Only 6% of the legal profession identifies as black in the United States, while the country's population is 13% black. This episode of the Modern Divorce Podcast takes a hard look at what it means to honestly improve work life for underrepresented cultural classes - particularly in the legal field.
In honor of Black History month, Host Billie Tarascio talks with Paralegal Joshua Robinson of Modern Law about why we need to talk about what it means to be black in the legal field, and what that means to clients and employers. For Joshua, it's about feeling like he belongs as-is, but legal clients are looking for that same feeling as well.
[00:00:00] Billie Tarascio: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Modern Divorce podcast. I am your host Billie Tarascio, and today we are going to be talking to one of the Modern Law employees about Black History Month. Joshua, welcome to the show. How are you today?
[00:00:18] Joshua Robinson: I am doing good. I'm happy to be here. What a warm welcome.
Yeah, I'm, I'm definitely happy to be on the podcast for the first.
[00:00:26] Billie Tarascio: Yeah, me too. Ooh, I'm, I'm excited to have you on the show and I'm excited to talk about Black History Month and and the black community in the legal profession. Now, I have to be honest with you, I didn't know that you would be considered Black for the longest time.
[00:00:48] Joshua Robinson: Yeah. It's so. That's I get that a lot. But it's hard for me. The, the way I explain it is it's hard for me to say anything else. Sure. When you, if you were to take a look at me [00:01:00] and, and say, well, what are you, if I was like, well, I'm Caucasian, or, you know, I'm white. I don't think that a lot of people would be like, yeah, I can see it.
But I'm actually mixed. And so my mother, my mother's white, my father's black Sure. And I identify primarily as black because of that. It's more or less the, there's a blend in that lifestyle, but it's more or less the life that I've lived as far as just growing up and my experiences and.
[00:01:31] Billie Tarascio: I love that.
I love that. So, biologically you're mixed culturally. Mm-hmm. , you identify as black. Can you tell me what that means?
[00:01:45] Joshua Robinson: Yeah, and it's actually a little bit complex because when you are mixed and I've, I've spoken with other people who are mixed and I think that we share in our experiences just in that, It's hard to fit [00:02:00] into just one or the other.
[00:02:03] Billie Tarascio: Mm-hmm. .
[00:02:03] Joshua Robinson: But I think that the camp that culturally, that I'd fit in more or less is going to be considered the black one only because of the, the shared experiences. I've always say there's like this subconscious connectivity that you get with culture. It's hard to explain to a lot of people, but you kind of just feel it and get it.
So like growing up a lot of my mentors were, were, were black or African American, and I think that that's probably because they were able to see me and recognize that I might have some of the same experiences or hardships that they do. And the more that you kind of mold into that, it snowballs. So I've got, you know, I used to work at a college and I think that anytime I had to do like any kind of training or whatnot, I would always be paired with someone who was also African-American.
And that was just by chance. But my experiences with that person [00:03:00] would help me identify who I am even more
[00:03:03] Billie Tarascio: really.
[00:03:04] Joshua Robinson: Yes. So that's why I say that that sort of mixed split that you get, it can be a little bit complex because you're not getting the whole bag. And while I am, you know, sitting here with, with Ross or Shari or somebody you know, who's, who's sharing in those experiences that I had growing up, they might be older people, they might be people who are the same age, but the way that they speak to you,
it kind of opens your eyes because you conduct yourself one way your whole life, and you don't necessarily know why. It's just learned behavior and when you're speaking with someone else who's had those experiences. And they start treating you differently and you realize I don't have to explain something this way or that way, or sometimes I don't have to pull my punches with what I say or how I feel because this person has already put it out on a platter.
It wakes you up on the inside and you go, oh my gosh, this person gets it. That's me. That's the [00:04:00] life that, that I lived. That's insane. And when that happens, you start to open up a little bit more and feel for who you are and it becomes a really proud thing to identify. It's awesome.
[00:04:13] Billie Tarascio: I love that. That is wonderful.
And I'm happy that you are here to talk about black history and black representation in the legal field, which is significantly under represented.
