Being A Black Lawyer In Atlanta
by Rod Dixon
Not long ago, I spoke at a career day for young students at Brown Middle, an Atlanta Public School. I was discussing being a lawyer with several of the students. Then, one asked, “yeah, but what is it like being a black lawyer in Atlanta?” Sadly, my initial response was that it’s the same as being any other ethnicity. Immediately, I sensed a degree of skepticism at my answer, which I believed was truthful at the time. But then, after I left, I had to analyze that question in greater depth.
First of all, let me start with the easy things. As a black lawyer, I have the same license as any other lawyer. I practice in the same courthouses. I practice in the same areas of law. My clients want stellar results. There are always twelve members on my juries. Finally, all my verdicts have to be unanimous. Just like everyone else’s.
Yet, as a personal injury lawyer, and to the young student’s question, there are issues, concerns, joys, and frustrations that may be unique to being a black lawyer in Atlanta.
Atlanta is the epicenter of the civil rights movement. It is the home of the greatest civil rights icon in American history. In addition, it is the place once dubbed the “City Too Busy To Hate.” Obviously, Atlanta is a special and unique city. Correspondingly, being a black lawyer in Atlanta has to be different than being a white lawyer in Atlanta, or an Asian lawyer in New York.
It’s no secret that the Atlanta population divides, very generically, into two groups: black and white. Now, that does not necessarily mean we are divided. Of course, we must recognize that these two groups are real. They have real expectations. And they want real results.
☞ One of several youth baseball teams sponsored by The Dixon Firm
As a black lawyer, I am obligated to be an integral part of my community. I live in South Fulton, a largely black community. Importantly, I consider it a must that I interact with my neighbors. I know I must “give back,” in the truest sense of the term, not as a cliche. Understandably, if my work is not tight, my people will look at me the next time I come around asking for business and tell me, “boy bye.” And as a proud black lawyer, I am okay with all these things. I know that as a black lawyer, I have to give my best because my people expect and deserve the best.
Even more, I have to also understand that I have had wonderful white clients. In fact, I have achieved huge results for my lighter-skinned neighbors. And I am proud of that. We live in a city that, because of its history and culture—its upbringing—has a significant white population that won’t hesitate to entrust their legal issue to a black lawyer. As such, they deserve (and from me GET) the highest level of service. And, admittedly, I don’t want to mess it up for the next black person. (And black people know what I mean by that. LOL.)
When I answered that young student’s question, I failed to bare this truth: Being a black lawyer in Atlanta is different. Like everyone, we must work hard to get great results. Yet, we also have to be conscious of making our people proud. Indeed, making our people proud is not an obligation, it is a pleasure.
In conclusion, to that young student who may want to be a black lawyer, I leave this advice on how to conduct yourself as a black lawyer: never give up on who you are, and who you are will never give up on you.