Black and white attorneys' perspectives on race, the legal system, and continuing legal education
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Statistics abound which document the racial inequities in the judicial system with regard to convictions and sentencing. Nevertheless, the legal profession in Georgia has not acknowledged the importance of race in jury decisions and judicial sentencing by mandating a racial awareness continuing legal education (CLE) requirement or by expanding one of the current requirements such as ethics to include the issue of race. Critical race theory (CRT) suggests that support for such race-related CLE would be based on the race of the attorney. The purpose of this study was to determine Black and White attorneys’ perspectives on race, the legal system, and their level of support for the inclusion of race-related topics in CLE. The qualitative study employed critical race theory as the theoretical framework. The study used a convenience sample of fourteen Black and ten White attorneys who practiced in the Athens and metropolitan Atlanta area. The data were collected through the use of in depth semi-structured face-to-face interviews. The resulting data was analyzed using the constant comparative method of data analysis and major themes were determined. An analysis of the data from the White attorneys revealed four major themes: (a) Racial inequality is pervasive in the legal system, (b) Race influences interaction between the judiciary and defendants, (c) Black attorneys are victims of race-based exclusion at all levels in the profession, and (d) Black attorneys must locate their practices near Black clientele and near a diverse judiciary. The White attorneys were supportive of both the status quo and limited change in the current CLE format. The White attorneys were reluctant to advocate a sweeping overhaul of the current CLE approach. An analysis of the data from the Black attorneys revealed five major themes: (a) The judiciary, White attorneys, and jurors view Black attorneys as incompetent, (b) Black attorneys are victims of race-based exclusion at all levels in the profession, (c) Race influences interaction between the judiciary and defendants, (d) Black attorneys must locate their practices near Black clientele and near a diverse judiciary, and (e) Jurors consider race in their deliberations. The Black attorneys all agreed that CLE should address the issue of race and that the status quo was not acceptable. There was a strong sense of urgency among the Black attorneys about the nature of the race problem in the profession of law and the need for CLE to address the issue in its programming.