Six nationally-renowned litigators announced on Feb. 28 the launch of a first-of-its kind organization to combat the startling lack of diverse attorney leadership in lawsuits that disproportionately impact communities of color. ‘Shades of Mass’ was founded by nationally-renowned civil rights attorney Ben Crump (co-chair), of Ben Crump Law, PLLC, acclaimed product liability and civil rights lawyer Diandra ‘Fu’ Debrosse Zimmermann (co-chair), of DiCello Levitt Gutzler LLC, and executive board members: Gregory Cade, Environmental Litigation Group, P.C.; LaRuby May, May Lightfoot, PLLC; Larry Taylor, The Cochran Firm; Navan Ward, Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C., and president of the American Association for Justice.
Shades of Mass intends to address the stark divide between corporate harm done to communities of color by product defects, device malfunctions, and environmental hazards, and the minuscule percentage of non-White attorneys selected to lead the litigation in such matters.
According to a <Law.com> analysis, between 2016 and 2019, only five percent of leadership appointments in multi-district litigations (MDLs) went to non-White lawyers. Debrosse Zimmermann is one of the few attorneys of color who has been appointed to prominent leadership positions in several MDLs. Crump most prominently represented the family of George Floyd in its wrongful death suit against the city of Minneapolis and led litigation on behalf of the Black Farmers in the Roundup Mass Tort Litigation.
“No one is going to bring more passion to these causes than attorneys who resemble the communities they’re fighting for,” Crump said. “And there are many, many non-White attorneys who have the expertise and experience to lead MDL cases. It’s high time for them to be seen and heard from.”
In addition to advocating for and facilitating the appointment of Black and Brown attorneys to leadership roles in federal and state-based centralized civil actions (including federal MDLs), Shades of Mass seeks to remedy the gap in representation through mentorship, advocacy, networking, and education. Crump and Debrosse Zimmermann share the ultimate goal of providing opportunities and advantages to qualified attorneys of color and ensuring that judges know where to find them and understand the importance of placing them in leadership roles.
“Although the judiciary has long espoused a commitment to increased diversity in the legal profession, people of color are still underrepresented in the profession overall, and especially in litigation leadership positions. We are going to be very intentional about overcoming each of the barriers that have stood in the way of lawyers of color being appointed to lead these cases, including the implicit bias that Black and Brown lawyers don’t have what it takes to successfully lead,” said Debrosse Zimmermann
“Far too often, people of color find themselves victimized by rich, powerful corporations and must rely on the civil courts to receive justice. The lack of attorneys of color playing significant roles in high-stakes litigation that impacts communities of color is undeniable,” said Derrick Johnson, president/CEO of the NAACP. “I applaud Mr. Crump and Ms. Debrosse Zimmerman for their efforts to raise awareness of and find remedies for this problem.”
(More information about Shades of Mass can be found at <www.shadesofmass.org>.)