Lawyering While Black: Professionalism
A candid interview with attorney Benjamin Crump regarding the new Netflix Documentary, "Civil: Ben Crump"
By Alainnah White, 2L, FSU College of Law
Benjamin (Ben) Crump is a widely acclaimed civil rights attorney whose name is known throughout America. Hailing from a small town in North Carolina, he has beat every odd placed against him, including graduating from Florida State University College of Law. It is no secret that individuals from low-income communities have a more challenging time attending law school and becoming a lawyer. Lower-income communities face adversity financially, systematically and academically. Crump has experienced numerous challenges in becoming the successful attorney he is today.
In June of this year, a Netflix documentary was released, "Civil: Ben Crump." The documentary outlines a year in the life of Ben Crump as a civil rights attorney. Crump travels across the nation fighting the daily injustices that many minority people face. The documentary discusses the life-altering cases of individuals who lost their lives in the arms of law enforcement and careless individuals, including victims Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Trayvon Martin. Additionally, the documentary analyzes a different side of Crump that many are unaware of, including his childhood, family life and career path.
“Life ain’t fair, but you make it fair with what you bring to the table.”
The Henry Latimer Center for Professionalism took an interest in “Civil: Ben Crump,” because it highlights something rarely discussed – the life of an African American attorney and the sometimes higher professionalism standards these attorneys must maintain.
Crump shared his wisdom with me in a recent phone interview, and he clearly described his influences, career, and the obstacles African Americans face while pursuing a legal career. Minorities are overwhelmingly underrepresented in the legal profession, and the legal profession should reflect the diversity of individuals in society. Open dialogue about professional standards and minority attorneys will allow progression in the career field.
Attorney Crump touched on the difficulty African American attorneys face in the workplace by being held to a higher professionalism standard. He noted that African American attorneys must prove their legitimacy. He advises law students and young attorneys to be adequately prepared and intentional with their objective of becoming successful attorneys. His journey in the legal field was led with the mindset that, “Life ain’t fair, but you make it fair with what you bring to the table.”
Chasing a positive life in a community of bad influences and low-economic opportunities is a challenge in itself. Crump shared insight on the difficulty one must withstand when pursuing a legal career while facing adversity. Societal impediments consistently keep minority individuals from becoming attorneys. According to the University of Pennsylvania publication Penn Today, black families systematically have lower household wealth than white families. Without financial support, pursuing law school, or any further education, becomes unrealistic. Attorney Crump advises individuals considering law school to place high importance on their education.
Two inspirational women showed Attorney Crump at an early age that hard work and education are vital to becoming well-off in life. His mother and grandmother were his main influences growing up. Helen Crump, his mother, worked two jobs throughout Ben's childhood; she worked in a factory and cleaned. He describes his mother and grandmother's efforts as miracle workers and credibly notes their many sacrifices and hopeful mindsets. His family's sacrifices and educational commitment have permitted him to have a prosperous career journey.
Throughout the documentary, Attorney Crump discussed the safety concerns he regularly faces. Moreover, his team has expressed concerns and would prefer that Crump did not take on civil rights cases, as these cases have led to safety threats to members of the firm and often have minimal financial gain. However, Crump's upbringing plays a role in why he keeps taking on these types of cases. Serving as an influential figure to marginalized individuals increases diversity in the legal field. Thus, safety concerns have not stopped the firm from providing legal assistance to the underserved communities of Tallahassee, Florida. Crump stated, "If you're not willing to die, then you're not fit to live." He expressed that he has to continue to fight for underrepresented individuals.
Understanding the hindrances minority attorneys face, Crump hires minority attorneys. Small movements such as understanding a minority community, employing minority attorneys, and serving low-income neighborhoods can improve diversity. Diversity in attorneys leads to better representation for members of all races, genders, cultures, religions, sexual orientations, and classes. We consider our country a melting pot, and it's time to make the legal field one as well.