Commission on Race Relations in the Legal Profession
For a complete report, contact David Bohm at dBohm@ncbar.org (please include your name & mailing address).
Today, there is both a perception and a reality of continued racial discrimination in the legal profession. In North Carolina and nationally, the legal profession remains largely segregated in practice. Very few attorneys of color are hired in large majority white law firms. The number of attorneys of color among partners in major law firms in the state can be counted on fewer fingers than a hand.
This Commission's study of racial attitudes among members of the profession revealed significant differences between attorneys of color and white attorneys in their perception of race relations in the legal community. White attorneys were much more likely to report that race relations were "better than 10 years ago." Attorneys of color were more likely to report that they were "about the same." Attorneys of color felt that they have more difficulty than their white counterparts in gaining employment, promotions and partnerships. Attorneys of color were more likely than white attorneys to have witnessed or experienced treatment of less respect in our system of justice.
The Commission on Race Relations in the Legal Profession issues this report as a first step toward the elimination of every vestige of racial discrimination in the legal profession and the creation of a dialogue about race relations which may lead ultimately to elimination of the perception of discrimination where it does not exist.
Creation and Work of the Commission
In the spring of 1993, the North Carolina Bar Association (NCBA) and the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers (NCABL) established the Commission on Race Relations in the Legal Profession (the "Commission") with the central purpose of developing "ways to eliminate, root and branch, any and all forms of racial discrimination, racial inequity, racial impropriety or unfair racial distinctions that exist within the legal profession." For the next two and a half years, the Commission studied the impact of race in the following areas:
- Leadership roles and opportunities in the bar
- Participation in the justice system
- Societal perceptions of minority attorneys and their impact on community and professional environment
- Full participation in the practice of law and access to clients
- Full availability of legal education opportunities
- Full access to all areas of legal employment
The Commission created the following subcommittees to facilitate its work:
- Subcommittee on Educational Opportunities
- Subcommittee on Employment: Compensation & Career Patterns
- Subcommittee on Race Relations in the Courts
- Subcommittee on Racial Awareness and Sensitivity
- Subcommittee on Bar Leadership
- Subcommittee on Implementation and Finance
- Subcommittee on Survey
This report contains the findings and recommendations of the five substantive subcommittees. The work of the Subcommittee on Implementation and Finance, ably chaired by Paul Michaels of Raleigh, did not lend itself to a written report, but without the critically important work of that subcommittee, the other subcommittees and, indeed, the Commission itself, could not have functioned. Likewise, the work of the Subcommittee on Survey, capably chaired by Frank Goldsmith of Marion, did not lend itself to a written report, but the survey referred to in this report (the Vasu Study) attests to the importance of the work of that subcommittee.
Recommendations of the Commission
The full Commission has adopted each of the recommendations contained in the subcommittee reports which we summarize here:
- The NCBA and the NCABL should continue the work of developing and evaluating programs designed to make majority firms more racially diverse and more racially sensitive.
- The NCBA and the NCABL should communicate their strong support for the continuation of the Council on Legal Education Opportunity Program (CLEO) as the single most effective method of retaining recruited minority students in law school.
- The NCBA and the NCABL should support the recommendation of the Southern Education Foundation Panel on Educational Opportunity and Postsecondary Desegregation calling upon the governor of North Carolina to convene the educational leadership of our state to determine how best to eliminate the vestiges of segregation and advance educational opportunity.
- The NCBA and the NCABL should provide continuing support to the North Carolina Legal Education Assistance Foundation in its efforts to lobby the North Carolina General Assembly to continue to finance loan forgiveness programs for law graduates entering public service.
- The NCBA and the NCABL should strongly support the education of the bench, the legal profession and court personnel regarding racial diversity and discriminatory behavior in the courts and should specifically:
- Provide a "Court Conduct Handbook" for dissemination to all members of the bench and bar in North Carolina.
- Encourage the North Carolina Supreme Court to promulgate a rule in the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct, making racially discriminatory behavior a violation.
