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
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
— Remington A. Jackson, BLAC president
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.