November 07, 2008
Symposium on Norris Law Firm Nov. 19The Philadelphia Diversity Law Group, in association with Temple University and the Philadelphia Bar Association will host the symposium "Creating Access – The Norris Law Firm and the Liacouras Committee" on Wednesday, Nov. 19.
More than 50 years ago, a time when African-Americans had few, if any, options to practice in majority law firms, a courageous and talented group of African-American lawyers formed what is considered by many to be Philadelphia's first African-American law firm – Norris Schmidt Green Harris Higginbotham & Brown. 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, and still produced many of the superstars of the profession. 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 of 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. "Creating Access" will tell the story of how these Philadelphia lawyers came together to change our profession, primarily through the recollections of a panel of witnesses to and participants in these events. By retelling their story, we 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.Symposium participants include William H. Brown III, Robert L. Archie Jr., Peter J. Liacouras, Hon. Paul A. Dandridge, Hon. Ricardo C. Jackson, W. Bourne Ruthrauff, Professor Robert Reinstein and moderator JoAnne A. Epps, dean of Temple University Beasley School of Law. The program will be held at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, 701 Arch St., beginning at 6 p.m. RSVP by Nov. 14 by calling 215-751-2237 or e-mailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.