Beyond the Bio

The Impact of Black Bar Associations: Virgil Hawkins Florida Chapter National Bar Association

The Impact of Black Bar Associations: Virgil Hawkins Florida Chapter National Bar Association

In honor of Black History Month, RumbergerKirk takes a closer look at the importance of Black Bar Associations in our communities. Many of these organizations honor prominent Black attorneys who played pivotal roles in the Civil Rights Movement and paved the way for today’s Black attorneys. The Virgil Hawkins Florida Chapter National Bar Association is a statewide organization that ties together numerous organizations and two RumbergerKirk partners share their connections with the organization.

Virgil Hawkins Florida Chapter National Bar Association

The Virgil Hawkins Florida Chapter National Bar Association (VHFCNBA) brings together nearly 1,000 attorneys statewide with 16 affiliate chapters throughout the state. VHFCNBA provides education and tools for Florida’s Black lawyers to expand and enrich their practices.

Founded in the 1950s by African American lawyers who fought against injustice in Florida, the VHFCNBA strives to ensure access to the justice system, increase economic parity for the less fortunate, underprivileged and disadvantaged members of society, and be a resource to empower Black lawyers in Florida.

In addition to being the umbrella chapter for the Florida affiliates, it also a state affiliate to the larger National Bar Association, the nation’s oldest and largest global network of predominantly Black attorneys and judges.

Learn more about VHFCNBA and its affiliate chapters.

Linda Bond Edwards

A partner in the Tallahassee office, Linda Bond Edwards is a member of both the Virgil Hawkins Florida Chapter National Bar Association and the National Bar Association. She also is active with the Tallahassee Barristers, an affiliate chapter of VHFCNBA.

Linda Bond Edwards

“Voluntary Bar Associations were born out of experiences when, particularly Black lawyers, were not eligible for membership in the majority of bar associations,” explained Linda.  “Membership and participation was a way to learn and be mentored by experienced Black lawyers as well as a way to fellowship and receive encouragement during a time when many Black lawyers were the “lonely only” in their community.”

I became aware of the Tallahassee Barristers while I was a law student at Florida State University. I was an out-of-state student, so I was not fully aware of the history and struggle for African Americans to become lawyers in the state of Florida. During the Barristers meetings, I marveled at the success of the Black lawyers, some of whom had attended the original Florida A&M University Law School. As law students, the Barristers encouraged us, mentored us and had a vision for the next generation of Black lawyers to do more than they had,” said Linda.

“The first National Bar Association convention that I attended felt like coming home.  Over the years, I have made friends, business connections and attended CLEs presented by pioneering Black lawyers and judges that are firsts in so many areas.  More importantly, attendance and participation helped to build my confidence as an attorney,” she shared.

Giving back to the community is an important piece of the mission for these organizations. During the National Bar Association annual convention, the Women Lawyers Division hosts a workshop in the host city for African American girls under the “Respect Yourself” program while local organizations like the Tallahassee Barristers, provide educational opportunities to the youth and community on legal issues.

LaShawnda Jackson

A partner in the Orlando office, LaShawnda Jackson served as President for the Virgil Hawkins Florida Chapter of the National Bar Association from 2018-2019. Recently, she shared why the organization means so much to her.

LaShawnda Jackson

“If it were not for Virgil Hawkins’ fight to integrate the University of Florida College of Law and his sacrifice of not pursuing his dream to attend my alma mater, I would not have been able to attend the University of Florida myself.  So, how could I not be a part of an organization named after him, an organization that embraces, celebrates and codifies the legacy of Mr. Hawkins and all the other giants on whose shoulders I stand?”

“The VHFCNBA is an affiliate of and deeply rooted in the mission of the National Bar Association which stands for, among other things, the promotion of justice, the implementation of pipeline programs to increase diversity in the legal profession and promoting legislation that will improve the economic conditions of the community where I currently live, as well as communities like East Mims where I grew up,” said LaShawnda.  

Want to know more about the remarkable story of Virgil Hawkins and other early pioneers in the field of law? Check out our 2021 Black History Month feature, “Local Legal Legends.”