Barriers To and Importance Of Finding a Black Lawyer
Before discussing how to find a Black lawyer, it is important to discuss the current and historic representation of Black lawyers in the legal field. Additionally, it is important to note that much of the community has stated a preference for the term Black, as opposed to African American. That being said however, the term African American will be used when directly quoting sources that use the term, or when quoting a person who wishes to be identified as such.
Because of systemic racism and discrimination, amongst various other reasons, many Black people who are facing various legal issues often express a desire to hire a Black lawyer to represent them. This is largely due to the fact that other attorneys who represent the majority of the legal field may not have the same life experiences and compassion to draw upon when assisting their clients. It is important to note that all clients deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their race. For this reason all attorneys must take an ethics course and test prior to becoming an attorney. However, non-Black lawyers run the risk of treating their Black clients according to their biases, intentional or not.
Once again, Black lawyers are underrepresented in the legal field. Historically and often times presently black attorneys will face implicit bias, blatant discrimination, and discordant treatment which directly impact and even stop any effort to increase diversity within the legal field. For the last decade, the percentage of Black attorneys has remained stagnant. According to the American Bar Association’s (“ABA”) Profile Of the Legal Profession, “African-American attorneys represent just five percent (5%) of all attorneys in America.”
In some states, black attorneys have formed associations, such as the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association, which provides networking opportunities for black lawyers in the state. It is not a referral service, but may be able to provide clients with information on how to contact an attorney.
Some of these professional associations also include law students, such as the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers. Another association for black law students is the National Black Law Students Association.
At the intersection of this issue are women of color who are attorneys, specifically Black women. According to the “Left Out and Left Behind” study conducted by the ABA, women of color make up 15% of all law firm associates.
However, the percentage of law firm partners who are women of color remains below 4%. It is clear that vital voices and representation are being left out of the legal practice as a whole.
There are some associations which are formed specifically for black women. One such association is the D. Augustus Straker Bar Association, whose mission is to promote legal practice opportunities for both minorities and women.
Hiring Black Lawyers
Through technology, it has become easier to find a Black lawyer. This is especially true in terms of Black bar associations. Some examples of the most popular Black bar associations in the country include:
- John Mercer Langston Bar Association;
- Black Lawyers Association of Cincinnati;
- Black Women Lawyers’ Association;
- Association of Black Women Attorneys; and
- The California Association of Black Lawyers.
It is also important to note that black lawyer associations can be found in many states and large cities, including:
- The Arizona Black Bar, which recently changed its name to the Hayzel B Daniels Bar Association;
- The Charles Houston Bar Association in Northern California; and
- The Gate City Bar Association in Georgia.
As previously mentioned, a Black person experiencing legal issues may prefer to work with a Black attorney for the reasons discussed. Hiring a Black attorney, regardless of the client’s own racial identity, shows a commitment to inclusion and representation. Hiring a Black attorney is just one way to support equity in the legal and justice systems.
Here are some basic suggestions to help you find an attorney for your case:
- Determine what type of lawyer you need, such as divorce, finance, criminal defense, employment, etc;
- Use LegalMatch to search for a lawyer;
- Ask for referrals from a friend or family member;
- Determine whether there are any local resources available to you for finding an attorney;
- Clarify with yourself what you are looking for in an attorney before you begin contacting prospective lawyers, such as what their fees are, their record of past successes, etc;
- Schedule an initial consultation with any attorneys that you feel will be a good fit; and
- Discuss your budget first, and ensure the attorney tells you about expected costs before taking action.
Black Attorneys, Yesterday and Today
Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or “HBCUs,” are institutions of higher learning that were founded prior to 1964. These institutions allowed Black students to pursue higher learning when they were refused entry into other established colleges and universities due to racist policies against integration.
As of 2018, there were twelve HBCUs offering law and paralegal programs:
- Howard University;
- Hampton University;
- Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University;
- North Carolina Central University;
- Grambling State University;
- Florida Memorial University;
- Texas Southern University (including Thurgood Marshall School of Law);
- University Of the District Of Columbia;
- Gadsden State Community College;
- Coahoma Community College;
- St. Phillip’s College; and
- Shelton State Community College.
The first non-HBCU law school to accept Black applicants was Harvard Law School. John Mercer Langston, a Black man who held a Master’s degree, earned the first lawyer title in Ohio. Langston then went on to help institute the law department of Howard University.
In terms of other notable and historic Black attorneys, Macon Bolling Allen is believed to be the first licensed Black lawyer recorded in history. Other examples include, but are not limited to:
- Thurgood Marshall, who was the first Black lawyer of justice to hold the Supreme Court Justice title and served from 1967 to 1991;
- Jane Bolin, who was the first Black woman to graduate from Yale Law School, the first to join the NYC Bar Association, and the first Black woman to join the NYC Law Department;
- Constance Baker Motley, who was America’s first Black woman to serve as a federal judge in 1966; and
- Charlotte E. Ray, who was the first Black female lawyer to acquire a license.
Two of the most notable modern day Black lawyers include the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama and the First Lady, Michelle Obama. Similar to Thurgood Marshall, Clarence Thomas was the second Black judge appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States.
How LegalMatch Can Help Find a Black Attorney Near You
One of the organizations recognizing and recording the accomplishments and successes of the Black attorney community is the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (“ASALH”). The ASALH was established in 1915 by Carter G. Woodson, in an effort to make the larger world aware of Black history outside of enslavement.
The Association also created research and publication outlets for Black scholars through the Journal of Negro History (1916) and the Negro History Bulletin (1937). As the purpose of the ASALH is to “promote, research, preserve, interpret, and disseminate information about Black life, history, and culture to the global community,” the Association may be a good place to begin your search for a Black attorney.
In terms of locating a Black attorney near you, LegalMatch has assisted millions of satisfied clients in the United States in finding the right lawyer for their legal problems. Because the decision making process is frequently further complicated by urgency or time constraints associated with legal issues, most people experience issues when determining a lawyer's experience in a specific area of law. Other times, they may not have much time to meet and consult with each attorney individually.
LegalMatch is one of America's original attorney-client matching engines, providing lawyers and potential clients with a chance to meet. When a potential client presents their legal issue to LegalMatch, our system matches their case to LegalMatch attorneys in their city or county. This is based on the specifics of the potential client’s case, as well as the lawyer's location and area of legal practice.
Black attorneys may find LegalMatch services useful when attempting to connect to their community. The service can make it easier for potential clients to locate an attorney who understands the systemic barriers they face in obtaining a resolution to their legal issues.