February 1, 2007 marks another anniversary of Black History Month, the country’s annual celebration of African American history. This rich tradition began in 1926 with Black History Week that was expanded to Black History Month in 1976. Join us as we celebrate this wonderful reminder of what decades of dedication to a cause and hard work can achieve. In recognition of the fact—as stated by the U.S. Census Bureau—that the legal profession currently boasts 44,800 African American lawyers, the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA®) has chosen its 10th anniversary year as a perfect time to spotlight 10 up-and-coming young black lawyers who have distinguished themselves in their chosen practice areas.
The foundation of the selection process was a request made to each of the prominent senior attorneys featured in the cover article “America’s Top Black Lawyers” in the November 2003 issue of Black Enterprise magazine. These senior practitioners were asked, “Who, in your opinion, are the up-and-coming African American attorneys who have practiced law for 10 years or less?” The response was phenomenal and pleasantly overwhelming, resulting in a pool of approximately 100 talented, young, black attorneys. Once this initial list was compiled, Diversity & the Bar® team members reviewed the feedback, researched nominees’ credentials, and sought other information available from public records. As part of the process, researchers and fact checkers examined experience, significant cases and transactions, clients, and community service. Finalists provided detailed information about their backgrounds. A tough decision was made to eliminate candidates that were at the same company or firm of the nominating senior attorney unless the candidate had also been nominated by another senior attorney not employed with him or her.
The selection of Diversity & the Bar’s 2007 Up-and-Coming Young Black Lawyers was based on the following criteria:
Only those lawyers who were personally recommended by an attorney featured in the “America’s Top Black Lawyers” article qualified as a candidate for this list. All had to be practicing attorneys who had received their law degrees within the last 10 years, or since 1997. Non-practicing attorneys, judges, or individuals with law degrees who were not working directly in the legal profession were ineligible. All attorneys selected have achieved professional recognition at their law firms, served as in-house counsel at major corporations, held significant positions in other legal settings, or served as leaders in their bar associations.
By placing the spotlight on the nation’s up-and-coming African American attorneys, Diversity & the Bar hopes to encourage more law firms and corporations to promote the diverse talent of black attorneys who graduate from law school each year and to inspire other African American lawyers to become the best in their chosen practice areas.
Presented here are profiles of 10 outstanding young African American attorneys who, through talent, perseverance, and hard work, achieved recognition as America’s best and brightest. MCCA® congratulates the following stars:
MCCA® thanks freelance journalists Elisabeth Frater, Esq., of Gravett & Frater and Kara Mayer Robinson for all of their hard work in preparation of this important article, extensive related research, and for their superb fact-checking skills.
LANESHA T. ANDERSON
Corporate Counsel—Legal Department, Sales and Marketing
Sprint Nextel Corporation
Overland Park, Kansas
Lanesha T. Anderson has made her mark as a leading attorney through a multitude of accomplishments as a corporate attorney with the Sprint Nextel Corporation, as well as several prominent achievements as an associate with the law firm of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham LLP (K&L).
Currently providing legal support to Sprint Nextel’s wireless resale business, known as the mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) business, Anderson also supports the relationship with some of Sprint’s largest dealers and national retail distributors, including RadioShack and Wal-Mart. She was instrumental in launching the company’s newly formed mobile advertising business and, in her previous role with Sprint, prior to the merger with Nextel, she negotiated multi-million dollar commercial agreements with the company’s most prominent business and systems integrator customers, in addition to supporting the business sales and marketing teams. During this time, Anderson also was the primary attorney for Sprint’s emerging managed mobility business unit.
At K&L, she practiced in the mergers and acquisitions and corporate groups. During her tenure at K&L, Anderson was at the helm of two municipal bond refundings, each in excess of $100 million. Other key deals include private placements for technology companies, acquisitions and other corporate combinations by Fortune 500 companies, and an initial public offering for a company in the steel industry.
Throughout her time with K&L and Sprint Nextel, Anderson honed an extensive set of skills by assisting clients with corporate governance, amending bylaws to reflect changes in corporate laws, drafting board of directors and shareholder resolutions, and preparing corporate annual reports and proxy statements to shareholders.