[00:04:33] Joshua Robinson: Yes. It definitely is, and there are, I'm sure there's any number of statistics out there that you can find and relatively in any field of law. And just looking at it you might see that my, so when it comes to.
In my, from my point of view, the importance of the legal field as it relates to black history. I always tell people that black [00:05:00] history in so many ways, it just kind of is legal history. and it starts at, I mean, well certainly doesn't start there, but I like to talk about things like how the legal field was shaped by the Civil Rights Movement, for example.
Or how even predating the civil rights Movement, the way that America's laws were set up, which snowballed, what creates that, sort of, gap for people who are disproportionately represented? So segregation, for example. or, you know, e even if we were to go as far back as slavery, there was a time where that was legal.
And then there was a time when segregation was legal and when we desegregated people, the way that laws had changed in this country, to do that. It's not like everyone was immediately on board.
[00:05:52] Billie Tarascio: No.
[00:05:52] Joshua Robinson: And because of that, there was so many local, you know, local governments that did things like gentrification.
[00:06:00] Which limited the education that a lot of black families were able to get. And, you know, these are black families who are already starting off on a really rough foot. You've heard stories of, you know, when slavery ended many Many African Americans who didn't see a life outside of that because they were born into it and they didn't know what to do.
Well, slavery's ended. I'm free, but I guess that means I've got nowhere to go. How do I get a job? Some of us can't read, you know, so we're free, but are we actually free? And that's what I mean when I say they're starting off on a rough foot and it's snowballs. So every step that we made forward, You're still struggling with the snowball effect, and I think things like gentrification, which limited access to education which could potentially have increased crime rates in black communities and things like that.
All of these things kind of come together and it's what's created this disproportion in [00:07:00] representation for, for black families.
[00:07:02] Billie Tarascio: So there's, you bring up a ton of great points and there. When we're talking about the legal system and mm-hmm. and blacks, we've got the legal profession, which is underrepresented.
So only about 6% of the legal profession is African-American, even though our country is roughly 13% African-American. So it's, we have a disproportionate number of representatives. And then we've got the justice system, which impacts african Americans very differently than it impacts the rest of the community or, or white people, but really the rest of the community.
Mm-hmm. and figuring out what should the role of lawyers be in that? Do you have an opinion on that?
[00:07:52] Joshua Robinson: Yeah. So as far as what lawyers should be doing or how they should. Conducting themselves to [00:08:00] eliminate that disproportion it's, I think it would be a long game. I've talked about how it's very important to have allies, and we've heard this phrase white privilege before, right?
But I've met so many white people growing up who. Couldn't even understand what that phrase meant. only because they're growing up and they're seeing, they're seeing equals, you know, they aren't their grandparents, grandparents, grandparents. And the more that the system normalizes in that concept of seeing equals, it's hard to see that disproportion.
But then there are people who do, and I like to call them allies. I I really like to think that everyone's an ally, but particularly people who are able to, to recognize that there's that disproportion and they make efforts to try and bridge that gap. Things like offering pro bono services or even in the field of education, offering internships or scholarships to [00:09:00] Who are African American or people of color to try and move them forward, in the system here in America in general. when we look at the number of legal professionals, for example, that number's also disproportioned as far as how many black legal professionals exist relative to their, you know, where they stand here in America, the percentage in America. And I think that that's an important thing to consider is if the, if we can push other, you know, black people are African Americans into not just the legal field, but just into education to kind of help root them in our system, inevitably the legal field itself grows, and there's definitely a power in having people feel represented in that field. So perhaps I'm not a lawyer, but if I can see that it's common to, at least proportionately to see that there are black lawyers or other black legal professionals, it helps you feel more represented and more safeguarded
[00:10:00] in the legal system because people who can represent with compassion having shared in your experiences, it changes the game entirely. There's a different level of comfort that a client might have, whether it's a family law client, criminal client, or anything. They feel like there's somebody really championing what you know, what their needs are.
