Written by: Ike Conner, Partner/Executive Vice President at Allegiant Athletic Agency, and former attorney with Lewis Thomason
As Black History Month begins, the purpose is to celebrate African American leaders and heroes that have made a substantial difference in the lives of not only other African Americans, but all Americans. Names like Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks and President Barack Obama are easy names for us to celebrate as their influence and contributions are well celebrated by all. However, in my life, there have been a few black professionals that have had a significant impact on the way I thought about my own path forward as an attorney and one in particular that made history as well.
When I began law school in 2000, there had never been an African American lawyer in Knoxville to ever make partner at one of the large firms in town. Lewis King, one of Lewis Thomason’s predecessor firms, made Bridget Baily Lipscomb the first African American law partner in the city’s history. For those that know Bridget, she is wonderful. She currently serves as the Assistant Director of the Civil Division Environmental Torts Office with the Department of Justice in Washington D.C. Bridget is not only a talented lawyer, but a very caring person that served as an inspiration and mentor to several black law students at the University of Tennessee College of Law.
Seeing Bridget make partner opened up a new world of possibilities for me. It showed me that if you worked hard and nurtured your practice, you could be very successful in the legal field. Secondly, it showed me that the color of my skin did not have to dictate how far I could ascend as a lawyer. When Bridget made partner at Lewis Thomason, that meant I could make partner in Lewis Thomason. Certainly not because I was more talented than her, but rather, because I can be what I can see. Not seeing any black partners at the larger firms in town was a psychological barrier that was immediately lifted once Bridget became a partner. Lastly, Bridget becoming partner at Lewis Thomason meant I needed to get a job at Lewis Thomason. Her partnership said that Lewis Thomason was a firm that would give everyone a fair shot at success. I decided to follow in her footsteps and even though I later left to pursue a dream in sports management, I will always consider Lewis Thomason family.
So, as we begin Black History Month, Lewis Thomason should celebrate the contribution it made in making Bridget Bailey Lipscomb the first African American partner in Knoxville history. It may not seem like a big deal 20 years later, but I can assure you that it was and still is a decision that changed the outlook and opportunities of those who came after her. It was and always will remain a game changing moment for the history of the Knoxville legal community.