On March 7, 1987, the BLAC-CBA Round Table held its first official meeting at the Federated Department Stores’ executive offices. On the eve of its 35th anniversary, we remember the Round Table’s origins, reflect on its successes, and remain focused on the future. In celebration of its 150th Anniversary, the CBA is releasing a series of podcasts, capturing an oral history of the Cincinnati Bar Association and its members, now available for listening at cincybar.org/150. Below are excerpts from a transcript of BLAC-CBA Round Table Celebrates 35 Years, a conversation between current Round Table co-conveners Hon. Timothy A. Black and Hon. Jeffery P. Hopkins; facts and features of the Round Table’s robust history; and words from BLAC’s current president, Remington Jackson. The following has been lightly edited for clarity.


‘Hearts and minds were affected’

40 years ago, the practice of law was still segregated by race. Yes, there were a handful of [Black] CBA members, but the practice was segregated, and the city was struggling and a federal judge, S. Arthur Spiegel, spoke to my uncle [Hon. Robert S. Black] and to Nathaniel Jones and said, ‘You two men need to step up and call the question.’ 


So those two judges invited all the leadership, decision makers, managing partners, the leading legal employers, and invited them to a meeting to discuss the state of our profession. When a judge invites you, it’s kind of like a judge orders you. 


[They] drew all the decision makers into the same room one spring at what was then Federated Department Stores, now Macy’s. They talked about the fact that the practice of law was segregated, that the city was racist and that it was the responsibility of lawyers to be leaders and to get to work on the continuing path to racial equality. 


They met most of the day. As I [understood] it from my uncle, it was loud — indeed, I now have a new word: it was stormy. It was a really frank conversation about how, ‘Are we going to integrate the practice of law?’ The white guys were saying, ‘We’re not going to change our standards,’ and the Black lawyers were saying, ‘That’s offensive, you don’t need to,’ and it went on.


At the end of the meeting, the only thing they really could agree on was, we need to come back and keep having this conversation. So, they came back on the invitation of the judges every 30 days or so, and over time, hearts and minds were affected. 

— Hon. Timothy A. Black, in conversation with fellow Round Table co-convener Hon. Jeffery P. Hopkins, and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Parker

Key BLAC-CBA Round Table Programs

  1. Cincinnati Clerkship Plan Program Launched in 1987, the Clerkship Program encourages Greater Cincinnati legal institutions to employ qualified minority law students. The Program was established as a constructive effort to carry out the Round Table’s goal of removing racial barriers and to increase the number of minority lawyers in the mainstream of the profession. 
  2. Greater Cincinnati Minority Counsel Program Founded in 1998 as a program of the Round Table, the GCMCP’s mission is to increase opportunities for minority attorneys in the assignment of corporate legal work through partnership among corporate counsel, majority-owned law firms, minority owned law firms and public sector organizations. The GCMCP now operates as its own 501c3 entity. GCMCP is modeled after the American Bar Association’s Minority Counsel Demonstration Program and the California Minority Counsel Program. Visit gcmcp.org for more information. 
  3. SWEL: Summer Experience Working in Law Employers hire SWEL scholars for part-time or full-time paid internships providing assistance to administrative staff, associates and law clerks. Students are given the opportunity to develop valuable mentoring relationships with attorneys, judges and law clerks. Each Friday during the eight-week program, SWEL scholars attend academic preparation classes. Notable SWEL alumni include: Kenneth Parker, U.S. Attorney; Reginald L. Staples, Jr., partner, Dinsmore & Shohl; Ryan Ragland, Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office; and Max Langenkamp, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Chief Diversity Officer, Cintas. 



‘We need to get beyond race’

Our great challenge right now moving forward is truly the retention issue. I was on a program in Washington a couple of months ago and we were talking about diversity and inclusion, particularly in the law firm setting, and sadly law is one of the last professions [to diversify] and it shouldn’t be. We should be the leaders in this. ‘Equal justice under the law’ — it’s inscribed on the Supreme Court building. We should be all about this, but law firms in general, “Big Law”, are the least diverse of professions. You’ve got more diversity in financial management, accounting and some others, but not in law, and we need to change that paradigm. 


The point that I made at this program in Washington, it was a room filled with debt restructuring professionals, [is that] you kind of always need a mentor in that law firm. You need someone who is willing to be your sponsor, to be your mentor, because by and large, when you come out of law school, you don’t know anything. You don’t know really what a complaint looks like, you don’t know where the clerk’s office is, you can’t do anything. You need to have someone help guide you and round your skills and become the attorney. 


The shortcoming when it comes to race, unfortunately — there’s almost a visceral reaction. Some of the [same] things that Judge McClain faced, [like] when we do a project but we don’t quite get it right, sometimes we’re looked down upon. ‘Yup, see, told you so, you can’t handle it’, when that should be an opportunity for us to embrace that person and train that lawyer up to be the skillful attorney that they can become. 

We need to get beyond race and look at the skills and look at the individual character that they bring to the practice and really work hard to integrate. That’s our great challenge right now. It’s just the retention issue and then the promotion issue. We can get kids in, but we can’t keep them, for whatever reasons. I just think that we have to overcome our own instincts, our own faults, if you will, in terms of looking at race and looking at ability and associating the two together.  


— Hon. Jeffery P. Hopkins, in conversation with the Hon. Timothy A. Black and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Parker


While typically it is harder to prove a negative, I can say with almost absolute certainty that I would not have progressed as far in my career but for the BLAC-CBA Round Table. From the connections I have garnered throughout the years of networking events, to the mock interviews and resume clinics, to the recent sessions with Dr. Reeves on enhancing inclusion and equity within our organizations and legal community, the Round Table has been pivotal. Each facet of the organization continues to fight the seemingly never-ending battle to not only increase diversity in the Cincinnati legal community, but also retain that talent by making it a more hospitable career path to those outside of the majority. While neither in spirit nor numerically have these goals been fully realized, yet, the path ahead is brighter because of the Round Table’s past, current, and future work. 


— Remington A. Jackson, BLAC president 

Looking to the Future

The BLAC-CBA Round Table set forth a five-year strategic plan in 2019, focused on programs, resource development, governance, membership and stakeholder engagement. 


To see the plan, and for more information about the Round Table and upcoming events, please visit cincybar.org/roundtable.