J.L. Turner Legal Association 2019 President Erin Nowell sat down with Attorney at Law Magazine to review the history and current goals of the association.
AALM: Is there an interesting story behind the founding of your association?
Nowell: One of the most inspiring things about the J.L. Turner Legal Association is its beginning. On May 4, 1952, African-American lawyers practicing in Dallas met to discuss the issues they continually encountered in their practice. One of the main issues concerned fair treatment by judges in the courtroom. As such, they determined their best options were to be well prepared and to protect the record for appeal, if necessary.
By the end of the meeting, the gentlemen decided to set up an active association with officers and monthly meetings to be called the Barrister’s Club. This was the beginning of the J.L. Turner Legal Association.
AALM: What is the association’s focus for the year?
Nowell: The association’s main goal for the year is to provide avenues to engage in and promote mentorship. Examples include networking initiatives to introduce less-experienced lawyers to more seasoned attorneys, joint volunteer efforts so that members have an opportunity to work with individuals in the community, and even promoting community outreach programs that are not legally related, but community based, such as At Last! Mentorship of every kind is one of the best ways to achieve our goals of uniting the community from within.
AALM: How frequently does the association offer CLE events? How much do they cost?
Nowell: The association attempts to have CLE offerings at least once a month. The topics vary to address interests of individual committees, current legal issues, or to provide general information, and most are free to attend. For instance, the association conducts a Trial Advocacy CLE led by the Honorable Eric Moye and the Honorable Tonya Parker, taking individuals through the various steps of trial with demonstrations from wellknown and accomplished minority attorneys. This CLE takes place on the last Tuesday of every other month and is free to any who wish to attend. We also sponsor events put on by other associations, such as the Dallas Minority Attorney Program, as a way of expanding our programming.
AALM: What are some exciting events coming up?
Nowell: Many of JLTLA’s signature events occur in the second-half of the year. The annual L.A. Bedford Luncheon, honoring founding member Louis A. Bedford, Jr., will be held at the Belo mansion August 23, 2019. The association’s annual scholarship gala, an event that attracts the entire Dallas legal community, will be held at the Fairmont Hotel November 2, 2019. We’re also still planning the annual Dallas Black Women Lawyer Sparkler, a luncheon that allows black women lawyers to fellowship and celebrate their achievements in the prior year. People may also feel free to come out to our monthly membership events. We want you to have every opportunity to meet and get to know you!
AALM: If someone wanted to move into a leadership role, what is your first word of advice?
Nowell: Get involved! We want individuals to shine by doing what they love or focusing on something that fuels their passions. If you have an idea or interest, reach out to the association. If there is a committee or event that sparks your interest, we’ll make sure you are involved, or we will help you plan an event or CLE or even start a committee to explore your interest. By doing so, you become an integral part of the association. You are already demonstrating your ability to lead, and leadership within the association will follow.
AALM: Are there any changes the association wants to see in the legal community?
Nowell: We are always working to achieve greater diversity and inclusion in the Dallas legal community. We have certainly made strides since 1952, but are nowhere near where we need to be. If you look at the number of diverse partners in majority-owned law firms or the number of African- Americans who govern large public entities that determine the city and county budgets, you will see the disparity. This must change, and the association works to build leaders who will continue to fight for equal representation within the Dallas community.
AALM: As more students graduate, how is the association working to integrate them into the legal community?
Nowell: The goal is to build relationships with law students long before they graduate so that there is a more seamless transition from law school to practice. To that end, JLTLA membership is free for law students. We want law students to be able to avail themselves of all the JLTLA has to offer, including networking events with judges and lawyers of varying backgrounds, continuing legal education, and job assistance.
AALM: What is the traditional demographic of your members?
Nowell: The membership of the J.L. Turner Legal Association spans all demographics. In looking at the current board, for example, you see young lawyers licensed in the last five years, experienced in-house attorneys, criminal attorneys, solo practitioners, and even judges. And while it may appear that the younger generation is “taking over,” they are always guided by the more-experienced generation that is always willing to share their wisdom and time. The association grows because of the willingness to allow new ideas and energy to take the lead while respecting those who came before to guide our steps.
AALM: What is the main mission of your association?
Nowell: The main mission of the association has not changed from its start in 1952. The association was built from the idea that African-American attorneys practicing in Dallas encounter unique issues that others do not. As such, we need a place to congregate, fellowship, and work together to address those issues. We are so lucky that we now have African-American judges in front of whom we practice, and many more colleagues with whom to commiserate, but that does not, unfortunately, solve all problems. This association is here as a support to its members, to build each other up and to light the path for those who follow.
AALM: As you look back at the association’s history, what role do you think it has played in the community? Do you think that will change in the future?
Nowell: I hope that the gentlemen who gathered in 1952 would be in awe of what has occurred since they first banned together. The association has been a leader in educating others in the need for diversity in the Dallas legal community and working hard to effectuate the necessary changes to make that happen. The first African-American president of the Dallas Bar Association (and the second) were both former J.L. Turner presidents. Currently, five members of the board of the Dallas Bar Association were association presidents, two of whom are currently on the bench. Members of the association are clearly pushing beyond the limits and striving to lead the Dallas legal community, and the community as a whole, by demonstrating the value of a diversity in their firms, companies, and communities.