As Black History Month comes to a close and Women’s History Month approaches, The Texas Lawbook found it appropriate to shine a spotlight on Stewart Law Group, which fits the bill as both a Black- and woman-owned commercial defense firm.
There aren’t many such firms in either category in Texas, let alone both. According to the National Association of Minority and Woman Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF), there were only 17 Texas-based woman and/or minority-owned corporate law firms that were members in 2022.
Stewart Law Group firm founder Amy Stewart, who predominately practices commercial defense litigation and employment law, started her firm after spending a decade practicing at various corporate law firms, including Markland Hanley, Cox Smith, Bickel & Brewer, White & Wiggins and Estes Thorne & Carr.
Now at eight lawyers, Stewart Law Group recently celebrated five years in business — surviving the default obstacles of any new business as well as a global pandemic — and is officially the longest-standing minority and woman-owned law firm in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that handles business and employment litigation and investigation for corporate clients. And after two office expansions in its Dallas office, the firm continues to pick up momentum as it plans to open an office in Los Angeles at the end of the year.
In the below Q&A, Stewart discusses how he began her firm, the firm’s greatest successes and obstacles, and how racial bias still shows up in the modern practice of law.
Editor’s Note: This Q&A has been edited to match style guidelines.
Texas Lawbook: What led you to start your own law firm and what was your vision?
Amy Stewart: At a certain point, I realized that I had to take control of my own career path and step into my own. Also, it was important for me to build, from the start, a business litigation firm that appreciates the value of having a diverse team where every member is empowered to reach their career goals as well.
Lawbook: What were the biggest obstacles to success as a Black-owned law firm?
Stewart: Well, it is a Black- and woman-owned firm, so that is a double whammy. There are no other business defense law firms like SLG in Dallas. Creating something that has never been done before is its own challenge. Also, there is an assumption that minority and women attorneys predominantly handle plaintiff-side, personal injury, family law, or criminal matters. We do not handle any of those matters and are focused on business and employment litigation, investigations and civil trial work. So, SLG’s social media marketing is key to highlighting our legal expertise and types of clients we represent. Finally, because SLG is a minority and woman owned firm, I think lawyers who are looking for opportunities wrongly believe SLG only hires minorities or women. SLG wants lawyers from all backgrounds to join our team. The synergy that arises from these diverse perspectives differentiates SLG from other firms and creates positive outcomes for our clients.
Lawbook: What were one or two of the most important decisions you made on your path to the firm’s success?
Stewart: 1) That was OK to be me. When I was a young attorney, my partners were accomplished “older white men” so I tried to emulate their style. Despite my efforts to be the best “old white man” I could be, it was not a good look for a middle aged bi-racial woman. When I started SLG, I had no choice but to show up as my authentic self while relying on the lawyering skills the partners taught me. I hope my journey empowers other women to have the confidence to show up as their true selves. 2) Having a consistent, positive, social media marketing presence that mirrors SLG’s culture of teamwork, inclusivity, and work ethic, and our no-nonsense approach to resolving disputes.
Lawbook: How does racial/implicit bias present itself these days for you and your law firm? And what would you say to those inflicting the bias? How can they learn from it?
Stewart: I sometimes still get referred to as a court reporter or there is the assumption that the founding partner of the firm is my husband. I try to maintain a positive attitude when these situations arise because frankly the comments are not necessarily about me. It is more of a reflection of a profession where many lawyers, no matter their race or gender, have not engaged with minorities, especially minority women, who hold roles as “lead counsel” or “founding partner” in business litigation. Representation matters in the legal profession. This is why I am passionate about being present at CLEs, speaking engagements, charitable functions, and creating opportunities for other women and minorities.
Lawbook: A variation of a question historian Henry Louis Gates asks many of the leaders he interviews is, how much of your firm’s success is because it is a Black-owned law firm or in spite of it being a Black-owned law firm?
Stewart: This is a tough one. Not sure how to answer.
I think that we have been successful because we are exceptional advocates, so clients hire us repeatedly. Did some businesses give us a shot because its legal department was seeking to hire more minority and women outside counsel? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, SLG must deliver results. As Eminem says, “You only get one shot,” and that is definitely true for minorities and women in the legal profession. SLG eagerly accepts that challenge.
Lawbook: What impact will the Texas governor and lieutenant governor’s recent comments calling DEI hiring programs among state agencies and public universities illegal and contradictory to anti-discrimination laws have?
Stewart: It is unfortunate because it is a politically calculated distortion of DEI programs. But more importantly these comments intentionally perpetuate fear and an “us against them” mentality solely for political gain. I truly believe I speak for many across the political spectrum who are exhausted by these continuous efforts to pit us against one another simply based on race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. In this current political climate, many would be shocked to know that the two presidents who supported the creation of federal programs to support the growth of minority businesses were Republicans — Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan!
Lawbook: What are your views on the current state of diversity in legal education and the health of the diversity pipeline in Texas?
Stewart: I am pleased when I speak at local law schools like SMU and UNT School of Law and see the diversity of the students. Additionally, the diversity pipelines like the Sarah T. Hughes Scholarship established by the Dallas Bar Foundation to enable minority men and women to have the opportunity to obtain a legal education, and the DAPP Direct program that provides employment opportunities for first year minority women law students is having a positive impact on the profession.