It's not just them feeling like they're alone. maybe, let's say it was someone's committed a crime, they were processed alone. They were misunderstood for what that crime was. They saw a judge alone. Maybe they got assigned a public defender who didn't really care to know what their story was.
And that concept, again, it just, it snowballs. Maybe it was something minor. They come out of that jail system and they come back home and they're struggling now to find a job. They're struggling now to just keep things together, which can impact the [00:11:00] family and things like that can really even delve into.
So we started at, you know, criminal now we're, we can dive into family law perhaps. There's a lot of. Black children who end up in the foster system, and like it all relates to this snowball effect. That Right. That I like to tell. And it's not in, you know, it's not indefinite, it's not like this is everyone's experience but it, right.
The disproportion comes from there. And I think that the importance of representation in the legal field can really change the game. I, I really do believe,
[00:11:28] Billie Tarascio: I agree with you, and I think where people get caught up is in the micro, well, this black person did X, Y, Z, so therefore there must not be discrimination.
And I think, I think personally what we should be focusing on is the macro. I think our system will be fair when on a macro level, outcomes are the same. So what that means is outcomes for education are, are the same. You know, we have [00:12:00] 13% of the legal profession is black the same way. 13% of. The country is black.
That's when we know that we've achieved fairness or equality. Justice will be equal when crimes sentencing and the number of of defendants that are charged is proportionally equal. And I think if we, if we, if we. Monitored that and we checked that and we did what we could to, to have that shared goal.
Like it seems like that's a goal that we could share. And if we could move towards that and then figure out along the way, what do we need to tweak to get to proportionally equal outcomes, I feel like that would be a great thing for all of.
[00:12:47] Joshua Robinson: Yeah, I definitely agree. Having everyone on board is, it's probably the most challenging thing.
You're absolutely right when you said that there's, you know, there are people out there who will say, well, I heard this about this black person, and it, you [00:13:00] know, to them it's y equals mx plus B and. Here's my why. So your why must also be the same, And that creates a an indefinite challenge as far as getting people on board.
But the more people who are on board, and the more people who recognize that we need to try and bridge these gaps, yeah. The better it's gonna be. Right? It's, it's, I was thinking about this last. Just last night, which is ironic, is that there's so many people out there who say things like, I've heard this phrase at least a thousand times in my life.
There's people who say, I don't see color. Yeah. And when I was younger, I used to take that as a positive. I used to think to myself, okay, that's great. You know, you see us all as equals. And the more I started growing up, the more I started realizing that these people who say they don't see color are ignoring the disparities that we.
Because of our color. And you like to think that these people mean good because they're not on the far end of it and saying the [00:14:00] completely bad or negative things. So if I've got this group of people who want to do good, who want to see us all as equal, but it's even challenging to get them to realize that we're not right.
It, yeah, it definitely creates a. A gap
[00:14:17] Billie Tarascio: Well, and Joshua, that's how I started this conversation was I didn't know you were black until you said, until you said something at a, at a company event that identified yourself as black. I didn't know. Mm-hmm. , and that's not, it's, it's kind of exactly what you said.
It's a failure to kind of attune to differences. But then the, the next question of course is like, once I become aware or someone becomes aware that you are black, what should that change?
[00:14:51] Joshua Robinson: So that's a definitely, that's definitely a difficult question to balance. Cuz my instinct is to say it should change nothing.[00:15:00]
You know who I am and you have known who I am and we've been treating each other with. You know, respect and with kindness, we've just been good human beings and I appreciate that. I, you know, if I respect you and you respect me, we're on a good foot. So when I reveal that I am, you know, if I say, well, I'm black, I think that really the only thing should change is the level of awareness that you have.
Because people, myself included, I can't exclude myself from this. People, they, they tend to judge even when they try not. For me, for example, like I said, I can't leave myself outside of this camp. when I get involved, like let's say I walk into a room full of white people, there's an instinct in me that creates a discomfort.
