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Brothers Tim and David Wilkins on Race, Sustainability and Social Justice

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Screen Shot 2020-10-15 at 11.12.23 PM[Photo above: Left, Edward Braham, Senior Partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer introduced the speakers and provided the framework for the dialogue]

On October 14, Tim and David Wilkins, in association with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, gathered over 1K community members from around the world to hear their talk on structural racism for both business and legal leaders.

“Over the past few months, organizations have moved the fight for racial justice and equality to the core of their sustainability agendas.  Lawyers and business leaders have a unique and critical role to play in assuring these latest initiatives create sustainable change.”

—Tim Wilkins, Freshfields

The Wilkins brothers, David a Harvard law professor, and Tim, a lawyer/MBA with Freshfields, shared a thoughtful and positive outlook regarding a complex and potentially controversial topic. They provided valuable background on the issues and a realistic sense of urgency during this important window of opportunity to effect positive change. They asked participants to consider playing a role immediately, resulting in this blog. I have confidence that I will be weaving this knowledge and motivation into the way I live and manage, as will those with whom I share this valuable knowledge.

Today, companies can expect new regulations and incentives that will affect race and social injustice. Companies will need to prepare for these changes in advance so that they can be part of the solution going forward. Conversations like those with David and Tim Wilkins can help prepare leaders and citizens alike.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a term that has risen to popularity thanks to results many of us have witnessed in our lifetime. Examples include the rise of renewable energy, of the end of the whaling industry, youth advertising of alcohol and tobacco, and other issues that are being affected by regulation of businesses. While there has been remarkable little positive change with regard to race and social justice in the past, thanks to recent developments exposing racial injustice in law enforcement and the health care system, going forward, corporations can expect new regulations regarding racial inequities. Experts like David and Tim Wilkins, can provide both a legal and business perspective that will help companies navigate change so that, as a society, we achieve expected positive outcomes in a timely and effective manner.

Webinar take-aways included:

  1. There has been little positive change during the three generations that the Wilkins family has been practicing law (for the last 3 generations, with their father, Julian Wilkins, serving as the first black partner at a major law firm in Chicago in 1971, and their uncle John as the first black professor at the University of Berkeley – see photo below)
  2. There is, however, an important opening for change today, as a result of public awareness and compassion regarding inequities in the justice and health care system that were exposed over recent months;
  3. There is a growing realization that the investment by businesses in creating positive changes in society can be viable from an economic standpoint. A strategic approach to transparency and following the economic value and incentives will be among factors driving positive change;
  4. The legal and business professions need to work together to ensure that policies and procedures are in place that will support the transition in a way that is safe and effective for all stakeholders;
  5. The “ask” – that each of us can make a positive change today, no matter how small.


Running 1 hour and 30 minutes, this lecture-dialogue between the Wilkins brothers provides a great roadmap for positive change for the issue of race and social injustice: https://play.freshfields.com/wilkins-brothers-webinar  

Additionally, Freshfields prepared a summary blog, which incorporates key points from a business and legal perspective here.


[Photos below: Webinar screen shot: David Wilkins, the Lester Kissel Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and Tim Wilkins, Global Partner for Client Sustainability, Freshfields]

[Historical photo: Their father, Julian Wilkins, became the first black partner at a major law firm in Chicago in 1971, and their uncle John was the first black professor at the University of Berkeley.]


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