Our list of influential Black lawyers and legal scholars is composed of leaders in the field who are paving the way for future lawyers. They are doing groundbreaking work in areas such as civil rights, critical race theory, and public activism.
You can also see where the most influential Black scholars and leaders studied, regardless of their field, with a look at The Colleges with the Most Influential Black Graduates.
According to the American Bar Association, a lawyer is
a licensed professional who advises and represents others in legal matters. A lawyer has two main duties: to uphold the law while also protecting a client’s rights. These 45 influential law and legal scholars are lawyers, legislators, judges, politicians, and professors working in the field of academia. They are essential in helping to set legal precedent and shift mindset in areas such as such as civil rights, critical race theory, Black feminist legal theory, race, racism, and public activism. As many of the other influential Black scholars we have ranked in other fields have demonstrated, these are the change makers, those who not only are working to shift mindset on glaring areas of inequality and injustice, but are also champions of the under-represented and wrongly convicted.
Diversity in the legal profession is a critical concern. According to the American Bar Association’s Profile of the Legal Profession, in 2020, approximately 5% of lawyers were Black, while the population of African Americans overall in the United States overall was 13.4%. The percentage of Black lawyers has remained the same for the last decade.Source Data: American Bar Association Profile of the Legal Profession, 2020
litigates on behalf of condemned prisoners, juvenile offenders, people wrongly convicted or charged, poor people denied effective representation, and others whose trials are marked by racial bias or prosecutorial misconduct.
The Black scholars in our list were identified as highly cited and searched people using our machine-powered Influence Ranking algorithm, which produces a numerical score of academic achievements, merits, and citations across Wikipedia, wikidata, Crossref, Semantic Scholar and an ever-growing body of data.
Find out more about our Methodology.
Influence is dynamic, therefore some of the law and legal scholars listed are contemporary while others may be more historical figures. In either case, according to our AI, these are the most cited and searched Black law and legal scholars over the past 30 years.
Note: Scholars are arranged alphabetically
Anita L. Allen current holds the titles of the Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and is Vice Provost of Faculty. Within the university, Allen has also worked with the bioethics department, the Africana Studies program, and the gender, sexuality, and women’s studies program. Outside of the University of Pennsylvania, Allen has also taught at places including Georgetown University, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Tel Aviv University. Allen received her BA from the New College of Florida, and her MA and PhD in philosophy from the University of Michigan.
Allen is often cited as an international expert on issues of law and ethics, especially in regards to privacy, as well as women’s rights and diversity in higher education. Much of Allen’s work investigates the intersection between privacy, ethics, and society, and what these things mean in an increasingly advanced age in which the nature and role of privacy in our everyday lives and decisions is constantly shifting. These concerns extended to bioethics as well; in fact, in 2010 Allen was selected by President Barack Obama for the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.
Areas of Specialization: Intersectionality, Critical Race Theory, Feminism and Law, Civil Rights
Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw is a lawyer, scholar, philosopher, and major civil rights advocate. Currently she holds the position of professor at the UCLA School of Law, as well as at Columbia Law School. Crenshaw completed her undergraduate education at Cornell University before receiving her JD from Harvard law School in 1984, and later a master of laws from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Influential far beyond just the realm of law, Crenshaw is one of the founders of critical race theory and the concept of intersectionality. These are methods of analyzing issues in regards to the influence of race, as well as the intersection (hence the name) of various aspects of identity, such as economic status, education, and gender. Crenshaw notes, of course, that she put the name “intersectionality” on the concept, but it existed before in the work of people such as Angela J. Davis and Deborah King. These ideas are just as often applied in fields including literature and art, philosophy, sociology, and anthropology as they are in law and legal theory.
This list is far from exhaustive; if you have a suggestion for someone to add, please contact us.
For more the most famous Black scholars of the last 30 years, visit our Influential Black Scholars page.
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