For the past 15 years, the ‘National Black Pre-Law Conference and Law Fair’ has provided law school aspirants with resources and information that they would normally not have access to, in order to help them be more strategic and competitive law applicants and students. This year, nearly 700 aspiring black law students were in attendance from November 8 to 9 at Columbia Law School in New York City. In addition to parents and supporters, there were also 170 law students, lawyers, and law firm administrators who served as panelists, presenters, honorees, advisors, networking facilitators, and volunteers, to encourage, empower and support future black students.
Founder of the conference, Attorney Evangeline M. Mitchell reflected on 15 consecutive years of organizing and hosting the event, and commented on how the path to becoming a lawyer is often challenging. One of the main themes of the event was the importance of building relationships as early as possible in law school and when working as an associate for companies or firms. General Counsel and VP of the LA Clippers, Nicole Duckett Fricke explained that this will be especially useful when transitioning to another job. She emphasized the importance of having someone outside of the place you work to help with recommendations.
This theme was particularly important since many top law firm postings aren’t public, and only come from in-agency networking. Special Counsel explain how 70% of their associate placements were not publicly posted or advertised. While this is an industry standard, it can put many at a disadvantage. To help with this, schools like CUNY School of Law’s Pipeline to Justice program and Penn State Law’s Minority Mentor Program, engage black undergraduate students to prepare them for law school and help them create networks and connections that will help them find associate positions once they graduate. This year’s conference tackled these issues and featured a recruitment fair to help aspiring lawyers.
Also at this year’s conference was the Black Pre-Law Talks™, which were TED-type engaging talks on a variety of topics by black law school deans, that included resources and programs to help aspiring black students. It was followed by another special this year, which included The John Mercer Langston legal Education leadership Awards, in honor of all 27 black law school deans serving at one time. This was a record number at one time, 150 years after the first African American law school dean founded the Law Department at Howard University.
Among the special guest speakers this year was celebrated Florida-based attorney Willie E. Gary, Esq. who has earned the nickname “The Giant Killer” after taking on one of America’s largest tobacco companies. Earning the highest jury verdict ever, $23 billion in a wrongful death case, Attorney Gary is a role model in the black law community. Together with the organizers, the speakers, and all those who gave their time, they have helped attendees at the conference with their law school aspirations.
Nonetheless, Attorney Mitchell noted how there is still an urgent need for more people to fight for the issues that affect the black community. People like Attorney Richard St. Paul of Westchester, who was named to the Lawyers of Distinction in 2017 and won the Outreach Person of the Year by the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee for his contributions to the community, is one such person. But, the most important thing Mitchell wanted participants to see and understand is that the conference is not just about the fact that more black lawyers are needed, but that it is a grassroots collective effort ready to support the students.