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Instant Insights / A National Conversation on Racism: the Legal Profession's Role in Driving Equality

The tragedy of George Floyd's death at the hands of a white police officer has spurred a renewed conversation about who we are as a country. In the legal sphere, we are seeing members of the community come together and look inward, asking what they can do to better confront racism and inequality. At ALM, our reporters and editors have interviewed diverse law firm leaders, general counsel and law deans, as well as allies, about where the blindspots are and where we go from here. A collection of some of that coverage, along with photography from the protests and spot news, is below.

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Jessica Mazzeo and Rasheda Stewart, Griesing Law. Courtesy Photos Jessica Mazzeo and Rasheda Stewart, Griesing Law. Courtesy Photos

The unexpected trauma of the COVID-19 global pandemic, coupled with a social uprising forcing Americans to face the realities of systemic racism, has many of us hoping to keep the door to 2020 closed forever. But, in order to truly rebuild in a way that history will not again repeat itself, we need to respond appropriately to the many tragic lessons we learned in 2020. Black History Month, which became a month-long celebration in 1976, occurs in the month of February to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. During the month of February we take time to recognize and honor the outstanding achievements African Americans have made to American society and culture. Yet, the fact remains that the legal profession is the least diverse profession in our nation. According to the National Association for Law Placement’s 2020 Report on Diversity, “the representation of Black lawyers in law firms still trails that of Asian and Latinx lawyers.” Although statistics on summer associates continue to show greater diversity among future junior lawyers, and with LGBTQ lawyers of all levels in firms on a continuous rise, it should still give us great pause to know that in the last 11 years “the representation of Black women at the associate level has increased by just one-tenth of a percentage point.” As a profession we are failing and we must do better. So as we jump right into 2021, Black History Month gives us the perfect opportunity to celebrate, reflect and look ahead.

As part of its promotion of Black history in the profession, the American Bar Association has comprised a list of select notable Black trailblazing lawyers. The notable list includes the likes of Macon Bolling Allen, Thurgood Marshall, former President Barack Obama, Haben Girma and Vice President Kamala Harris. The ABA is also currently promoting the “21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge©.” Through its Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council, the ABA is participating in the 21-day challenge concept from diversity expert Eddie Moore Jr. to advance deeper understandings of the intersections of race, power, privilege, supremacy and oppression. While not an exhaustive list as not every firm publicly displays their internal events, a quick internet search reveals that some mega firms have Black History Month celebrations by highlighting the accomplishments of diverse partners and providing mentoring and coaching tools for diverse associates. Firms who need ideas can do such things as supporting the involvement of staff and attorneys in community and civic endeavors, host cultural and educational events at the firm that support local Black-owned businesses or a local prominent member of the Black community, have the firm’s newsletter and social media campaigns highlight Black history in the legal profession.

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