A magna cum laude graduate of St. Louis University, Anderson earned a juris doctorate and a master’s in business administration from the University of Tulsa in 2000, where she served as editor-in-chief of the Energy Law Journal. Anderson is active with the National Urban League, where she serves on the Board of Trustees and is a member of both the Executive Committee and the Committee on Trustees and Governance. Anderson is a member of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) and the Corporate Counsel Women of Color (CCWC), and previously served on the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Minority Bar Committee.
AARON A. DRYER
Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP
Aaron A. Dryer, a business and taxation attorney with Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP, stands out in the legal arena due to his strong business and legal acumen combined with a solid presence within the community. Clients note that Dryer’s acute understanding of the challenges involved in business, legal expertise, grassroots approach, and sense of the human element underlying business transactions distinguish him as a top business and taxation attorney.
Named as a 2006 “Ohio Rising Star” by the publishers of Ohio SuperLawyers (Law & Politics and Cincinnati Magazine), Dryer is also an active member of the Columbus Urban Growth Corporation, where he serves as a director and secretary. Additionally, he serves on the certification committee of the South Central Ohio Minority Business Council and loan committee of Columbus Compact Corporation. He has been selected for inclusion in the Best Lawyers Consumer Guide for the area of small business representation and has been included in Who’s Who in Black Columbus since 2002. Dryer has served as a professional speaker and panel moderator in a multitude of settings within the community, including the National Business Institute, All Ohio Trade Fair, and Ohio Business Opportunity Fair, on topics related to succession planning, leveraging opportunities, executive compensation, and entity planning. He is the author of Choice Business Entity in Ohio, a publication of the National Business Institute.
In his current role as business and taxation attorney for Porter, Dryer provides representation to public and privately held companies, exempt organizations, and individuals. He advises clients regarding the formation, expansion, and disposition of business entities and the tax consequences involved in such transactions, in addition to performing compliance work and administrative practice before local, state, and federal taxing authorities. Dryer has been with Porter Wright throughout his entire legal career, beginning as a summer clerk during law school and then joining the firm full time upon his graduation.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting with honors at the Ohio State University, Dryer earned a juris doctorate with honors at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in 1998. He is currently a member of the South Central Ohio Minority Business Council, Columbus Compact Corporation, American Bar Association, Ohio State Bar Association, and the Columbus Bar Association.
SAMANTHA C. GRANT
Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP
Los Angeles, Calif.
Samantha C. Grant has distinguished herself as a multi-faceted labor and employment litigator who is equally effective in arbitration, mediation, or trial proceedings. The 1998 University of California, Los Angeles School of Law graduate is a partner at Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP. One of Grant’s recent accomplishments is a favorable groundbreaking employment law decision by the California Supreme Court in Lyle v. Warner Brothers Television Production, in which the Supreme Court found that Warner Bros. Television Production, an independent production company, and several individual writers were not liable for gender harassment claims asserted by a former writer’s assistant on the hit television show Friends.
Grant also handled a high-stakes wage-and-hour class action lawsuit and successfully demurred to the complaint on an issue of first impression regarding the collective bargaining agreement exemption to California’s overtime laws. This resulted in a favorable settlement for a major network. Grant has also had successes before the National Labor Relations Board, such as recently obtaining a dismissal, on behalf of an independent production company, of an unfair labor practice charge. In addition, she was recently selected as a Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference Representative.
A frequent speaker on employment law and diversity issues, Grant has presented at American Bar Association meetings and has been a trainer for corporations on topics such as the prevention of harassment and discrimination, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Grant is committed to advancing the diversity efforts of the legal profession, and has been appointed to the boards of the John M. Langston Bar Association, the Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, and the Diversity Outreach Initiative Taskforce of the American Bar Association. She has also been recognized as “One to Watch” in the Labor and Employment field by the Los Angeles Daily Journal and was named as one of Southern California Super Lawyers Rising Stars in 2005 and 2006 by Los Angeles Magazine.
JAMAL H. HAUGHTON
Vice President and Associate General Counsel
Cablevision Systems Corporation
Jamal H. Haughton, vice president and associate general counsel for Cablevision Systems Corporation, stands out as one of the youngest vice presidents in this leading entertainment, media, and telecommunications company. Haughton first made a name for himself as a corporate associate at New York powerhouse Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, where he was actively involved in the practice of domestic and cross-border mergers and acquisitions and corporate and securities law matters.
