The following tentative findings on the Negro lawyer, his status and activities are based upon two months observation of Negro lawyers and Negro business in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Chicago, Toledo, Cleveland and Gary. New York was visited November 20-23; Boston, November 27-29; Philadelphia, December 7, 12-15-; 3altimore, December 9, 21-23; Washington, my residence; Chicago, December 29-31, and January 6-3; Toledo, January 1-3; Cleveland, January 3-5, 10; Gary, January 8. In addition, Wilmington, Delaware, was visited December 5-7, but as there are no colored lawyers in Wilmington it will not be considered in this report.
The method of inquiry was in the main personal interviews and observations, supplemented by some correspondence and reading wherever printed material was available. In Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington and Chicago I met the local Negro bar associations; in Cleveland I met the local Negro lawyers club. In my personal interview work I sought particularly the following information:
Among the younger men, on the whole, there is manifest a distinct responsiveness to the ideals of the profession. They are becoming increasingly interested in community matters, and are alive to current communitv and national problems and their possible effects on the Negro group. In every city visited they are making attempts for closer mutual association. In Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago and Cleveland they are carrying the brunt of the work of the local Negro bar associations or clubs. They are combiningtogether in firms for better service and strength in the practice. They are looking all their problems squarely in the face and are not minimizing one bit the difficulties in front of them, but one has to be struck by their confidence and enthusiasm. On the whole they are studying and accumulating experience. They bar no opponents, and no proposition is too hard for them to tackle. Yet I have my first time for one of them to tell of a case or point won on sharp practice. I can not say this for the older lawyers.
The Negro lawyer makes a very poor showing in the matter of community charities. It is exceptional to find them taking an active part in charitable undertakings. One of the most bitter complaints I have received during the Survey came from an important official of the A.M.E. Church, who complains that the lawyers have isolated themselves from other forces and agencies working for racial advancement, and he ascribed the failure of the Negro lawyer to make faster progress to the lawyer's lack of interest in the community at large. This criticism is somewhat justified. It appears to be clear that the Negro lawyer as a whole is not the highest type citizen and professional man the race has produced. So far as the older lawyer is concerned he is not found at the head of any non-political movement or considered as a leader of community thought in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Cleveland, Toledo, and possibly Chicago. The younger men are doing more in this field. But the general attitude of the older men is that the struggle for existence has been so hard and bitter that they have not had any time for charity, or anything else not directly affecting their practice and income.
There have been sporadic instances of disinterested services to the community on the part of the older Negro lawyer. During the past war riots of 1919 and 1920 the Negro lawyers of Washington and Chicago formed defense committees to see that every Negro charged with a crime incident to or growing out of the riots should have legal representation. But these committees did not survive the riot period. No such committee exists to-day to see that the; cases of indigent Negroes are given a fair and proper hearing; and there is either a general apathy or studied impersonality in the responses to all suggestions about legal aid work. The younger men tend to respond to suggestions of legal aid work, but they shrink from having any considerable portion of it directed to their offices.
There is also a very marked change
of front on the part of the Negro lawyer in the North toward Negro practice.
Before the war every Negro lawyer in the North had as his goal the development
of a large practice among white people. All of the older lawyers who
have made any considerable success in the North directly out of the law
have done so out of a white clientele. They have their offices in the white
business districts, they often have white stenographers, and do
not cater to Negro clients. They say that the two classes of practice will
not mix, and since the white practice is more lucrative they tend to discourage
any increase in their Negro practice. On the other hand, with the greater
Negro population and wealth flowing into the North, the younger Negro lawyers
who have come into the practice since the war are locating their offices
in the heart of the Negro business districts, and are devoting all their
attention toward pushing their Negro practice ahead as rapidly as possible.
This is particularly true of New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago,
Cleveland and Gary.
But the Negro lawyer himself has failed to keep in touch with the trends of business development. The greatest deficiency in the general equipment of the Negro lawyer is a lack of knowledge of the fundamentals of economics and business practice. In the main, the older lawyers have made and are making no effort to make themselves conversant with book keeping, accounting, banking practice, production and distribution. Life insurance is probably the largest single business among Negroes, but very few Negro lawyers know anything of either the social or economic significance of life insurance, or-of the development of state regulation of life insurance companies and the reasons therefor. Few Negro lawyers have any really thoughtful opinion on the business needs of the community; or what particular form or type of association is best fitted for the enterprise projected and the community it is to serve.
