Elaine Jones tells Diversity Day attendees preparation is key to success
Elaine R. Jones, the nation’s top civil rights lawyer from 1993 to 2004, told current and prospective law students at Elon Law’s second annual Diversity Day, that preparation was essential to achieving success in legal practice and in advancing civil rights.
Jones, who served as the first woman president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) and championed a number of groundbreaking civil rights cases over a career spanning three decades, said, “As a lawyer you will represent people in their time of greatest need. You will be their advocate. They will deserve your very best. There is no short cut. You win the case before you enter the courtroom. There is no substitute for preparation.”
Jones began her career representing death row defendants in the South and was counselor of record in Furman v. Georgia. That 1972 Supreme Court ruling overturned the sentences of 629 death row defendants because of racial bias in the sentencing process.
Since that time, her achievements in championing civil rights cases and shaping civil rights jurisprudence more broadly are numerous. In introducing Jones, Dean George Johnson said, “Elaine Jones is one of the nation’s most indefatigable champions of diversity, unfalteringly dedicated to breaking down barriers and opening doors of opportunity for so many who previously had been denied access to ‘the blessings of liberty’ – people of color, women, the criminally accused, persons who suffered employment discrimination – to so many of the least among us.”
Jones sought to inspire undergraduate students attending Diversity Day as they consider law school, but also to underscore the importance of hard work to succeed as a lawyer and the awesome responsibilities that come with a career representing the interests of so many others in society.
“There is great joy to be found, as lawyers, in helping others, and many will depend upon you to come in, to pick up the mantle, and to move us forward,” said Jones. “Whatever you care about – children, the economy, the environment, rights, disability, age – it is going to be in the law. The question is are you going to be fully prepared to prosecute or defend that issue that you are so passionate about.”
In addition to the keynote presentation by Jones, Diversity Day included a panel presentation by North Carolina judges, pictured here, from left to right: Teresa H. Vincent, District Court Judge, 18th Judicial District; L. Todd Burke, Superior Court Judge, 21st Judicial District; Denise Hartsfield, District Court Judge, 21st Judicial District; A. Leon Stanback, Jr., Superior Court Judge, 14th Judicial District; Patrice Hinnant, District Court Judge, 18th Judicial District; and Sharon Gaskin, Assistant Dean for Admissions, Elon University School of Law.
Diversity Day also included a panel presentation from practicing attorneys, pictured here with Elon Law faculty, from left to right, Steve Friedland, Professor of Law, Elon University School of Law; Wanda Daughtry, President, Greensboro Bar Association; Jarvis Harris, R. Steve Bowden & Associates; Harriett Smalls, Smith Moore Leatherwood, LLP; Kelly Thompson, Assistant District Attorney, 18th Judicial District; Charles Blackmon, Toggle Diggings Meacham, P.A.; Faith Rivers James, Professor of Law, Elon University School of Law; Andrew Haile, Professor of Law, Elon University School of Law; and Sharon Gaskin, Assistant Dean for Admissions, Elon University School of Law.
The free event, which is designed primarily for minority students but was open to all who are considering law school, took place at the Elon University School of Law School. Representatives from Campbell University School of Law, Charlotte School of Law, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest University School of Law also participated. The event, co-sponsored by the Greensboro Bar Association, the Guilford County Association of Black Lawyers, and the Law School Admission Council, was presented in partnership with DiscoverLaw.org.