As protesters have taken to the streets for the past few weeks to protest the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, this week members of one particular profession will gather in downtown Tampa to march against racial injustice. Reports Biz Journals
The march will begin Wednesday at 5 p.m. in front of the George Edgecomb Courthouse and proceed to the Sam Gibbons Courthouse and back. The march is being organized by the Hillsborough County Bar Association and the George Edgecomb Bar Association; the latter is primarily African-American.
“I had been following the various protests that have been happening since the George Floyd killing,” said Person, who is the future president of the HCBA. “I’m an African-American lawyer, so many of the things being protested, I have experienced or seen over the years. The HCBA … we were thinking about ways to raise this issue in a peaceful and powerful way, and Robert asked if he had considered a march. I thought that was terrific and I brought before the board of directors, and it was met with universal approval from the board.”
Although the march is being organized by the two bar associations, Shimberg said it was open to more than just each association’s respective membership.
“We are encouraging all lawyers, staff members of law firms and the public to join us,” he said.
Neither man is sure what the turnout would be on Wednesday, but Person said he would march “even if it’s just Robert and me.” Both men said attorneys should not be hesitant to come out and show support for the cause.
“It’s my position that Black lives matter, and it’s our duty as attorneys to make sure that’s the case in the American justice system,” Shimberg said.
Both Person and GEBA President Valeria Obi said they hoped the protests, while pushing for change in the justice system, would also encourage firms and other local businesses to increase diversity, both among employees and leadership.
“A lot of firms and businesses recognize and are recognizing the need for more diversity,” Person said. “But there is not enough representation of people of color at large law firms and at businesses and corporations. It is imperative on those organizations and firms to look at their policies, the things they have in place, and determine if these rules produce more diversity. Having diverse representation provides the best value to their clients.”
Person said it was often difficult for Black or other minority attorneys just to get their foot in the door, but added many of these attorneys often did not stay long at their firms. Obi, who works as an in-house attorney for Midland Credit Management in Tampa, said that retention of Black attorneys will be a crucial next step over the coming years.
“We need a lot of membership, because a lot of us didn’t grow up with attorneys in our families — we are first-generation attorneys,” she said. “The larger firms require you to bring in business, and how are you doing that? It requires connections, and as Black attorneys we didn’t grow up with our parents having the right kind of connections.”
Obi said she would like to see more opportunities for Black and minority attorneys to build their connections, in addition to getting opportunities to work at firms.
“It makes us a lot more comfortable if we’re seeing people like us in these higher positions and on the partnership track,” she said.