State Bar building and signApril 8, 2024 –The State Bar of Wisconsin has successfully defended its Diversity Clerkship Program and secured a settlement agreement with a plaintiff who challenged the program in federal court. The Diversity Clerkship Program will continue unchanged.

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.

State Bar member Daniel Suhr, through the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), sued the State Bar of Wisconsin in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin in December 2023, publicly disclosing the personal information of law students in the program (the State Bar moved quickly to have that personal information redacted from the complaint).

The lawsuit – which required the State Bar to hire legal counsel to defend – alleged that the State Bar’s Diversity Clerkship Program discriminates based on race.

But the Diversity Clerkship Program did not, and does not, discriminate based on race, as made clear by the settlement agreement.

Under the settlement agreement, explained below, the Diversity Clerkship Program continues unchanged, aside from a change to the program’s definition of “diversity.”

In its public relations campaign, WILL claims “victory.” Its most recent headline says, “Victory: State Bar Abandons DEI Program After WILL Lawsuit,” suggesting the Diversity Clerkship Program will not continue. In fact, the Diversity Clerkship Program will continue unchanged.

Dismissal of all claims challenging the Diversity Clerkship Program in the settlement agreement with no change to the Diversity Clerkship Program’s operation belies WILL’s claim of “victory.” Thus, the State Bar wants members to have a clear picture of what the settlement entails.

The remainder of this article discusses the actual settlement agreement, which is a full acknowledgment that the Diversity Clerkship Program is and has always been compliant with the law and does not discriminate based on race or other protected characteristics.

The Diversity Clerkship Program’s continued operation is a victory for Wisconsin’s law students and future lawyers, those employers who participate in the program, and consumers of legal services in Wisconsin. The State Bar is committed to moving forward and doing good by creating opportunities for law students who are the next generation of lawyers.

Settlement Agreement

The settlement agreement says: “Defendants will cause the State Bar to make clear that the Diversity Clerkship Program is open to all first-year law students attending either Marquette University Law School or the University of Wisconsin Law School who are in good standing.”

This clause does not change anything. The Diversity Clerkship Program has always been open to all first-year law students attending either Marquette University Law School or the University of Wisconsin Law School who are in good standing.

The Program literature has always communicated an open opportunity for all students in good standing to participate, as noted in the
State Bar’s communication on the lawsuit.

This was made clear to WILL before the lawsuit was filed and the State Bar will continue to make clear in its communications that all law students are welcome to apply.

The settlement agreement also states: “Defendants will also cause all promotional, explanatory, or other materials created by the State Bar to clearly state that all such students are eligible to participate in the Diversity Clerkship Program.”

Again, this doesn’t change anything. All students from Marquette and U.W. law schools have always been eligible to apply, and State Bar materials associated with the Diversity Clerkship Program have always clearly stated this. The State Bar will continue to make that clear.

The agreement also states: “Defendants will not permit the State Bar to state, suggest, or insinuate in its promotional materials that only law students from diverse backgrounds, with backgrounds that have been historically excluded from the legal field, or who have been socially disadvantaged are eligible.”

WILL was uncomfortable with the State Bar promoting the Diversity Clerkship Program to students with diverse backgrounds or those who identify with historically underrepresented groups.

The State Bar will continue to encourage every law student to apply, which of course includes those law students with diverse backgrounds and those associated with historically underrepresented groups. The State Bar will continue to seek out students who bring a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints to the practice of law and thereby improve the quality of legal services to the people of Wisconsin and beyond.

The settlement agreement also says: “Defendants will also cause the State Bar to use the following definition of “Diversity” in connection with the Diversity Clerkship Program:

“’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.”

To address WILL’s concern on how diversity is defined, the State Bar will use this definition of “diversity” in connection with the Diversity Clerkship Program. Like the prior definition of diversity, the updated definition focuses on the broad nature of what constitutes diversity.

The old definition of diversity included language that diversity is an “inclusive concept that encompasses, among other things, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, age, sexual orientation and disability.”

The new definition clearly includes race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, age, sexual orientation and disability as these include persons with “differing characteristics, beliefs, experiences, interests, and viewpoints.” The State Bar welcomes the broader definition, as the program’s purpose is to create opportunities for everyone.

The settlement agreement also states that WILL “agrees to file an Amended Complaint that withdraws all allegations in the Complaint that refer to the Diversity Clerkship Program and ​which will not mention the Diversity Clerkship Program.”

Thus, the Diversity Clerkship Program, which has served law students for three decades, will continue aside from language changes to clarify what has always been true and to address WILL’s unfounded concern on how diversity is defined.

Once again, the Diversity Clerkship Program’s continued operation is a victory for Wisconsin’s law students and future lawyers, those employers who participate in the program, and consumers of legal services in Wisconsin.