Doing Well by Doing Good? The Role of Public Service in the Careers of Black Corporate Lawyers
92 Pages Posted: 7 May 2004
Not so long ago, lawyers who worked in large law firms confidently believed in a seamless and mutually reinforcing connection between public service and professional success. Today, this traditional claim has been turned on its head: public service is now widely viewed as a luxury that lawyers in large law firms simply can no longer afford. In this article, Professor Wilkins challenges this conventional wisdom on the basis of an in-depth examination of the role of public service in the careers of the first generation of black lawyers to integrate corporate law practice in the decades following the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Notwithstanding their tenuous position in corporate firms, black lawyers in this generation are heavily engaged in public service, ranging from government service, participation in civic and community organizations, bar association activity, and pro bono work. Although many factors contribute to this somewhat surprising result, Professor Wilkins argues that the fact that black lawyers receive important career related benefits from such work in the form of experience, visibility, and contacts - benefits that are often difficult for them to achieve through their work in private practice - is an important explanatory factor. Whether black lawyers actually receive these career-enhancing benefits from public service, however, is also significantly influenced by race. Drawing on interviews with black lawyers in the post-Brown generation, Professor Wilkins demonstrates how race continues to structure both the kind of public service opportunities available to black lawyers and the degree to which this new generation of lawyer-statesmen have been able to benefit from these opportunities. The article concludes by discussing what black lawyers' efforts to do well by doing good can teach us about the future role of public service in the careers of twenty-first century corporate lawyers - and about how this role may in turn influence the future of race, careers, and public service in Brown's second half-century.
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