Charles N. Gibbs left no question that part of his role as the newly installed president of the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia is to not only serve and be an advocate for those without voices but also to ensure that African-American lawyers in the city gain access to opportunities their white counterparts have long enjoyed
“If you are not at the table then you are on the menu,” Gibbs, a partner in the law firm of Green, Schafle & Gibbs, said before a standing room-only crowd in room 653 of City Hall on Wednesday. “While others are being served full feasts, Black lawyers in the city are being served scraps.”
Gibbs, 34, took, the baton from boyhood pal Kevin Harden, Jr., the organization’s immediate past president. In making his point regarding the upward mobility of Black lawyers, Gibbs pointed to a report that appeared last month in The Legal Intelligencer that appeared to pat the industry on its back in the area of diversity. In the last decade, the number Black attorneys serving at 33 plaintiff firms in the city has doubled – to 24.
That number, 24, represents just 4.4 percent of the 550 attorneys working at those firms. Last year the number was just 16, which represented just 3.1 percent of the total.
Gibbs was installed along with members of the Barristers’ Association’s Philadelphia Advisory Board and the Executive Committee members. He was sworn in by the Honorable Karen Y. Simmons.
Mentored by former City Councilperson, the late Lucien Blackwell, Gibbs said that this honor “was among the greatest I’ve had in my life.” He added that he wished that Blackwell, who died in 2004, were still around because Blackwell “was like a father to me.”
Gibbs, whose practice is concentrated in the areas of criminal defense law, political and election law and municipal law, said that while improving the professional prospects of African-American lawyers is key, other areas are of equal importance.
“The awesome responsibility of a lawyer is to speak on behalf of a person who can’t speak for themselves,” Gibbs said. “To be able to speak on behalf of the advocate is one of the greatest honors I’ve ever had in my life. But I don’t just lead an organization, I’m a partner. I feel that this is the year of barristers speaking truth to power, being aggressive and making sure the rights of the people who are being maligned are advocated for. To that end, we have an internal strategy and an eternal strategy that is designed to make sure that African-Americans actually have a voice.”
Added Harden: “Charles has an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the intersectionality of African-American lawyers, how we relate to other groups, and how our fight is one and the same. There are many communities that thought they could sit on the sidelines when the barristers were fighting many of the fights they are now fighting. Charles will be a great leader of both those he’s advocating for and also for the advocators.”