ABA offers insight, experts on trials and triumphs of Black litigators

The American Bar Association Litigation Section has released a new issue of its quarterly Litigation Journal, which features articles and resources exploring the experiences of Black lawyers, judges, clients, criminal defendants, citizens, witnesses and communities. 

“Experience Black” includes articles about restoring public trust in the justice system and eliminating racial disparities in the political and legal processes, as well as insights from a group of Black female litigators who share their strategies for success.

The issue is a collection of thought pieces written by some of the nation’s most prominent practitioners, including:

• “Reflections on the Rodney King Case” — Steven Clymer, the federal prosecutor who won convictions in the 1993 civil rights case against police officers who were videotaped beating Rodney King, compares the police criminality and the turmoil it triggered a generation later when the nation witnessed the killing of George Floyd.

• “On the Voting Rights Battlefield, a Moment of Grace” — Orion Danjuma, a civil rights attorney who “litigates at the intersection of voting rights and racial justice,” denounces voter disenfranchisement after the reversal of a Florida initiative to make democracy more inclusive by allowing convicted felons to vote after their release from prison.

• “Why Dignity and Respect Matter in Our Courts” — Victoria Pratt, a champion for criminal justice reform and former chief judge of the municipal court in Newark, New Jersey, believes that treating misdemeanor defendants with respect is key to restoring public trust in the justice system.

• “Fixing Batson” — La Rond Baker, Andrea Crabtree-Keller, Salvador A. Mungia, Jeffrey Robinson, Lila J. Silverstein and Nancy Talner, who represent judges, criminal defense attorneys, academicians and civil trial lawyers from Washington State, report on the decade-long quest to prevent racial discrimination in jury selection, resulting in the adoption of General Rule 37. They conclude that “there is still much work to be done.”   

• “Black Women Litigators in Their Own Words” — Sheila S. Boston, president of the New York City Bar Association and the first woman of color to hold the position in its 150-year history, moderates a panel discussion of Black female litigators — including Lonita Baker, Eileen Letts, Lorraine McGowan, Jamila Mensah and Vickie Turner — who share their strategies for success. (Watch excerpts of the conversation here.) 

• “The Fight for Racial Justice in the Garden State” — Ryan P. Haygood and Andrea McChristian, leaders of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, detail their commitment to repairing the cracks of structural racism and expanding democracy in the Garden State, which was the last Northern state to abolish slavery.

• “The Rest is History: An Interview with Paulette Brown” — The seasoned litigator and first woman of color to serve as president of the American Bar Association discusses her life and career with U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Joseph A. Greenaway Jr.

“The overall advancement in our profession of attorneys of color — and specifically those who are Black — has lagged,” said Beth L. Kaufman, chair of the Litigation Section and a partner with Schoeman Updike Kaufman & Gerber in New York City. “According to the 2020 census, Blacks represented 13.4% of the U.S. population. Yet, Black attorneys accounted for only 5.13% of associates, 2.63% of nonequity partners and 2.03% of equity partners at 233 national law firms across the country.”

“To improve the experience of Black lawyers in our profession, we can ensure that diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility pervade all that we do,” she concluded.

To view “Experience Black,” visit https://bit.ly/3NdALpy.

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