Metropolitan Black Bar Association President Paula Edgar presents her ‘Four Ps’
Paula T. Edgar was recently installed as president of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association (MBBA) during a ceremony at Proskauer Rose LLP in Manhattan last month. At the ceremony, she talked about her mother and how her death during 9/11 not only led her to go to law school, but also had a profound impact on how she plans on running the specialty bar during her two-year term.
“She worked for a company in the South Tower and when she died, she didn’t have the proper life-planning documents in place,” Edgar said. “She had a will, but never signed it. Luckily, my father is a wonderful person who wouldn’t have taken advantage, but it was still a tough situation. It was my interaction with our lawyer, Angela Titus McEwan, that really inspired me to go to law school.”
The lesson Edgar — who was born and raised in Brooklyn — took away from the entire tragic event was simple: life is short and it’s important to have an impact in that short time.
That’s why Edgar plans to make the most of her two-year term as president of the MBBA with her “Four-P” plan — professional development, pipeline, partnership, and presence.
The first part of the plan, professional development, includes making sure young lawyers are properly trained and know how to grow and use their professional network. Part of this effort is the Minority and Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) initiative that aims to help lawyers get access to city funds for growing their own businesses.
“The city has to spend a percentage of the budget on specifically [small businesses owned by minorities and women],” Edgar said. “Legal suppliers and black lawyers are a part of that. There are lawyers who have heard of this initiative, but don’t even know that they can be a part of it.”
After professional development is her pipeline goal, which, simply put, is aimed at attracting more black attorneys into the profession. Edgar explained how she had benefitted from a pipeline organization called A Better Chance, which got her into Deerfield Academy, where she went to high school in Massachusetts, and credited that with much of her professional success.
“When people are committed to providing access to folks who don’t have access or information, it can be life changing,” Edgar explained. “So the first initiative I launched was a backpack drive for elementary school kids. People asked why, but I thought it was important because I don’t want children to only see lawyers at arraignments when it’s scary. They need to be exposed in a positive way so they aren’t scared of that lawyer and know that they can be that lawyer.”
Edgar and the MBBA also organized a community law day in the Bronx and are in the planning stages for similar events in each borough. She also wants to see Friends of the MBBA, the MBBA’s charitable organization, to give out more scholarships for prospective law school students to get LSAT training and money to live off of while they study for the bar exam.
Edgar would like to see the group partner with as many different organizations as possible. One connection she sees is between the NYPD and communities of color. She feels like the MBBA has a duty to work with these groups to help bridge the gap between them, even if that means helping to lobby Albany on their behalf.
Partnership also means connecting young lawyers with mentors and introducing working attorneys with partners at various law firms throughout the city.
“Mentoring is a piece that fits into the pipeline and I am asking all the board members to mentor,” she said. “If we are each helping one person, we can help 25 people and then we’re making sure that we’re not the only ones doing this stuff.”
The final P, for presence, is a call to make the group more visible. Edgar said that she was shocked that when she told other black attorneys that she had joined the MBBA, many of them didn’t even know the organization existed.
To increase visibility, Edgar has worked hard at making herself and the organization available for interviews. She also intends to teach attorneys how they can effectively use social media and she plans on encouraging members to reach out and become active in other legal organizations.
“I know what it’s like to have lost and to want to have impact while you’re here,” Edgar said. “That pushes me every single day. It’s not easy — I have two children, a husband, a house, a business. I have a lot to do and this is something else on my plate, but I know that if I’m not here tomorrow, at least somebody can say that she started me on the path with the MWBE or she gave me a backpack, or whatever it is. At least the leadership allowed that to happen.”
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