CHARLOTTE, N.C. - According to the American Bar Association, 5 percent of all attorneys across the U.S. are African American.
Two black lawyers in Charlotte and Salisbury spoke with Spectrum News about the issue.
Ryan Stowe owns his own law firm in Salisbury, N.C. He says he was inspired by powerful leaders like former President Barack Obama, but his passion for law goes much deeper.
“If you go into court anywhere in America, you are more likely to see a black person as a defendant, rather than a prosecutor, a judge, or a defense attorney,” Stowe says.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, African Americans make up about 13 percent of the population in America, but in the U.S. prisons they make up 38 percent of the inmate population.
Charlotte attorney Edna Jones says this is also one of the reasons she got into the field.
“I felt like a lot of my community did not understand what their rights were,” Jones says. “I feel it’s really important to have that advocate to be able to tell them 'this is right and this is wrong.'”
Both Jones and Stowe say they think a big reason more African Americans don't pursue a law career is the seven years of grueling law school and the cost.
“I have $155,000 in student loans,” Stowe says.
Jones said she has over $100,000 in student loans.
“That’s a lot of money, especially if you don’t know how to get that financial help,” Jones says. “It might seem like something that is unattainable. A lot of people think that because my parents don’t have money then I can't get the loans or I don't have credit so I can't get the loans.”
Both hope the percent of black attorneys will eventually increase, but say that’s not all that needs to change.
“We don’t just need black attorneys,” Jones says. “We need everyone that practices to fight for genuine rights of a person and have the same passion that I might have for a client that looks like me.”
For those who may be contemplating a law degree, Stowe says it’s worth it.
“It does pay off," Stowe says. “I am super happy. This is the best job I have ever had.”