‘We all have common ground, we are all human at the very core, we all experience the same emotions, just about different things and in different ways.’
Jennifer Johnson is not only an award-winning businesswoman and lawyer, but she is the immediate past president of the Mississippi bar association. The Mississippi bar is a compulsory bar. Every lawyer in Mississippi has to pay into it, but historically not every lawyer has been represented. Jennifer has set the first steps into making an integrated future a reality. I am proud to talk to this 21st-century lawyer, advocate, award winner and awesome mother on the podcast today.
She starts by talking about how she was elected and the state of the bar. We talk about how some people don’t see a racial issue in that state and the idea of racism being “over”. The need to temper honesty with compassion, and the strength gained with diversity. We end by talking about the personal truths of each person, how people can end up being defined by a social category they are assigned to, and how important it is that we don’t see those so vividly, and connect with each other.
Books / Articles
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The Mississippi Bar Association
Harvard Law School
University of Southern Mississippi
Oscher Lifelong Learning Institute
ABOTA, the American Board of Trial Advocates
The Magnolia Bar Association
An award-winning businesswoman and former president of The Mississippi Bar, Jennifer Johnson says her father was her greatest believer and wanted her to be the best that she could be. She and her father enjoyed 23 years as law partners until his retirement last June. Her first mentor, she says her father is the one who ushered her to the forefront of her own law business.
No stranger to being in front of juries, judges, and other lawyers, she developed many relationships amongst the Mississippi legal community. Through her role as one of only five ever female presidents of The Mississippi Bar, she made it one of her goals to diversify The Bar further by including more people of colour and women to fulfil leadership positions in The Bar.
In Jennifer’s experience, the way to grow into leadership roles is through service to the profession, including service on committees and chairing committees. Service in these roles provides name recognition and an opportunity to develop a positive reputation of leadership which allows you to move up into the higher leadership roles of The Bar. While women and people of colour are becoming more involved in the state’s mandatory bar, the progress is slow. Jennifer vowed to use her appointment power to make a difference.
In her service as Bar President, of great concern to Jennifer was advancing opportunities for African American involvement and leadership in The Bar. Although in the past The Bar has had African Americans in leadership roles, at the top, she says there have only been a few. A part of the reason for this, is because African Americans have just not had as much opportunity to get into the leadership cycle for The Bar. In addition, there is a long-standing voluntary Bar Association called the Magnolia Bar Association, created by African American attorneys in Mississippi to fill the void of inclusion and leadership opportunities in The Mississippi Bar. As a result, The Bar is not as diverse and inclusive as it can and should be. Jennifer worked to open the door for communication and collaboration between the two organizations by reaching out to the president of the Magnolia Bar to help identify members of both organizations willing to serve The Mississippi Bar, in addition to their service of the Magnolia Bar. Fortunately, there was great interest, and Jennifer was able to appoint approximately thirty (30) members of colour to committee roles. This created an opportunity to diversify the committees of The Mississippi Bar, which will afford the opportunity to diversify the ‘chairships’ of these committees in the next couple of years, and ultimately create more opportunities for the African American or minority members of The Mississippi Bar to serve and lead.
This strategy for diversity set the tone for how the rest of her presidency would go. Jennifer says she felt very successful right off the bat, having at least reached a part of her goal, which was to see many more people of colour included in The Mississippi Bar’s leadership right from the beginning of her presidency.
Interestingly, Jennifer’s term as president took effect soon after the George Floyd murder had occurred, and so the country, she says, was ready for a conversation. Not always willingly ready for a conversation, but the conversation was certainly there to be had.
Although Covid-19 hit during her appointment, she feels that her position as President of The Bar for that year was meaningful because she was able to impact something, even from behind her desk and not out in front of cameras or the whole membership.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Jennifer was able to use her appointment power to quietly impact more integration and diversification of the bar.
In this insightful podcast around Leadership and Relationships, Jennifer Johnson dives deeper into her experience and valuable insights about how relationships through leadership can impact change for the betterment of diversity and inclusion.