New York, N.Y. – Hundreds of people from across the country came together Nov. 8 and Nov. 9 for the 15th Annual National Black Pre-Law Conference and Law Fair. Hosted at Columbia Law School in New York City, the event was free and open to anyone. With nearly 700 aspiring Black law students in attendance, it brought together the largest number of Black law school aspirants to gather in one place for any one pre-law event in the country. Pre-law advisors as well as parents and supporters also attended.
In addition, over 170 law students, lawyers, and law school, law firm and nonprofit administrators served as speakers, panelists, presenters, honorees, advisors, networking facilitators and volunteers to encourage, empower and support future Black law students.
The goal of the conference was to provide law school aspirants with information, resources and connections they otherwise would not have access to in order to help make them more excellent, strategic and competitive applicants and students.
The event included informational workshops on understanding legal education pedagogy, Law School Admission Council resources available in the admissions process, crafting the law school personal statement and diversity statement, strategically applying to law school, and financing one’s legal education. There were also panel discussions on how to have a successful law school experience, and ways to use their legal training to do meaningful work and help uplift the Black community.
Moreover, one-on-one advisement sessions were held so that prospective law students could receive personalized advice and feedback. A law school recruitment fair featured over 130 exhibitors that showcased more than half of all ABA-approved law schools as well as some nonprofit organizations, employers and programs targeting pre-law students.
Special this year was Black Pre-Law Talks, which were short TED-type discussions on a variety of topics presented by Black law school deans. Another special event included The John Mercer Langston Legal Education Leadership Awards at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in honor of 27 Black law school deans, a record number serving at one time, 150 years after the first African American law school dean founded the Law Department at Howard University.
Afterward, several law school deans participated in Q&A with the Deans, moderated by Dr. Jamal Eric Watson, executive editor of Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.
Attendees also heard from special guest speakers from across the country who have practiced and taught law at various universities.
The first keynote speaker was celebrated Stuart, Florida-based attorney Willie E. Gary, Esq., nationally known as “The Giant Killer” who earned the highest jury verdict ever – $23 billion – for a wrongful death case against one of America’s largest tobacco companies.
The second was Cannon D. Lambert Sr., Esq., a successful Chicago trial attorney, best known for representing Sandra Bland and her family. Sandra Bland’s police stop, wrongful arrest and unexplained death following her detainment helped bring more attention to the mistreatment of Black women by law enforcement during the Black Lives Matter Movement. Lambert was able to obtain a $1.9 million settlement for Bland’s family, and also force historic mandatory changes in jail policies.
The conference ended with the annual Anniversary Honors recognizing professionals who have contributed to the conference by giving of their time and talent throughout the years. Outstanding individual supporters received the Legal Education Access and Diversity Champion Award and outstanding law schools who have supported every year or nearly every year received the Outstanding Law School Diversity Outreach Award.
As is the tradition with every conference, it ended with the Aspiring Lawyers Pinning Ceremony, presided over by Judge J. Machelle Sweeting of the Family Court of the City of New York, who led the law school aspirants in a spirited rendition of the “Aspiring Lawyers Success Pledge.” She surprised attendees with an invitation to visit and intern in her chambers. Immediately after, current lawyers pinned future lawyers with eagle pendants and congratulated them on their decisions to pursue law school.
The conference celebrated 15 consecutive years of empowering and inspiring aspiring Black lawyers since its founding in 2005 by a first-generation college and law school graduate, Evangeline M. Mitchell. She had written books, created an informational website, founded a Black pre-law organization, and spearheaded other initiatives to help Black students interested in law school. Yet she wanted to do something greater in terms of outreach that was more impactful than her previous work or what she had seen.
“I am proud of what we have accomplished because we have helped thousands of Black people with law school aspirations,” she reflected. “But the reality is that we still have so much farther to go in terms of increasing the numbers of African American law students and lawyers. The path to becoming a lawyer is challenging and there is an urgent need for more people fighting for issues that affect our communities, especially in our current times.”
She also talked about the significance of the event and what she wanted participants to take away.
“The most important thing that I want participants to see and understand from attending this event is, not only that we need more Black lawyers, but that this is a grassroots, collective effort,” she stated. “All of these people have come together for them because we care about them. They are not alone. They have a community who is rooting for them, who wants to see them succeed and who wants to help them achieve their goals. To me, that is what this conference represents. It’s a public demonstration that Black law students and Black lawyers and their allies want to proactively help support the next generation of Black lawyers. They are our legacy. Their success is our success. We are not successful if we don’t reach back.”
Updates and information about next year’s event in Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts in November 2020 is available at http://www.blackprelawconference.org.