Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2002


Law and Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice





First Page


Last Page



"I want a Black lawyer to represent me." These are the first words you hear after you introduce yourself to your new client. You have been appointed to represent this man on a criminal charge. You are white. He is Black. You answer that you are an experienced criminal lawyer and will represent him to the best of your ability, regardless of his or your race. He responds that he too is experienced with the criminal justice system-a system that targets Black men, like himself, for prosecution far more than whites, that sentences Black men to prison more frequently and for a longer duration than whites, and that fails to acknowledge or address the role that race and racism play in the development, enforcement, and execution of the criminal laws established by "the system." You explain that the law does not allow the client, as an indigent, to choose his own lawyer. 'You can hire whomever you want to handle your case," you say, "if you have the financial ability to do so. Otherwise, the court chooses your lawyer for you, and there is little you can do about it, other than to decide to represent yourself.

Your client is not satisfied with this response. He explains that an African-American lawyer will be better able to understand and appreciate the circumstances that resulted in the bringing of these charges and that he, the client, can trust a Black lawyer more than a white one. You agree that trust is indispensable to an effective attorney-client relationship, but you disagree that trust is unobtainable merely because you are white, and that you, as a white lawyer, cannot be as effective as a lawyer who is African American. Sensing that you and your client have reached an impasse, you suggest that both of you give this matter more thought and discuss it further at your next meeting. Your client assents and you leave.



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