The Path To Becoming a Black Lawyer

The End of the Pipeline (Carolina Academic Press)

The End of the Pipeline (Carolina Academic Press)

In a recent presentation at the Georgetown University Law Center Carla Pratt, Professor of Law, Penn State University’s Dickinson School of Law and Veta Richardson, President & CEO of the Association of Corporate Counsel discussed the journey to the legal profession made by African-Americans.

Pratt is co-author of a new book The End of the Pipeline: A Journey of Recognition for African-Americans Entering the Legal Profession who said part of the motivation for the book written with Penn State education professor, Dorothy Evensen, was the fact that as scholars, “[The pair] wanted to flip the script and talk about the origins of success,” noting that much of this scholarship in the area focused almost singularly on the challenges experienced by aspiring African-American lawyers.

The decrease in the number of lawyers of color is something, which has been discussed by the media for some time now. It’s also something, which legal researchers and scholars continue to explore.

Pratt and Evensen’s three-part study seeks to add perspective to the important discourse, taking a balanced look at the journey from the classroom to the courtroom or the boardroom.

Pratt notes the importance of early intervention to make sure students are academically prepared for college and therefore better positioned for law school. “Pipeline programs operate as lubricant in the pipeline, and make it easier for students to progress,” she said.

Richardson who previously led the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) serving as its Executive Director, used her own journey to illustrate the importance of students being diligent, finding mentors, and availing themselves of available resources.

The University of Maryland School of Law graduate recounted the story of her taking an unpaid internship at Sunoco, Inc. while in law school in order to gain valuable work experience. It was a gamble, which set her up for a job after graduation.

“As African-Americans we will have to make a choice as to how we will approach the profession or life in general, you can either approach it as a victim, or you can approach the profession and everything else as a warrior,” said Richardson.

She emphasized she didn’t want anyone to be disillusioned but said to the law students assembled, members of Georgetown’s chapter of the National Black Law Students Association (NBLSA), Georgetown Law faculty members, and guests, “There are ugly things you’re going to face and joyful things.”

Her road map for aspiring lawyers included four lessons 1) take stock: “Continue being mindful of assessing, where am I right now, and where I aspire to go,” 2) take a risk: “Sometimes the only way you can rise to be recognized is to take a risk,” 3) take credit: “Learn to take credit because also being recognized means being able to tout your own accomplishments in ways that aren’t braggadocious,” and 4) take a hand: “Think about all the networks that are available and at your disposal. There are around you many opportunities for mentoring and people who will advance your careers.” Then she said it’s up to those who succeed to reach back and help someone else to achieve their dream.

When asked about the big picture of lagging diversity Pratt reminded audience members, “The path to the legal profession is a path that is constructed. It’s constructed in a way which allows some people to get there easier than others.”

Yet both Pratt and Richardson are confident that with motivated and committed students prepared for every part of their academic careers, supported in law school by academic support programs, the ability students have to engage in conversations about diversity with faculty members who are trained about diversity issues, and state bars and state Supreme Courts willing to make clear statements or model rules supporting diversity, progress can be made and maintained.

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