Ryan Donahue, a 2L at Harvard Law School, took to LinkedIn yesterday to explain why he walked away from a summer associate position at a New York City law firm to show support for Ukraine.
“While most of the world has united in opposition to Putin and his war of aggression against Ukraine, a certain segment of the legal community has not,” Donahue posted. “Amazingly, some Big Law firms have refused to close their offices in Russia and permanently cut ties with Russian oligarchs and state-owned companies.”
“I’m not naming the New York City law firm, because multiple firms are doing this,” Donahue told Law.com on Wednesday. “My post was meant to call out all of these firms.”
Donahue, who is from Louisville, said in his post that he contacted the law firm regarding his “convictions about the firm’s office in Moscow and their work for Russian banks and state-owned oil and gas companies.”
“Despite their ‘concern’ and ‘sadness’, it was clear that no decisions were forthcoming,” he wrote, so he notified the firm that he would not be participating in the summer program.
The firm made it clear that it was not going to change its “status quo” as far as doing business in Russia, Donahue told Law.com, “And I didn’t want to be associated with anyone who is, in essence, funding the Putin regime.”
“This was an extraordinarily easy choice to make,” he posted. “While I expect that finding another internship this late is going to be difficult, it isn’t scary. Defending your home from invaders when you are vastly outnumbered and outgunned, that’s scary.”
“The Ukrainian people have demonstrated awe-inspiring courage, which makes the shameful cowardice of firms willing to enable and profit from Putin’s regime that much more disappointing,” Donahue wrote.
In his post, Donahue also included the following message to all firms that believe it’s acceptable to continue operating in Russia: “Russia is a pariah state, not your emerging market. Your pro bono programs and equality initiatives won’t wash away the stain of working for war criminals. Further increases in starting pay for associates is not the way to attract talent. That might be enough for some to look the other way, but not for me and many others. Expect more to walk away. To be sure, I firmly believe in the right of all criminal defendants to be represented by counsel, a right I fully expect Putin to exercise when he is dragged to The Hague. But doing transactional work that enables the Russian war machine? That’s a choice. And yours speaks volumes.”
Since he posted on LinkedIn Tuesday morning, “there have been offers flooding in,” he said. “People offering to help. Asking me to send my resume.”
“This goes to show there are a lot of firms with a conscience who are willing to take in students who walk away from firms who work for war criminals,” Donahue said.
Donahue’s post had received more than 1,100 likes and 79 comments at press time.
“In the 24 hours since I posted my statement, there have been dozens of law students from across the country messaging me saying they feel the same but didn’t feel comfortable speaking out about it,” Donahue said, “but I hope they know there are people who will support them” if they do speak up.
Michael Licari, chief legal officer at Veteran Benefits Guide in San Diego, replied to Donahue’s post: “Ryan—as an attorney of 12 years, your post makes me so inspired that there are still young, soon to be attorneys such as yourself that put principle over profit. It’s clear to me that you have a bright future, no matter where your endeavors take you.”
“You, Ryan Donahue, are already making a name for yourself as a person of personal and professional ethics and conviction. That is rare and to be celebrated. May you receive an even BETTER offer for your summer!” posted Christopher Taylor, a contract attorney at Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check in New Jersey.
Alex Aizman, founder and president of Empire Retina Consultants in Brooklyn, posted similar praise, saying “Ryan—you are a mensch and have more integrity in your bones than all of the general partners in your erstwhile Big Law firm. You passed the most important test in your life. Congratulations!”