In honor of Labor Day, it is time to honor those Black professionals who wake up every day, clock in and do their civic duty making a living. And in Black history, few professionals made as great impact on civil rights as lawyers.
Lawyers such as Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall and Johnnie Cochran have tirelessly fought for Black people in the courtroom and have not only made changes on a grand scale, they made impacts on the lives of individuals they represent.
But now, it appears that whenever we get in trouble, the last person we want to turn to is a Black lawyer as people tend to go with someone they recognize on television or heard about through a friend.
In the mind of Wayne Phillip Higgins of Higgins & Associates, it is because we have often been led to choose White lawyers who appear to be more competent.
“Traditionally we’ve been referred to lawyers of other cultural backgrounds because we assume they’re smarter or more educated,” Higgins said.
What most people are not aware of, he added, is that the California bar exam is arguably the most difficult in the country and for those who pass it, it means they are more than competent to practice in the state.
According to the numbers from the California Association of Black Lawyers, there are at least 2,630 active Black lawyers in the state, with many coming from some of top law schools in the nation.
Higgins, who graduated from University of California, Hastings College of the Law, said that the issue is the community not being willing to trust a Black lawyer as opposed to a White lawyer who they may have seen or heard about.
“There is also a tendency to be impressed with certain lawyers in terms of aesthetics, appearance, location of office, the way they talks to you and how they present themselves,” he said.
He also added that while Black lawyers are not as well-known because they don’t get the publicity cases seen on television, it does not mean that there are no competent Black lawyers who will fight on behalf of the community.
If you glance through recent copies of this very newspaper, you will notice several law firms who are offering their services. It is merely a fraction of the well-qualified Black lawyers and firms throughout the city.
For example, the Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt Law Firm has given over 25 years of service to the community and has been rated the number one Black firm in the state. Senior parter Robert McNeill, Jr. was also voted one of California’s top 100 lawyers.
Carl Douglas, whose firm is located in Beverly Hills, is known for his track record of handling cases of police misconduct and other cases. Also attorneys such as William McKinney, Marian Hunter and William Bradford have gained notice for their willingness to give back to the community.
The statistics show that while more Blacks are filling the jail cells, more Blacks are still turning to non-Black lawyers to represent them. In Higgins’ mind, it makes one wonder who the real competent lawyers are if this is still a growing trend.
“There’s nothing wrong with getting a second opinion or consultation from a Black lawyer to understand the things being told to you so you can determine whether or not you are making a good decision,” he said.
So as Labor Day approaches and this nation celebrates the working people of the world, let us remember to recognize those Black lawyers and professionals who are consistently working on our behalf and not be afraid to give them a call when the opportunity arises.