As we end our celebration of Black History Month, we want to take this opportunity to salute those who broke down barriers and blazed a trail to give others equal opportunity - from Macon Bolling Allen, the first African American lawyer; Charlotte Ray, the first female African American lawyer; and Thurgood Marshall, the first African American justice on the Supreme Court of the United States.
Dinsmore values its African American attorneys and the many contributions of African Americans in the legal profession. Our attorneys have long participated in initiatives and organizations to ignite change, both inside and outside the firm, with a focus on the African American community. We have also invested time and resources into a new generation of attorneys, particularly those from groups who’ve historically been underrepresented in the legal profession.
A Seat at the Table
Dinsmore partner Calvin Buford fondly remembers working with legal industry icons like the late Judge Nathaniel Jones as members of the Black Lawyers Association of Cincinnati (BLAC) and the Cincinnati Bar Association (CBA). A number of grassroots level, strategic ideas came from the gathering of diverse minds, which continues to transform the face of law firms across the country. The BLAC-CBA Roundtable was established as a joint initiative with the CBA and the BLAC in the mid-1980s with Judge Jones as a co-convener.
Buford, the first African American partner at a major Cincinnati law firm, remembers his days at the roundtable as a triumph in pushing diversity and inclusion forward and witnessing the results. “I feel like a significant portion of my career can be attributed to the work of the roundtable. The gathering of these diverse minds created a comfort-zone that I and others would be given a fair chance to succeed as a lawyer,” Buford said.
The roundtable addresses the lack of diversity in the Cincinnati legal community with outreach programs for diverse law students and the community at-large. One of the programs, the Mock Interview Program, was co-founded by Buford and William Sherman, managing partner of Dinsmore’s Washington D.C. office. Each year, Dinsmore hosts the first year minority law students from local colleges and universities. Approximately 10 to 15 legal employers including law firms, companies, and government officials interview the students and give helpful feedback. In some instances, the Mock Interview Program has led to job offers. “With the Mock Interview Program, I wanted to build partnerships to create new opportunities for minority lawyers they would not otherwise receive,” Sherman said.
The hard work and dedication shown to developing programs through the roundtable and other diversity initiatives has contitubuted to bringing several talented African American attorneys to Dinsmore. “The roundtable and similar programs place diversity and inclusion center stage, where it deserves to be,” says Govinda M. Davis, Dinsmore senior associate and Minority Attorney Affinity Group (MAAG) co-chair. “It is important we never forget the contributions of people of color, specifically African American women in our industry and all industries, especially as we celebrate Black History Month.”
Reginald Staples, a senior associate at Dinsmore and a co-chair of MAAG, reflects on the work started decades ago. “Without the hard work and sacrifice of the pioneers in the legal community who came before me, I would not be at Dinsmore. I am forever grateful for the trail blazed by icons such as Justice Thurgood Marshall and Judge Nathaniel Jones. I am especially grateful for mentors like John C. Merchant, who has taken an interest in me as an attorney and a person and has been instrumental in my success at the firm. It is upon me and my generation of black attorneys to pay it forward by investing in the careers and lives of future black attorneys.”