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Advancing and Impacting Equity in the Legal System: Then and Now

November 15, 2023 (5 min read)
The 2023 cohort of LexisNexis Rule of Law Fellows pose in front of a banner that reads

That was then: 15 law student Fellows looking rather worried as we explain that they need to plan, research, and write a publishable-quality legal advocacy paper.

This is now: 15 published authors proudly signing copies of their book, “Advancing and Impacting Equity in the Legal System.”

That was then: five groups of Fellows pitching ideas to their peers and mentors.

This is now: five extraordinary teams explaining to a huge, in-person and online audience, how their projects will end systemic racism in the legal system.

That was then: the Innovation Retreat in Raleigh, North Carolina, May 2023.

This is now: the Third Annual LexisNexis Equity in the Law Summit and Symposium in Miami, Florida, October 2023.

Those words, first spoken during the 2023 Fellowship Innovation Retreat (“That was then. This is now.”), became something of a mantra for the 2023 cohort of Fellows, as they overcame every challenge thrown at them in the LexisNexis African Ancestry Network & LexisNexis Rule of Law Foundation Fellowship. We have been lucky enough to witness the Fellows’ progress, from Raleigh to Miami, from hesitant researchers to published and accomplished authors and public speakers, and what a transformation it was! Through the Fellowship, passionate law students have become changemakers.

The Third Annual LexisNexis Equity in the Law Summit and Symposium presented and celebrated the Fellows achievements, while many of the speakers, and the location in Florida itself, reminded us all that there is still so much more to do.

We began with a boat trip touring historic South Florida – including learning and looking on toward Virginia Key Beach – from the vantage point of the water, where the Fellows and Mentors caught up with each other in-person, after a summer of virtually working so closely together, while far apart. Then, the Fellows went straight into an evening of rehearsals for the final presentations. Already impressive, having gone through several rounds of executive and communication coaching, the Fellows practiced their speeches, their stage presence, and their use of technology.  

On Thursday, we were given a tour of the Historic Lyric Theatre and Black Archives (archives housing the “rapidly vanishing material that reflects the African American experience in Miami-Dade County … and a national resource for this history of the 19th and 20th centuries, providing a rich repository of materials that are used by scholars, students, teachers, the media and the community…”) in Historic Overtown, before attending a panel discussion from Black legal leaders in Miami and its nearby counties, focused on the development of, and challenges to, equality in the legal profession in Florida, including moderator Valeria Obi, Labor & Employment Counsel for Coca-Cola Beverages Florida, and panelists Loreal A. Arscott, Esq., Owner of L.A. Law Firm, P.A., Melba Pearson, Director of Prosecution Projects, Florida International University, and The Honorable Harold Pryor, State Attorney for Florida’s 17th Judicial Circuit. Over lunch at Red Rooster – one of the country’s only Black-owned restaurants headed by a James Beard award-winning Black chef, Bacardi Jackson, Deputy Legal Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Children’s Rights Practice Group, inspired us all with the story of her 20-year journey from Big Law to Civil Rights. Following lunch, the Fellows were back at rehearsals for the afternoon – fine-tuning their presentations – before a cocktail reception in the evening.

At this reception, the Fellowship publication, “Advancing and Impacting Equity in the Legal System” was unveiled. The publication was universally very well received, and its success is due to the hard work of not just the Fellows, but also of the large team from Editorial Operations that spent many hours on-boarding the authors, and editing, formatting, printing, and shipping the publication – a huge thank you to everyone that helped with the Fellowship publication this year. We would also like to extend a sincere, grand thank you to the over one hundred LexisNexis Legal and Professional employees globally that volunteered their time and talent to this important program with the mission of advancing the rule of law by eliminating systemic racism in legal systems

On Friday, October 27, Congressman Bakari Sellers gave an opening keynote address to start the Symposium executive presentations, reminding us all how far we have come and asked us to think about how far we must go for racial equity, echoing the theme of then and now. Continuing this theme, Adonica Black, Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion at LexisNexis Legal & Professional and Director of the LexisNexis African Ancestry Network & LexisNexis Rule Law Foundation Fellowship affirmed, “At a time where we must acknowledge the trespasses being made to the rule of law both [there] in Miami, Florida and abroad, our Fellows serve as a beacon of hope, offering solutions for how to move forward, enabled by technology and a shared desire for a more just world. We see you, and we are doing something about it!” Adonica’s focus on meaningful impact throughout the program, with thoughtful consideration to all program and event components, is evident.

The 2023 Fellow clusters then took to the stage in turn – presenting the research, progress, and next steps for each of their projects:

  1. The Gavel League: An App Providing Legal Education to Children and Adolescents
  2. I, Too, Sing America: Uncovering Untold U.S. History through the Law
  3. Technology Solutions to Alleviate Racial Bias in Jury Selection
  4. Pathways to Practice Pipeline: Building Bridges for HBCU Students to Legal Fields Lacking Diversity
  5. Law Clinic Support Tools & Resources to Combat Systemic Racism in the Legal System

You can access the recording of their incredible presentations here.

At lunch, Dominique Calhoun, President of the National Bar Association (NBA), spoke of his pleasure at the growing connection between the NBA and the Fellowship, and his hopes that this connection would deepen in future years. Finally, the Symposium concluded with an award ceremony for the Fellows, where the Mentors gave speeches thanking, congratulating, and recognizing the unique achievements of each of our Fellows.

It has been a complete privilege to work on the Fellowship this year, and to see the Fellows grow in confidence in their written and spoken presentations. We are looking forward to globally expanding the program to South Africa and the United Kingdom next year!