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Every day Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease partner Carl Smallwood — the first African American president of the Columbus Bar Association (CBA) — is reminded of his mission as a lawyer, thanks to a framed Ernie Banks lithograph hanging in his tidy office. The print depicts a black man, tie loosened and legal pad in hand, standing in a library amid stacks of law books. A pencil clenched between his teeth, he is rolling up his sleeves. “I do solemnly swear I will support the Constitution of the United States,” reads the caption. “I’m not a practicing lawyer because I want to make lots of money,” Smallwood says. “I’m well compensated for what I do, but I view being in this profession almost like a calling.” Smallwood, 44, is a veteran trial lawyer who often represents underdog plaintiffs in medically complex wrongful death and personal injury suits. It’s unusual work for a partner at a large general-practice firm. “Obviously, we are very selective about the medical cases we undertake,” he explains. “Conflicts are always an issue.” And many of the cases he cites as his most significant professional successes are ones that he lost. From these, he says, “come the lessons borne of adversity that influence how I view my role as a lawyer.” Born in Greece to a future State Department diplomat, Smallwood spent much of his childhood in Germany and is accustomed to being an outsider. “I’ve had several culture shocks in my life,” he says. “When I came to Columbus [as a teenager] in the early seventies, I found myself in a distinct minority in many of the classes and schools I attended. In high school, I was one of two blacks in a student body of 2,000. It’s probably true that every time I start something new, there is a little bit of a struggle.” When Smallwood started practicing in 1980, he was one of three African American lawyers at Vorys Sater. When he made partner in 1987, he was the fourth African American in the firm’s history to do so. (Throughout its 91-year existence, the firm has made seven African American partners.) The Ohio State University law school graduate considered the chance to work at Vorys Sater to be the opportunity of a lifetime. “I didn’t come with the expectation that I would make partner,” he remembers. “And I didn’t know if it would work out, but if it didn’t, it [wouldn't be] because I didn’t try hard enough. There is pressure on African American lawyers at large law firms to do it just right.” For a long time, the 130-year-old CBA, like many other bar associations across the country, did not solicit minorities as members, let alone accept them as leaders. But today, Smallwood says, Columbus is different. “If your idea of Columbus is Woody Hayes and Governor Rhodes,” he says, naming two of the state’s conservative icons, “well, there are some changes in what this community is and what opportunities there are for people.” In one respect, Smallwood’s ascendancy to the bar association’s top post on June 9 — 20 years to the day after he started work at Vorys Sater — was well timed. In July 1999 President Clinton called on lawyers across the country to increase diversity within the legal profession and improve access to legal services for minorities. The legal profession responded by forming a collaboration called Lawyers for One America, and Smallwood was chosen to serve on the 30-member planning committee. Smallwood is committed to carrying out the collaboration’s goals in Columbus, a city whose law firms have below-average proportions of minority lawyers. “There is an enormous chasm in the perceptions of the entire justice system between Ohio’s white citizens and her citizens of color,” says Smallwood, citing a recent National Association for Law Placement report on minority hiring at law firms. Recently Smallwood spearheaded the creation of the CBA’s Professional Partners Project, which refers minority small business owners in the Columbus area to a lawyer, an accountant, and a lender, all of whom provide advice on a pro bono basis. “We came to the conclusion that some of these small businesses not only need legal services, but also some additional professional services,” Smallwood says. “The lawyer often serves as that link — access to accountants, to the capital market. The problem with some of these smaller businesses, particularly in the minority community, is that they don’t have those links because they don’t have a lawyer.” Long before he took over as CBA president, Smallwood began to construct those links from his office at Vorys Sater — and, in the process, worked to change the public’s perception of lawyers. “I think we are often misunderstood,” Smallwood says. “And I think that’s really unfortunate, because we are the connection between society and the rule of law. It’s a role that gives us an opportunity to do even more in this society. We don’t always get the credit, but that’s okay.” Am Law 200 Index

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