It is time to start holding the leadership of law firms and corporations accountable for the poor representation of Black attorneys in their organizations, according to the three African Americans who have served as president of the American Bar Association and spent their careers working to improve racial equity in the legal profession.
Speaking at a July 7 program called “Black Lawyers in America: A National Town Hall: Session One: The Foundation,” Paulette Brown, a senior partner and chief diversity & inclusion officer at Locke Lord LLP, was joined by Dennis Archer, chairman emeritus of the Detroit-based firm Dickinson Wright, and Robert Grey Jr., president of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity. Moderating the panel was Joe West, a partner at Duane Morris and the firm’s chief diversity & inclusion officer. Current ABA President Judy Perry Martinez gave opening remarks.
The town hall was the first of a three-part series examining the struggle for change and racial equity in the legal profession from the past, present and future. “Session Two: The Focus” will be held July 14 from 1-2:30 p.m. ET, and “Session Three: The Future” is scheduled July 21 from 1-2:30 p.m. ET. Click here to register for Session Two.
According to the most recent statistics from the National Association for Law Placement, there has been very little improvement in the numbers of Black partners and Black associates over the last 10 years, In fact, the numbers have declined for Black woman associates from 2.93% in 2009 to 2.80% in 2019.
“We allow firms to make excuses why they don’t have people of color,” said Brown. “They have to treat diversity and inclusion like they treat the other business prongs of their organizations and give it the same type of attention.”
Said Archer: “If there is going to be a change it’s going to be with the leadership and participation of corporate America. The CEOs have got to make a difference and lay out why it is in our collective best interest to do so.”
Grey said leaders must be intentional, make diversity a priority and develop talent.
“There is so much business developing law firms internally that if we really want African American lawyers to succeed, we can do it with just the business that’s in the firm. We have to figure out a different path forward. If we keep doing the same thing that we have been doing we’re going to get the same thing.”
At the conclusion of the series, the ABA will produce a toolkit on the three programs and provide a Q&A framework that law firms and law department leaders can tailor to their needs.
To view video of the panel discussion, click here.
- ABA Coalition on Racial & Ethnic Justice
- ABA Racial Equity in the Justice System
- ABA Diversity and Inclusion 360 Commission
- Leadership Council on Legal Diversity
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