B. The Critical Role of the African-American Lawyer

African-American lawyers must undertake a leadership role in implementing the foregoing economic empowerment and similar strategies. Like the religious leaders and civil rights lawyers of the 1950s and 60s, the African-American attorney is today well positioned to take up this mantle. She has access to the necessary skills and information, and has been specially trained to interface with manifold constituencies, a key consideration in organizing the African-American community. And the debate at this juncture being more practical than moral, more secular than spiritual in nature, she may be in the best position to organize appropriately African- American business people, consumers and the like, and to advise them as to the importance of these strategies and their ultimate objectives.

African-American lawyers can begin to satisfy these responsibilities simply by obtaining the specific legal skills most relevant to the current needs of the black community. Doggedly preparing for a lifetime career in a large, elite corporate law firm, while eschewing completely the basic expertise pertinent to advising small and mid-size minority businesses, may not always be the most pragmatic course of action. This is not to say that African-American lawyers should avoid the elite corporate firms. To the contrary, diligently working to open the corporate boardrooms to present and future black lawyers, while at the same time obtaining skills immediately useful to the black business community is an immensely beneficial strategy.

Properly approached, practice with an elite corporate law firm and similar mainstream positions can prove an extremely useful means towards the important ends of African-American economic empowerment. However, the black lawyer pursuing such routes will need to do more than merely "stick to her guns" with respect to her ultimate objective of applying her acquired skills to benefit the black community. It will also be her job to assist various constituencies within that community in appreciating the relevance of corporate and similar opportunities to African-American empowerment issues.

Pressuring majority companies to leverage their influence towards increased inclusion of blacks in dependent and related businesses, working to establish more businesses in the black community and getting more African-Americans to do business with each other are strategies which effectuate these goals in obvious ways. The benefits to be obtained from some other tactics may not be as readily apparent.
For example, with regard to the problem of the elite corporate law firm, it would not be unreasonable for some hard working African Americans to ask why is this particular discrimination so important? Bluntly put, what difference does it make to the average black person if a few elitist blacks are denied high profile, six-figure salaries and instead are forced to accept "ordinary" (or even heaven forbid, socially relevant) jobs?

When such questions arise, the African-American lawyer must be among those sufficiently informed and genuinely reflective so as to supply meaningful answers. She must help to remind us that it was the "average" African-American who sacrificed, protested and marched, and scrubbed floors and cleaned the homes of white families, all so that their own children would someday have the right and opportunity to go as far as their hard work and individual accomplishments might warrant. She must help to remind us that those "average" African-Americans made those sacrifices so that their grandchildren, upon demonstrating that they are among the best in the competition, would not be denied the same opportunities offered to whites with the very same or even lesser credentials. And most important, she must remind us that after earning their places at the conference tables of power, influence and governance, the granddaughters and grandsons of those "average" African-Americans must not be cajoled into accepting merely "good jobs", while the boardrooms for which they are qualified remain closed to them.

Full equality remains at best an aspiration, so long as these true seats of power are permitted to continue to display the sign "WHITE ONLY."