Logically, I know I'm okay. I think to myself, there's no way that everyone in this room doesn't want me to be here, but, I [00:16:00] suppose per my experiences growing up, I still feel a little discomforted. I tell myself, well, maybe there's someone, or maybe everyone here feels like I shouldn't be here, and even if no one's saying it now I feel a little bit less comfortable and now I, I I might wanna leave, you know, so I have, I have these, these hurdles that I need to jump over myself that, you know, I need.
Continue to be comfortable in my skin and accept that other people are comfortable with me being comfortable in my skin. So when I say that relatively nothing should change, I think really it's just the level of awareness when someone says they're black I think that it would be the wrong reaction to go, wow, I never would've guessed.
Because then it creates this, well, why would you have never guessed if, if, am I too smart to be black? Do I speak too well to be black? Like, what is it? Right? And and I, and I say [00:17:00] that because those are, those are judgments that I've had to deal with growing up. Not just. Outside, but even inside in my nuclear family, I had my brothers, my cousins, my mom and my dad have sometimes joked about it, you know, oh, well Joshua is the white one in the family because, you know, listen to how he speaks.
Yes. And I would always, always take issue with that. And that's why I said it's kind of a little troubling to, to. Learn to present your way with a certain can. You know, present yourself in a certain candor, right. And then meet with other black ind. Yes. And then you meet with other black individuals who are comfortable being authentic, who've, who've.
Lived through it and gotten through it and said, no, black is beautiful, black is powerful. You know, black is proud. And they are their, when you see them being their authentic selves and they're sharing that they had this experience or that experience that you also had helps you feel more comfortable. [00:18:00] So when, I guess in conclusion, just I gotta come back to it, me to, for me to identify as black, I would hope that it.
Really doesn't shift the game too much. I would hope it would be something more like, awesome. Cool. You know, and, you know, let's share a discussion someday about our, you know, our different cultures, our different experiences. You know, I, I love for example, like barbecue food. I think everyone loves barbecue food.
You know, maybe not everyone, but it's not exclusive to me and my culture. It's just, you know, we're, we're people and I like.
[00:18:35] Billie Tarascio: Well, I think that, you know, finding out you were black presents an opportunity, an opportunity to have a discussion like this. And I think Black History Month also presents an opportunity to have a discussion.
And it's so it's so touchy right now in our country. It's such a hot button and divisive issue that [00:19:00] people aren't really willing to have all these discussions. But having an African American in my firm, I, I love and I want to celebrate and I want to recruit and the best, and it's difficult to know the best way to do that.
So is it just to have more conversations?
[00:19:19] Joshua Robinson: I would say. I think that having more conversations is a really good start, and I think that a lot of people have to be more comfortable having those conversations. It's another challenge that, not that I've faced, but that I've seen my peers face. One of my best friends in the world.
He's also white and he's afraid to even use the word black. Mm-hmm. , you know, the, the, the way that our country has evolved. People get upset for so many reasons. And I think that there are a lot of white people who don't wanna be caught on the wrong end. They don't wanna say something that makes them seem like [00:20:00] a person that they're not.
And I would say, you know, you don't, you don't have to be afraid to, to say the word, you know, like, His name is Joshua, ironically. So, you know, I'd be like, Joshua, you know, I'm, I'm black. If I can say I'm black, you can say that I'm Black . Someone says, well, what's the deal with your best friend there? What is he?
You can say, oh, he's black, and that's okay. You know? There's definitely a balance. Everyone's experiences are different. Mm-hmm. . Opening the door to discuss their experiences is so important because everyone, although I mentioned that we share this sort of connected consciousness, you know, just inexperiences and culture and whatnot, how we're rooted, everyone still has a different experience and a different reaction to the state of the country and what their thoughts and opinions are.
I've had. Heated discussions with other people who are African American, and you can start to gauge their, you know, you can definitely gauge someone's [00:21:00] difference in, in their tone or just in what they're willing to say. Some people don't even want to speak. You mentioned that you didn't know I was black until I had mentioned it, and it's not, that's not uncommon.
and it's also not something that I look to put out into the universe. Mm-hmm. . I would hope that people would be interested enough in me to ask these questions. Mm-hmm. , and, you know, you're mention, you've mentioned that I mentioned it at a company event mm-hmm. , and, and you're right, I did because I remember the activity that we did was kind of.
