winter photo of State Bar Center building in Madison

April 3, 2024 – The State Bar of Wisconsin has reached a settlement regarding its Diversity Clerkship Program, which was challenged in federal court. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) has agreed to dismiss this portion of the lawsuit after a clarification in the State Bar’s definition of “diversity.”

“The settlement clarifies the definition of ‘diversity’ but makes no changes to the program,” said State Bar Executive Director Larry J. Martin. “The Diversity Clerkship Program, which has been creating opportunities for Wisconsin-based law students for three decades, will continue to exist and to operate in its current form.”

In December 2023, WILL filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin on behalf of attorney Daniel Suhr. The lawsuit alleged that the State Bar’s Diversity Clerkship Program is unconstitutional because it discriminates between students based on race.

However, the Diversity Clerkship Program does not discriminate between students based on race.
In response to the lawsuit, Martin said the organization would vigorously defend the program in federal court. Now that part of the litigation will be dismissed, pending the court’s approval.

The old definition of diversity stated: “The term ‘diversity’ has a dynamic meaning that evolves as the demographics in the state change. It is 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.”

Under the settlement, the new definition states: “Diversity means including people with differing characteristics, beliefs, experiences, interests, and viewpoints. Diversity promotes an environment in which all individuals are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their differences and without regard to stereotypes, and helps to ensure a better understanding and consideration of the needs and viewpoints of others with whom we interact.”

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.

Despite the pendency of litigation, students and employers have signed on for the 2024 program, providing these learning and training experiences for both, just as it has for more than 30 years.