During his tenure at Cravath, Haughton completed over $40 billion of merger and acquisition transactions, $14 billion of domestic and international securities offerings, and $12 billion of commercial bank financings. In 2005, he was nominated for the International Financial Law Review’s Equity Team of the Year for his role in the $900 million initial public offering of PanAmSat Holding Corporation. At the time, the securities offering was the largest IPO in the U.S. telecommunications sector in over three years and the largest IPO overall in the past year.
Following his work at Cravath, Haughton was tapped for his position at Cablevision, where he oversees all capital market and treasury functions and works with a broad range of corporate legal matters. The role, which is traditionally reserved for more senior-level attorneys, was offered to Haughton based on his diverse corporate law experience and notable successes at Cravath. Despite his relatively young career, Haughton’s expansive background allowed him to assume the broader role, thereby putting him on the fast track toward a future as general counsel of a large corporation.
After graduating from the University of Michigan with high distinction, Haughton went on to receive his juris doctorate from Yale Law School in 1999. He is currently a member of the National Bar Association, the New York State Bar Association, and the American Bar Association.
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
New York, N.Y.
New Orleans native Damon Hewitt considers himself a direct beneficiary of the continuing struggle for civil and human rights for people of African descent in Louisiana, across the Gulf region, and worldwide. Since joining the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) in 2001, his docket has consisted of class action cases and consultation on a number of racial and social justice issues. Hewitt served as counsel in a series of investigations and public hearings regarding racial disparities in discipline practices in Florida public school districts, and he founded LDF’s “Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline” project, which challenges racial disparities that lie at the intersection of educational opportunity and school discipline.
Hewitt also served as counsel in Wallace v. Blanco, a civil rights lawsuit that sought to ensure that displaced African American voters could have meaningful access to the ballot in the first elections since the city was devastated by flooding. He has also worked on cases and policy matters involving school finance, educational adequacy, high-stakes testing, affirmative action, indigent defense, and issues uniquely affecting black men and boys.
Hewitt’s academic background includes a bachelor’s degree in political science from Louisiana State University, and a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where he was a Public Interest Scholar. While in law school, Hewitt worked as a research assistant to Professor Lani Guinier, and following his degree, he served as a law clerk to the Hon. Eric L. Clay of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
Hewitt serves the community in numerous post-Katrina collaborative efforts, including on the advisory boards of “Safe Streets/Strong Communities,” the Hurricane Information Relief Network, and the Gulf Coast Commission on Reconstruction Equity.
Hewitt is frequently quoted in the media on school discipline and racial justice issues, including those impacting New Orleans and the Katrina Diaspora. With respect to the impact of Hurricane Katrina, he was interviewed on the ABC News program Primetime, CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight, and was recently featured in Spike Lee’s epic documentary film, When the Levees Broke.
CHANTA L. HOWARD
Deputy Attorney General
New Jersey State Attorney General’s Office—Division of Gaming Enforcement
Since graduating from Rutgers Newark School of Law in 2002, Chanta L. Howard has honed her litigation skills to the point where she successfully represents the government’s interest as it relates to New Jersey’s billion-dollar gaming industry. Howard currently serves as a deputy attorney general for the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, where she is responsible for representing the division’s interest in investigations relating to casino employee licenses, assuring that casino employees meet the applicable standards of character and conduct, and for litigating cases under the Casino Control Act.
Having served as first chair in several successful trials, Howard recently handled a matter where an employee perpetrated identity theft in order to secure employment with a New Jersey casino. The matter brought before the Casino Control Commission ultimately resulted in the disqualification of the licensee. Although identity theft is not a common issue in her practice, it illustrates the range of issues faced by Deputy Attorney Generals when representing the Division of Gaming Enforcement. Howard also supervises the investigations surrounding the applications for licensure.
Howard successfully first chaired a hearing before the Casino Control Commission that involved an applicant’s non-disclosure of his criminal record, which is a disqualifying objection of the Casino Control Act.
Strong negotiation skills and preparation, including the drafting of over 75 settlement agreements are pivotal to this lawyer’s successes.
Prior to joining the Division of Gaming Enforcement, Howard was an associate in the general litigation department of Riker Danzig, a New Jersey-based law firm. One of her major accomplishments while at Riker Danzig was representing a prisoner in a Section 1983 prisoner’s rights case, which ultimately resulted in a successfully negotiated settlement.
