must also demonstrate a “commitment to diversity” through personal statements. This is an acknowledgment that colleagues and potential clients have differing views, customs, backgrounds, and value systems of which they should be cognizant as future lawyers, judges, and officers of the court. This is a recognition that not everyone comes from the same perspective, and that law is not a “one-size-fits-all” practice.

This is not a commitment to an ideology or equal outcomes. Rather, it is a commitment to provide competent representation that will ultimately improve the quality of the legal services available to the people of Wisconsin.

That is the spirit of the current Diversity Clerkship Program, which has been in existence for more than 30 years and is wholly compliant with the law.

The State Bar, through its elected leaders, will vigorously defend this constitutional challenge to the Diversity Clerkship Program and other activities that help soon-to-be lawyers and current members provide the highest quality of legal services in Wisconsin, one of the State Bar’s core functions.