Everyone was sharing. And I was in a situation where I felt completely comfortable to say, well, this is my own experience. And I felt like that forum was created for me. Mm-hmm. , which, which is what helped me come out. But typically I've learned to kind of maneuver in life and it's, I [00:22:00] wanna say like fly under the radar, but it's not necessarily that I'm hiding anything, it's just that.
There's the, the reality of the country we live in is that there is discrimination and there is racism and. For me personally, I've just kind of learned to move through life and kind of weave around it in certain ways and walking around trying to make sure that the world knows that you're black.
There's a difference between being comfortable in your skin and like trying to throw it out into the world. So for me, it's not uncommon for people not to know only. If you're not asking, you probably never would know. It would have to come up organically in conversation. So I think as you mentioned, starting those conversa or, or at least creating methods to start those conversations.
It's helpful and I think it makes people, well, I wanna say, I know it makes people feel more comfortable when. Present yourself as a person who is completely [00:23:00] open and in fact promotes diversity. It does help other people who come from any diverse background, not just black. It helps everyone want to come in and say, I'm, I feel a lot more comfortable here because I know I'm accepted.
[00:23:14] Billie Tarascio: Mm-hmm. , can we talk about that for a minute? So you are the head of our DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) committee. Mm-hmm. . Um, We've got committees for various things and you put forth the idea that we should have this DEI committee. We all said. Great. Tell me about the committee and tell me about what it does.
[00:23:35] Joshua Robinson: So the committee itself is I get so excited about this stuff. The committee is, So diversity, equity and inclusion is really important, not just in law firms, but in any organization. So I, I would say that any organization who promotes it is going to benefit in some way. And a lot of the reason for that is because DEI is committed [00:24:00] to it's in the words diversity, equity, and inclusion.
But really, I like to sum it up with the sense of belonging. If you were to take. A circle graph at the center of those things. DE&I, I would put that word belonging and that's internal and external. I, when we were discussing legal representation, I was saying how people feel more represented if they can see that, that, you know, whatever field they're looking at.
Is is not gapped. If the ratio of blacks to whites, to Hispanics, to anyone, it, you know, it helps you feel more included, more like you belong in this community. And that's kind of what d e I is committed to internally and externally. So internally, we want our employees to feel like they belong here, like they're accepted.
Their voice definitely matters. And that translates to the external. If people outside are able to look inside and say whether it's [00:25:00] potential clients, potential employees, anything, they're able to say, yeah, that, that looks like the firm for me. So when we were. Doing pro bono day. Just recently one of the, one of the consults came out and she said something that struck me as interesting.
She said, I looked on the website and as soon as I saw all the women, I knew this was the firm for me. And I thought like, that's like, that's kind of what I'm getting at. Like when we start present, Our people, our faces, more people can start to recognize that, yeah, this is, this is where you belong. If you're a client and you hire us, I want you to say, I hired them because I belong there.
This is the place that gets me. If you're applying, I, I think that you can say, well, I'm applying because I think I would belong there. So d e i is so important for so many reasons. It's. Just, you know, it's not just about gender and ethnicity, it's not just [00:26:00] a recruitment tactic. It's not just a business venture.
It's about creating that true sense of belonging. Mm-hmm. , it's so special. Mm-hmm. .
[00:26:09] Billie Tarascio: Oh man, Joshua, I. I am so grateful that you are at Modern Law, and I'm so grateful that you were willing to have this conversation with me. And I hope that it encourages other people to have this conversation, and I hope it encourages other people who are diverse to come to Modern Law and clients to feel comfortable.
I just, I really appreciate you. Thank you so much for your time today, and thank you for coming on the show.
[00:26:39] Joshua Robinson: No, thank you for having.
[00:26:41] Billie Tarascio: If you've enjoyed this episode, make sure to download it, share it with your friends, have the discussion, use it to have the discussion. Thank you all so much for being here, and we will talk again soon. [00:27:00]