Major U.S. law firms, mostly silent on abortion ruling, are walking a ‘tightrope’

June 26 (Reuters) – The top U.S. law firms did not take a public stance following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of the Roe v Wade case on Friday, departing from the approach of some major corporations who have made statements on the closely watched abortion case.

The High Court’s 6-3 Dobbs decision upheld a Republican-backed Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Many states are expected to further restrict or ban abortions as a result of the ruling.

Reuters on Friday asked more than 30 U.S. law firms, including the 20 largest by total number of attorneys, for comment on the Dobbs decision and whether they would cover travel costs for employees seeking abortions.

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The vast majority did not respond Saturday afternoon, and only two, Ropes & Gray and Morrison & Foerster, said they would implement such a travel policy.

Morrison & Foerster, with nearly 1,000 lawyers, was the only major firm to issue a public statement on Saturday afternoon.

Firm chairman Larren Nashelsky said Morrison & Foerster would “double our efforts to protect abortion and other reproductive rights.”

The Dobbs decision had been expected since a draft notice leaked in May.

Several major U.S. companies, including The Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) and Meta Platforms (META.O), said on Friday they would cover travel costs for employees seeking abortions. Read more

Industry experts say law firms could speak out about Dobbs in the future if employees and clients pressure them to take a public stance. For now, business leaders appear to be carefully weighing the pros and cons of reviews, including the potential to alienate customers, experts said.

“It’s a tightrope for businesses to walk,” said Kent Zimmermann, a consultant at a Zeughhauser Group law firm. “They have a diversity of perspectives among their talent and their clients.”

Some companies sent internal communications to employees about the decision. Ropes & Gray president Julie Jones said in an internal memo seen by Reuters that the company would hold several community meetings to discuss the decision and provide “comfort”.

“As a leader of Ropes & Gray, I am concerned about the effect of this decision on our community,” Jones wrote, while acknowledging that his memo may “offend parts of our community.”

A spokesperson for Ropes & Gray told Reuters on Friday that employees enrolled in its medical plan are eligible for financial assistance to travel out of state for an abortion.

Another major US law firm, Steptoe & Johnson, offered its US employees a day off on Friday, a spokesperson confirmed. The spokesperson did not immediately respond to other requests for comment.

Despite the lack of public statements, a number of law firms publicly announced before the ruling that they planned to provide free legal assistance to women seeking abortions if Roe was overturned.

New York Attorney General Leticia James and San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu, along with the San Francisco Bar Association, have organized pro bono initiatives that rely on law firm volunteers lawyers. Paul Weiss, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and O’Melveny & Myers are among the participants.

Paul Weiss Chairman Brad Karp called Dobbs’ decision a “crushing loss” in an internal company message provided to Reuters on Friday. Paul Weiss and O’Melveny, who both represented the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, defendants in the Dobbs case, referred comments on the decision to their co-lawyer, the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The center said in a statement that the court had “reached a new low by removing – for the first time – a constitutionally guaranteed individual freedom”.

Gibson Dunn did not respond to request for comment.

Robert Kamins, a consultant at Vertex Advisors who works with law firms, said firms would be “very careful” about taking an early position on the decision.

“They have to make sure they think about it,” he said. “What is the business impact? What is the customer impact? What is the recruiting impact? There are a lot of things to think about.”

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Reporting by Karen Sloan in Sacramento, California, and Jacqueline Thomsen in Swampscott, Massachusetts; Additional reporting by Mike Scarcella in Silver Spring, Maryland; Editing by Rebekah Mintzer, Noeleen Walder and Leslie Adler

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