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Symposium and Reception: “Creating Access: The Norris Law Firm and the Liacouras Committee”

On November 19, 2008 by Schnader

The Philadelphia Diversity Law Group (PDLG) – of which Schnader is a founding member and active supporter – held a symposium and reception titled “Creating Access: The Norris Law Firm and the Liacouras Committee,” on November 19, 2008 at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The session, held in association with Temple University and the Philadelphia Bar Association, brought together a distinguished panel of professionals to tell the story of a courageous and talented group of African American lawyers who formed what is considered by many to be Philadelphia’s first African American law firm – Norris Schmidt Green Harris Higginbotham & Brown – more than 50 years ago, in a time when African Americans had few, if any, options to practice in majority law firms.

The firm’s in-court victories, as well as its out of court influence, created access for countless persons across the region and nation. The Firm never numbered more than a dozen lawyers at a given time, yet still produced many of the superstars of the profession and legends of the bar.

In addition to building a dynamic and respected practice, a number of the firm’s lawyers partnered with others in the Philadelphia legal community in an effort to increase the number of African American lawyers in the Commonwealth by reforming Pennsylvania’s bar examination procedures. Responding to their efforts, the Philadelphia Bar Association appointed a Special Committee chaired by Peter Liacouras to determine whether Pennsylvania’s bar examination procedures were in fact biased against African American candidates. The committee published its findings in December 1970, and changes were made in the Commonwealth’s examination procedures that substantially increased the number of African American lawyers practicing in Philadelphia and statewide. Lawyers from a cross section of the Philadelphia bar, including fabled African American lawyer and civil rights activist Austin Norris, worked together to bring about the report and these changes, which have forever altered the face of Philadelphia’s legal community.

The distinguished panel – which included Schnader’s own William H. Brown, III, Robert L. Archie, Peter J. Liacouras, the Honorable Paul A. Dandridge, the Honorable Ricardo C. Jackson, W. Bourne Ruthrauff, and Professor Robert Reinstein – was moderated by Temple University Beasley School of Law Dean JoAnne A. Epps and sought to celebrate the achievements of the Norris Law Firm, the Liacouras Committee, and the other diversity pioneers who contributed to making a legal career accessible to a more diverse group of lawyers, providing an example of professional courage and commitment to principle that continues to inspire today.

The PDLG is committed to increasing the number of attorneys of diverse backgrounds working at member law firms and corporate law departments in Philadelphia. The organization creates programs to enhance recruitment and retention of minority lawyers by Philadelphia law firms and corporations, and seeks, in collaboration with area educational institutions, governments and businesses, to develop initiatives and programs that support the success of minority lawyers and encourage them to come and to stay in Philadelphia. Albert S. Dandridge, III, chair of Schnader’s Securities Practice Group, serves as Treasurer and is a member of PDLG’s Board of Directors.