Howard received a bachelor’s degree in English from Rutgers College in 1999 and is admitted to the New Jersey Bar. She is a member of the Corporate Counsel Women of Color, the American Bar Association, and the N.J. State Bar Association Children’s Rights Committee and Pro Bono Committee. In the community, Howard serves on the Board of Trustees for Community Agencies Corporation of New Jersey, a family of non-profit agencies that works collaboratively to deliver programs and services that enhance the lives of children and families in the Greater Newark, New Jersey Metropolitan area.
LAURIE NICOLE ROBINSON
Assistant General Counsel (Labor and Employment Division) and Director, CBS Training & Development
CBS Broadcasting Inc.
New York, N.Y.
In her role as assistant general counsel at CBS Broadcasting Inc., Laurie Nicole Robinson has risen to the level of representing over 200 television and radio stations in labor, employment, and immigration matters. In one of her many accomplishments, Robinson has been named a Power Broker by Inside Counsel in its GC 50 list of the most influential in-house counsel in North America.
This accomplishment was a natural outcome of a career track that began at two New York City law firms, Seyfarth Shaw LLP and Epstein, Becker and Green, P.C., where she represented management in labor and employment matters. Prior to joining the law firms, Robinson worked as a legal intern in the labor management division of the National Football League in New York City. Robinson has also demonstrated her intellectual depth, having authored several legal-related articles on the topics of “Pre-Employment Personality Testing: Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, How Much Latitude Do Employers Have to Incorporate These Tests in the Hiring Practice?”; “Drafting An Effective Release;” “Retail Industry Picketing and Handbilling: Rights of Non-Employee Union Representatives and Striking and Off Duty Employees to Access to Shopping Malls, Parking Fields, Stores and Other Private Property;” and “The Globalization of Female Child Prostitution.”
Often sought as a speaker, Robinson has made presentations before the American Bar Association, the National Bar Association, the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, the South Asian Women Leaders Forum, and the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Delta G.E.M.S Women in Law and Law Enforcement Center Fair 2006.
A 1998 graduate from Indiana University School of Law at Bloomington, Robinson takes pride in her accomplishments in promoting diversity in the legal profession, including being the founder and CEO of Corporate Counsel Women of Color, a non-profit organization of over 1,500 women attorneys of color who work primarily for Fortune 1000 and Forbes 2000 legal departments, and serving in the newly created leadership position of director of CBS training and development.
She has been recognized by the Coca-Cola Company’s legal department, received the Women’s Venture Fund’s Highest Leaf Award, the Charting Your Own Course Spirit Award, and the Black Women Lawyers’ (Los Angeles) Power of One Award. Robinson was featured in the annual women’s issue of Ebony Magazine in recognition of her leadership, ability to inspire others and effectuate change. She was named to the Network Journal’s 40 Under Forty List and was highlighted as one of the legal industry’s women leaders in Vault’s View From the Top: Advice from Legal Women Leaders.
Searcy Law Offices, LLC
Lori Searcy, the principal attorney at Searcy Law Offices, LLC, has made a name for herself by successfully representing Fortune 500 companies and individuals in complex legal disputes, many of national significance, at the prominent law firms of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and Hogan & Hartson LLP, prior to opening her own law firm last year.
While Searcy has achieved prominence as a business litigator, one of her most important accomplishments involves work on a team that handled a particularly egregious case of wrongful convictions in Tulia, Texas. The case stemmed from a 1999 supposed drug bust in which dozens of mostly poor African Americans were rounded up based solely on the word of an unsavory undercover officer who had a proclivity for using racial epithets. With the help of her Hogan & Hartson team and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the individuals, who were serving sentences of up to 99 years in prison, were freed and obtained a multi-million dollar settlement. The case was featured in all national news outlets, and Searcy received the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice Trial Lawyer of the Year Award for her work.
Searcy has also had success as lead counsel in social justice cases. One involved representation of the NAACP and individual plaintiffs who had suffered discrimination during annual biker events in Myrtle Beach, S.C., resulting in successful settlements that have helped tackle the recurring discrimination problem that surfaces when African Americans congregate in large numbers at resort or other destinations.
