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Our legal legacy.

Thurgood Marshall. Constance Baker Motley. William Henry Hastie. Charles Hamilton Houston. These are just a few of the African-Americans - graduates of prestigious law schools such as those at Columbia and Harvard Universities - who found it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to build a career at a major law firm. Excluded from the traditional practice of law by patterns of discrimination older than the Constitution, these great legal minds of the 20th century had little choice but to make their mark as judges, civil rights leaders, politicians, academicians - anything but lawyers. The dearth of African-Americans in the legal profession, along with the lack of opportunities for those who choose to become attorneys, is a classic example of this nation's lost potential.

Now, upon the occasion of the 23rd Anniversary Issue of black enterprise, there are 25,000 black attorneys - including one of my sons, Johnny, a graduate of Yale Law School. And, as detailed in this month's unprecedented cover story, "America's Leading Black Law Firms," there are several accomplished black-owned firms, including the twelve outstanding ones profiled in this issue. Such a story would not have been possible as recently as a decade ago. When the first issue of BE was published in August 1970, there were less than 4,000 African-Americans practicing law in the United States. In fact, the top firms listed in our story didn't even exist

But despite the progress of the past quarter century, black attorneys still remain largely excluded from the lucrative business of law. Too many black attorneys join prestigious majority-owned law firms as enthusiastic associates, only to realize that they'll never be considered for a partnership. And too many African-American attorneys hang out their own shingle, only to discover that they may never get the chance to handle the lucrative corporate and institutional accounts necessary to build a large, thriving practice.

Ironically, many of the nation's largest black businesses and institutions are as guilty as their white counterparts when it comes to ignoring black law firms. Too few BE 100s companies, historically black universities and even prominent black professionals seek out black-owned firms to handle their legal work. If only half of our nation's most prominent black businesses and institutions did so, the number of firms listed in our exclusive report would easily triple.

Twenty years ago, it could be argued - truthfully - that there were no black firms capable of handling the complex variety of legal work required by companies, government agencies and other institutions. That argument no longer holds water. Today, our greatest legal minds are our sons and daughters. If we don't give them a chance, who will? How many more Marshalls, Motleys and Houstons can the legal profession afford to lose?
COPYRIGHT 1993 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:African American-owned law firms
Author:Graves, Earl G.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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