Negro business is passing through a transitional and experimental period. The older type of one-man business which developed by a process of natural growth is disappearing or else becoming too large for its founder to handle alone. Enterprises with pooled capital are appearing in increasing numbers. Businesses are being refinanced and reorganized. Striking business failures are occurring. But throughout it all the average Negro lawyer appears unconcerned and unaffected. Apart from the strictly legal aspects of the matter, the average lawyer has no helpful suggestion to make as to why the business failed or the reasons for its success.
But the Negro lawyer to survive will
have to go further in his business interest than the mere question of legality
or illegality. For the next generation in my opinion he will have to sustain
the most intimate kind of a relation with the now nascent Negro enterprises
as a business solicitor. This work will take him into an extensive and
intensive study of economics and kindred subjects. He will be at the controls
in many situations with great potentialities for racial misunderstandings
and friction. Both black and white will look to him for interpretation
and a fair solution of contested issues between the races arising out of
increasing commercial competition and civic and social consciousness. Such
situations and such issues will tax the utmost capacity of the Negro
lawyer of the future. I think that the better class of the young Negro
lawyer recognizes this, and are more or less effectively
trying to put themselves in a position to meet these responsibilities
when they present themselves. But this aspect of the matter chiefly
concerns the law schools, and the law students now in training and yet
On the part of the younger men there is a marked leaning toward firms, and an increasing willingness to specialize. To-day most such firms are either full partnerships or else mere joint offices. The instances of an office with a real junior law clerk are rare. Perhaps the most notable example is the office of Raymond Pace Alexander, Esq., 1901 Chestnut 3treet, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mr. Alexander employs three young lawyers (John Francis Williams, Maceo Hubbard, and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, his wife), and a law student (Lewis Tanner Moore) as assistants and law clerks. Their calibre is uniformly high. Mr. Williams is a former editor of the Yale Law Review, class of 1922; Mr. Hubbard is a "B" man from Harvard's class of 1926; and Mrs. Alexander is a Ph.D. and law graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, class of 1927 law and a former editor of the Pennsylvania Law Review. Mr. Alexander himself is a Harvard man, class of 1923, and is now in his fifth year of practice.
The absence of opportunities for law clerkships is the most serious problem facing the Negro law graduate. The problem is the same whether he graduates from a white law school or from the Howard Law School. The white law schools appear powerless to place their Negro graduates as law clerks, no matter how creditable their scholastic record. As a general rule the white offices will not have them and the Negro offices can not afford them. The result is that the young Negro law graduate is thrown out into the active practice' without the seasoning of an apprentice period; and his lack of practical experience shows up in his work.
For the physical lay-out of the Negro law office, there is the primary problem of location. It is becoming increasingly difficult for Negro lawyers to get office space in white buildings, especially in the modern, more desirable buildings. In Baltimore and Washington the lawyers have been driven to the purchase of the buildings where their offices are located in order to guarantee themselves a location. Needless to say such offices are in small buildings which white persons have abandoned, on side streets away from the trend of white business development. In the Negro districts no particularly difficult problem of location arises. At the present time the older lawyers are refusing to locate in the Negro districts, claiming superior advantages and prestige by being located where they are. But it would not be surprising if they should finally be forced to locate in the Negro business districts by virtue or irresistible pressure from their clients.
Few Negro lawyers have adequate working libraries. The statutes, court reports and digests are not kept up to date; and very often one will find most of the library to be books on miscellaneous non-legal ' matter.' Usually this lack of a working private library is not compensated for by membership in bar association or other public or semi-public libraries. The truth is that the older Negro lawyer is not a student. What practice he has does not require that he should be. The major portion of his work involves only a few, very definite, stereotyped situations: the errant spouse, the parent abandoning the children, administration of small estates comprised of a little money in bank, life insurance policies and the family residence, and petty criminal offenses. As long as the cases run true to type he makes a fairly brave showing. But shunted ever so little off the beaten path, he becomes befuddled.
The Negro lawyers, especially the older ones, say as a group that an investment in a working library or bar association library membership does not make itself pay in increased practice. The businessman claims that the Negro lawyer's disposition to sit on hisndiploma and consider his study at an end, is just sheer laziness. Much of this seems to be true. They do not know how to study and are too shiftless to learn.
The Negro stenographer is a poor lot. In New York and Boston the more successful lawyers catering to white clients have been forced to employ and retain white stenographers because competent colored stenographers can not readily be found. And throughout the cities visited, the common and most general single complaint of the lawyers seems to be the matter of stenographers. In explanation it should be said that office work is just beginning to pay enough to attract the better educated, higher type of Negro girl. In the past such a girl has gone into teaching, social service, or has made a career of marriage. But there are now instances of girls with a college education taking up a secretarial career; and also instances of offices paying secretaries as much as they could earn in any other field.