After attaining success in business and social justice litigation, in mid-2006, Searcy stepped off the partnership track to found her own firm, Searcy Law Offices, LLC. Searcy has represented clients ranging from individuals who have been seriously wronged to businesses who need first-rate representation in the areas of business and employment law. Searcy attributes her success to skills learned working alongside some of the nation’s leading lawyers at Hogan & Hartson, LLP where she spent most of her career, a commitment to justice, and impeccable client service.
A cum laude graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, Searcy was a member of the Georgetown Law Journal. She is currently a member of the American, Virginia, and Fairfax Bar Associations, the Northern Virginia Association of Black Attorneys, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
CARTER M. STEWART
Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP
Carter M. Stewart, an associate in the Litigation Group of the Columbus, Ohio office of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP, has distinguished himself through his extensive background in criminal defense, commercial litigation, arbitration, antitrust, and education law and through his work on high-profile, landmark cases.
A former assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of California, Stewart prosecuted a wide range of cases, including money laundering, illegal immigration, and narcotics possession. Stewart also helped prosecute the BALCO case, which involved the illegal distribution of performance-enhancing drugs to Olympic and professional athletes. The case received national exposure and resulted in guilty pleas from all four defendants. Soon after the case was filed, the United States Senate launched an investigation into the use of steroids in professional sports, and Major League Baseball strengthened its drug testing policies.
Another notable accomplishment involves Stewart’s work as a litigation associate at McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen LLP (currently Bingham McCutchen LLP) in San Francisco, California, where he focused on antitrust law, arbitration matters, shareholder class action suits, and commercial contract disputes. Working as co-counsel with the San Francisco Chapter of the NAACP on San Francisco’s landmark school desegregation case, SFNAACP v. SFUSD, Stewart helped to fend off a legal challenge from third-party plaintiffs who wanted to vacate the consent decree obtained in the original litigation. Stewart worked with the NAACP to extend the consent decree for another year and a half in order to ensure that the goals of the original litigation were met. In addition to performing internal investigations for Fortune 1000 companies and litigating and mediating cases for Fortune 100 companies, Stewart has devoted more than 100 hours per year to pro bono work.
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Stewart also holds a master’s degree in educational policy from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Stanford University. He is a trustee of the Contemporary American Theatre Company, a Franklin County Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), a member of the 2006 Central Ohio Team-in-Training for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and a former board member of the KIPP Heartwood Academy in San Jose, Calif.
MELISSA S. WOODS
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
New York, N.Y.
Melissa S. Woods, assistant counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), has made her mark in the legal arena by focusing on the struggle for racial equality and social justice. Since joining the LDF in 1999, she has worked on more than a dozen complex class action and individual lawsuits around the country—at the trial and appellate levels—in the areas of affirmative action, school desegregation, fair housing, and employment discrimination.
A 1998 George Washington University School of Law graduate, Woods’ recent accomplishments include her work on the University of Michigan affirmative action case that reached the United States Supreme Court and upheld the use of affirmative action in order to promote diversity in higher education. Woods also participated in the final settlement of a decades-old case involving the desegregation of Tennessee’s higher education system. Earlier this year, Woods played a lead role in a precedent-setting housing discrimination trial in Baltimore, Md., which challenged the pervasive segregation of African American public housing residents in poor, racially-isolated neighborhoods. Her work on employment discrimination has also included oral argument before an en banc panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in an Arkansas case involving race discrimination.
Woods began her civil rights work while in law school and interned at the U.S. Department of Justice, working in the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division. She also worked at two national civil rights organizations, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Washington Office of the Legal Defense Fund, and has also worked at the New York Civil Liberties Union on issues of race and police brutality.
Woods is the recipient of a 1998 National Association for Public Interest Law Equal Justice Fellowship, is a member of the bar in the States of New York and New Jersey; U. S. District Courts for the District of New Jersey and the Southern District of New York; U. S. Courts of Appeal for the Sixth, Eighth, and Eleventh Circuits; and the U. S. Supreme Court. Woods received a bachelor of arts degree in sociology and women’s studies, with honors, from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. In 2004, she was elected to Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees; she is its youngest member. Woods is a member of the New York City Bar Association and currently serves on the Labor and Employment Law Committee.
From the January/February 2007 issue of Diversity & The Bar®