In honor of Black History Month, six Texas attorneys speak out about experiences that helped shape their lives and their legal careers. Throughout February, the Texas Lawbook featured “Six Texas Voices on Black History Month” – a touching and eye-opening series dedicated to showing why diversity truly matters
Courtney White – Jackson Walker
The Journey of Diversity: A Family Story
I noticed the lack of diversity in law firms during my college summer internship at a large international law firm. I had the opportunity to meet and was even encouraged to apply for the internship by a partner but wondered if I could actually work in a law firm environment.
I was encouraged to be a paralegal when I expressed my doubts and I almost considered it, even though I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I had no idea what impostor syndrome was at the time, but I battled severe feelings of inferiority and wondered if I could actually be a lawyer. Thankfully, I had more positive voices encouraging me to pursue my dreams. First-generation minority lawyers like me have to learn how to navigate a high-achieving environment, provide economic value to their workplace, and determine what personal success looks like for them.
James Payne – Provost Umphrey
Is Lady Justice Blind?
From being the first Black-licensed lawyer hired at my firm to obtaining multimillion-dollar verdicts and settlements on behalf of my clients, my successes are merely the struggles that I have overcome.
It is unfortunate that some of these struggles are still racially initiated in the courtroom. It often leads me to the question, if a person cannot find equality or a sense of fairness in a courtroom, can the ideals at the heart of Lady Justice’s symbolism ever ring true? Is Lady Justice truly blind?
I want all lawyers (regardless of their ethnicity) to speak out against the racial notions and nuances that plague courtrooms, and maybe one day we will see change. Our duty is to our clients, to our communities and to the justice system to uphold the Sixth Amendment.
Jervonne Newsome – Lynn Pinker Hurst & Schwegmann
‘I, Too, Am America’
Tomorrow is unchartered territory that keeps us all in a state of hope — hope that it will be better than today. This is the hope I carried while encountering racism, discrimination or implicit bias from elementary school until now. I had to believe that the world could change and that I would be a part of that change. I had faith that one day I would have access to the same tables of opportunities as anyone else, despite my race or gender, and that I would be accepted for who I am.
But such hope is not blind. I had to realize that I had something to offer that no one else could: myself. Graduating summa cum laude, participating in two federal clerkships and now working for a top-tier law firm, I am that city on the hill that cannot be hidden. Facing mountains of discrimination only sharpened my critical thinking, tenacity and sense of justice.
Joshua Harris – AZA
From Grandparents and Quarterbacking: Lessons in Education & Adversity
My background highlights a small number of important lessons that I believe have a powerful message for the diversity and inclusion conversation concerning law practice.
First, law firms and companies should view diversity through a lens that their near-term decisions can have a meaningful and lasting impact on future generations.
Second, law schools should focus on preparing marginalized minorities educationally and experientially so they can be prepared to thrive in post-graduation employment.
Third, marginalized minorities should come into the practice of law with their eyes wide-open that they will have to overcome adversity to be successful. And finally, given the current state of law, marginalized minorities have limitless opportunities to diversify the law and attain success moving forward.
Marie Jamison – Wright Close & Barger
‘I’m An Example of Why Diversity Matters’
Observers in the courtroom see me, a suited-up Black female, walk in and sit at counsel’s table with the trial team. Is she the client? The paralegal? Who is she and what is she going to do during this trial? That’s what I see in the fictional thought bubbles above their heads.
But there are other moments when it hits home. Like my “surprisingly” on-point trial briefs and arguments throughout trial that address important legal and appellate issues. My “surprisingly” well-thought-out charge objections, submissions and arguments. Why are my arguments surprising but not the other side’s? Then there are a few occasions of just being ignored outright, unlike my colleague on the other side.
But I try not to get bogged down by this type of obvious differential treatment because it is not helpful to me as a lawyer.
Sean C. Villery-Samuel – Provost Umphrey Law Firm
My Burden of Proof
Black lawyers, doctors, preachers and educators have always been held in high regard in the African American community. People root for us because we represent the infinite possibilities that were once not afforded to those who look like me. This is a responsibility I don’t take lightly.
While the gravity of this is meant to weaken me, it has only made me a better attorney – a better counselor for my clients, a better lawyer in the courtroom and a better voice in my community. Weaknesses are based upon the perspective you choose to have. I’ve turned these perceived weaknesses into vulnerabilities that allow me to connect with my clients. And in connecting with my clients, I gain their trust; I become their advocate.