In general, however, the organization and equipment of the average Negro law office reflect neither industry nor prosperity.
The extent and degree to which the Negro and white lawyers associate, vary in different cities. In Cleveland the Negro lawyers are members of the white bar association, attend all its meetings and dinners, and enjoy full and unrestricted membership. Also in Boston and New York. But in Philadelphia, Toledo and Gary, by custom the Negro lawyers rarely participate in the dinners of the associations to which they belong. In Baltimore and Washington they do not belong to the white bar associations at all. Full information about Chicago is still unavailable.
Generally however the Negro lawyers are developing their own associations. In Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington and Chicago there are active Negro bar associations; in Cleveland there is an active Lawyers' Club. The bar associations in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington in the past have had no particularly well-defined program and have not been very effective. Attendance at meetings is poor and irregular; the true financial membership is very small; and the associations function chiefly upon the occasion of the annual banquet and the demise of a member. The Washington, D.C., Bar Association is now taking an increasingly active part in matters affecting the conduct of the profession. It has expressed its choice of candidates upon the occasions of recent vacancies on the local bench, is prosecuting a campaign for admission of Negro lawyers to library privileges in the white bar association library, and is sponsoring a movement, to have a colored probation officer appointed in the District of Columbia Police Court.
But the Chicago bar association,
properly named the Cook County Bar Association, is the most influential
of all. It numbers 113 paid financial members, and includes all
but about ten of the Negro lawyers in active practice in Chicago. At its
annual meeting January 6, 1928, eighty-six members were actually present
while proxies brought the total number of votes cast in the election
to 108. The endorsement of the Association is sought by candidates
for the bench and other elective officials connected with the administration
of justice in Chicago. It handles all complaints and grievances against
Negro lawyers, and during the past year successfully initiated disbarment
proceedings against two of them, It is recognized by the Superior Court
of Cook-County as a representative body.
No bar association has ever been formed in Boston or New York for fear that any such movement would be seized upon by a certain element of the white bar to jim-crow and set the Negro lawyer apart. For the same reason the Cleveland lawyers refuse to allow their club to be known as a bar association.
In the past it very frequently happened that a Negro lawyer would make connections with a white lawyer as a sort of protector and advisor, and use the white lawyer to try all his cases. Striking examples of this used to occur in Washington. Then again the white lawyer would often be called into the case by the client himself who would be unwilling to trust the matter entirely to his Negro lawyer. This is now vanishing by degrees. The clients have more confidence in their Negro lawyers, and the lawyers have more mutual confidence in themselves. So that in many cities at the present time a Negro lawyer loses face both with his client and his brother lawyers if he calls in a white lawyer instead of another Negro lawyer as associate counsel.
In cases where white and Negro lawyers are on opposing sides, instances do occur of the white lawyer attempting to disparage the Negro lawyer as such. But these instances are neither numerous nor typical enough in the cities visited to count. On the whole in these cities white lawyers do not try to make capital out of the fact that opposing counsel is black. But the same thing can not be said for all the judges. There is a very decided and general feeling among Negro lawyers, especially in the border states such as Maryland and in the District of Columbia, that certain judges will not give a Negro lawyer an impartial hearing where opposing counsel is white.
Two years ago a survey was made of the white bar associations to ascertain their experience with Negro lawyers in the use of bar association library privileges. In not a single reply out of twenty-six was one complaint registered against a Negro lawyer for abuse of his library privileges. Baltimore even reported that it had less trouble with the Negro lawyers than with any other group.
In answer to the question whether the low disbarment record is not due to a dual standard of conduct set up for Negro and white lawyers, under which a white lawyer would be disbarred for conduct that would bring a Negro lawyer a mere reprimand, let it be known that the matter rests chiefly with the local grievance committee. The Cleveland Bar Association, by its Secretary, stated that it would probably lean backwards to see that a Negro lawyer up for disbarment had a fair trial; but ether bar associations made no similar indications.
Considering the hardships of the Negro lawyer in practice, his small fees, his lack of legal experience and meagre education, and the very great inducement to take advantage of an ignorant, trusting clientele, the record of the Negro lawyer in holding down his professional delinquencies to such a small figure bespeaks under the circumstances an inherent moral integrity.