- Include in the Bench Book jury instructions designed to address discriminatory beliefs and to urge jurors to set aside prejudices or step down.
- Provide a video depicting examples of offensive behavior in and out of the courtroom.
- The NCBA and the NCABL should support an increase in the representation of persons of color on the bench in all levels, and in court-related agencies such as the attorney general's legal staff and the Institute of Government faculty, by:
- Educating the legal profession and the public regarding underrepresentation of attorneys of color in the court system and court-related agencies.
- Consulting together and with other interested groups regarding the best approach for increasing racial diversity in the court system.
- The NCBA and the NCABL should work together to seek the institution of programs, practices and/or requirements that will assure that:
- Judges and the legal profession are sensitized to the effects of racial bias.
- The N.C. State Bar condemns disparagements based on race or color and enacts appropriate amendments to the Rules of Professional Conduct forbidding such conduct in a professional setting.
- Minority attorneys are regular participants in each North Carolina law school on programs about the legal profession.
- African-American attorneys in private practice communicate to law students their experiences in the practice and factors important in deciding whether to practice alone, in a small firm or in a large firm.
- Positive, accurate information about North Carolina Central University School of Law is disseminated among all members of the bar.
- Law school education includes programs promoting racial understanding and acceptance.
- Programs on recruiting and hiring that include race relations are made available to all law firms in the state.
- Statewide legal publications regularly include articles discussing issues of racial sensitivity.
- The NCABL communicates with members of the entire bar about its programs.
- The NCBA Minorities in the Profession Committee should re-evaluate the present objectives and viability of the Minority Summer Clerkship Program to assure that it does not unwittingly decrease opportunities for permanent employment of participants.
- The NCBA and the NCABL should strongly encourage every person or entity that hires lawyers to adopt antidiscriminatory policies and practices.
Ever since the first permanent black inhabitants set foot on North Carolina soil in 1585 or 1586, North Carolina, like every other state of the Union, has had a race problem. The problem started with slavery and, chameleon-like, continued through the white-supremacy campaigns and black codes following Reconstruction and through Jim Crow, segregation and present-day discrimination and racism. The system of slavery and the racial segregation that followed it were established, secured and maintained by an elaborate network of laws with lawyers and judges enforcing it.
During Reconstruction, there was a brief period when it appeared there was hope that the newly freed slaves might be able to attain the full benefits of citizenship. From 1877 to 1900, African Americans were elected to many state and local offices, including register of deeds and solicitor. A total of 43 African Americans became state representatives and 11 became state senators, serving a total of 65 and 16 terms respectively. Several blacks were elected to Congress from the Second Congressional District, which became known as the "Black Second." George H. White, an African-American attorney from New Bern who served from 1897 to 1901, was the last African-American congressman elected from the South until after the civil rights movement of the 1960s. During these years, African Americans in North Carolina established businesses, schools, churches and a variety of community and political organizations. Black communities throughout the state grew and progressed by leaps and bounds. This progress was soon undermined by racism. The Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896, the vicious North Carolina white-supremacy campaign of 1898, the adoption of an amendment to the North Carolina Constitution in 1900 and the spate of "Jim Crow" laws that followed, all served to deprive African Americans of the right to vote and the right to an equal opportunity in every aspect of life. Society was completely racially segregated. Slavery had yielded only to legalized racism.
It was in the maelstrom of the beginning of Reconstruction that North Carolina admitted its first African-American lawyer to practice in 1868. Since that time, the African-American lawyer in North Carolina has been subjected to the same forces of discrimination and racism that have afflicted our society throughout history. The vestiges of racism and discrimination remain, even though virtually all legal barriers to equality of opportunity have been removed.
The remaining vestiges of racial discrimination are manifested through both reality and perception. In the eyes of this Commission, it makes little difference where reality ends and perception begins in the matter of race and color; both the reality and perception of racial discrimination must be eliminated if we are to achieve a legal profession that offers full opportunity for all of its members to realize their full potential.