Brooklyn Boro

Caribbean American Lawyers Association will provide legal education, mentorship

July 20, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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The New York City legal community is very well represented among its local bar associations, whether those be citywide, boroughwide, supportive of a particular legal field or affinity.

However, for years Caribbean American lawyers and jurists didn’t have a bar association of their own. Sure, they could join groups like the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, or perhaps ones similar to the Haitian American Lawyers Association of New York.

That’s all about to change, as a group of lawyers and judges have come together in recent months to form the Caribbean American Lawyers Association (CALA).

“When you pick up the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, it has this beautiful back spread dedicated to bar associations,” said Yvette Hinds Wills, the association’s first vice president. “Every day you see the Columbian Lawyers, the Catholic Lawyers Guild, the Brandeis Society, but there has never been a Caribbean bar. It prompted me to speak with a small group of people to discuss the formation of a new bar association.”

Caribbean American Lawyers Association Vice President Yvette Hinds Wills. Photo courtesy of CALA

Hinds Wills went on to explain that with such a large Caribbean American population in New York City and Brooklyn, the courts and local bar associations do a good job acknowledging and celebrating Caribbean culture. They don’t provide education and mentorship for young lawyers the way a Caribbean-focused bar association could, though.

“This will help us to bring the Caribbean legal community together so that we can reach out to our citizens and residents and help them to understand their rights,” said Hinds Wills. “We can also provide mentorship to young Caribbean American attorneys who are recently admitted and law school students.”

The goal, she said, is to help ensure that young Caribbean American lawyers are prepared to come to court right out of law school, to help mentor young attorneys early in their careers, and to provide guidance for those looking to become judges or partners in their firms. It will also form a pro bono committee to ensure that people who cannot afford an attorney are provided with legal assistance.

The bar association is still coming together and is not ready to start hosting events. However, Hinds Wills said that the group is already planning community events, such a class on what to do when you’re stopped by the police and another on finding paths to home ownership, as well as continuing legal education seminars to educate attorneys.

Justice Hinds-Radix will serve as CALA’s first president. Photo: Mario Belluomo/Brooklyn Eagle

“Caribbean American people love to own their own homes, and we can help educate them in home ownership,” Hinds Wills said. “Things like contracts, and closings, different areas of the law. We can even host landlord/tenant events and provide guidance to the Caribbean American community on how to deal with a bunch of different issues facing them.”

Justice Sylvia Hinds-Radix, an Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department judge and the association’s president, said that the group hopes to partner with other established bar associations to host events as well.

“I’m a member of the Columbian Lawyers Association and we’re hoping to be able to partner with organizations like that to host events together,” Justice Hinds-Radix said. “Judge Willie Thompson had a great organization called, ‘Jews and Blacks in Conversation’ that brought different groups together to reflect on our different backgrounds to form an understanding and show that the law can work across the board for all of us. I always remembered that it was so beneficial.”

CALA Treasurer Carmelle Robillard. Photo courtesy of CALA

The officers and directors are still coming together, but Justice Hinds-Radix has already been elected as president, with Hinds Wills as first vice president. Michelle DeSouza-Forte, Carmelle Robillard and Valerie Howell are second vice president, treasurer and corresponding secretary, respectively.

The board of directors includes Natoya McGhie, president of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association; Sonia Blake, and Jade Edwards. The group is planning to add six more directors and will elect a recording secretary.

Though there is no date yet announced, the group plans to host a lunch event in September as their first official public event. Anyone interested in attending that event or joining the association should reach out to Hinds Wills by email at [email protected].

“I really have to give Yvette a lot of credit,” Justice Hinds-Radix said. “They asked me to be president, but she and the other women who helped her did a lot of work and held meetings, even virtual meetings throughout the pandemic, to make sure that this important work got done. I’m really excited, very excited about this organization. I’m happy to see that it’s getting on its feet.”

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