If You Can't Join 'Em Beat 'Em! The Rise and Fall of the Black Corporate Law Firm
71 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2013 Last revised: 8 Oct 2013
Date Written: April 1, 2008
Beginning in the 1980s, a group of black legal entrepreneurs frustrated with the slow pace of integration in mainstream large law firms set out to create their own “black” (or “minority”) “corporate” firms. Although rarely articulated in quite these terms, their goal was to create institutions capable of doing for black lawyers in the waning decades of the twentieth century what the “Jewish” firms successfully accomplished for a similarly marginalized group in the century’s middle decades: to create institutions so large and successful that they would eventually forced the mainstream bar to eliminate (or at least significantly reduce) the discriminatory barriers that prevented blacks from achieving full professional status. For a brief period, it seemed like history would repeat itself and the dream of creating true black corporate law firms would succeed. But by the turn of the twenty first century, most of the firms that had been started with such hope just a few years before had either shuttered their doors or shrunk significantly in both size and ambition. In this article, I chronicle this rise and fall through the voices of over 50 lawyers who were either involved in creating black corporate law firms or were in a position to help these fledgling organizations succeed. I argue that the stories of these pioneers shed important light on the transformation of the market for legal services, as well as contemporary debates about diversity in the legal profession, the importance of self-identified “black” institutions in an increasingly integrated world, and the lasting value of quixotic quests.
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