What we celebrate today as Black History Month was created in 1926 by Harvard historian and African American Carter G. Woodson, as detailed by the History Channel. Initially, the event was a week-long celebration of African American achievements and Black history. The event evolved into a month-long celebration and a time to highlight the under-recognized contributions to the nation’s progress by African Americans and other people of color.
During the last decade, particularly the last two years, our nation has faced unresolved racial equity challenges and other race-related issues. This has presented opportunities to discuss the past genuinely and address the trauma of racism buried below the surface and still perpetuated today, often systemically. The dynamics have set the stage to build a better, more equitable, diverse and inclusive culture for the nation moving forward.
The American Bar Association (ABA) has noted that “[d]espite the increased emphasis on diversity and inclusion within the legal field over the past decade or so, the legal profession remains one of the least diverse of any profession.” Navan Ward, one of the firm’s veteran minority lawyers practicing in the Mass Torts Section, recently reflected on the firm’s approach to diversity and inclusion in an article for Trial Magazine. Navan explained that the firm has continuously refined and shaped an “out of the box” thinking and culture to increase diversity and inclusion for minority and female lawyers. He said:
It is a culture that not only recognizes the unique backgrounds, experiences, and personal achievements of minority and female lawyers but also celebrates those inimitable qualities and incorporates them into the firm’s character. It is a powerful, intentional approach that benefits our attorneys individually and the firm.
This year, two of our veteran minority lawyers are taking their experiences, including the firm’s culture that fosters diversity and inclusion, and sharing them on the national stage. Navan and LaBarron Boone, practicing in our Personal Injury & Product Liability Section, are helping lead organizations and efforts within the profession, encouraging diversity and inclusion, and inspiring others through their personal experiences and success. The professional successes of these two veteran attorneys’ have also helped shape the consumer law landscape to improve the health and safety of everyone across the country. We will give a summary of what Navan and LaBarron have done and are doing.
Leading on a national stage and more.
Navan serves as the 75th President of the American Association for Justice (AAJ), while LaBarron serves as President of The National Black Lawyers Top 100 (The NBL). The AAJ is an organization that advocates for access to justice and works to preserve the rights given by the 7th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The NBL is dedicated to honoring the nation’s best Black lawyers. It recognizes and promotes the present contributions of African American lawyers and connects lawyers, locally and nationally, to share their knowledge with other members. It also works to empower its members to maintain their status as leaders.
The two lawyers’ platforms complement each other. Further, Navan’s dual roles as AAJ President and member of The NBL’s executive committee strengthen the connection between two top national legal organizations and their complementary efforts to improve diversity, inclusion, and support to empower minority lawyers in the legal profession.
Navan has served in a leadership role in the AAJ for several years, working with AAJ leadership to recruit, train, and encourage members from different backgrounds (including race, gender, age, geography, and career level) to become active leaders. He says that it is important that the organization “genuinely reflects the diversity that makes it great” and is working to implement strategies that empower future leaders from diverse backgrounds. This idea led Navan to create the group’s Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Academy 10 years ago and is what keeps him committed to improving access to leadership opportunities for other up-and-coming minority and female lawyers.
Navan reflects again on Beasley Allen’s empowering its minority lawyers, saying:
The firm has been recognized for its focus on diversity among its lawyers, including by Law360 as one of the 10 Best Law Firms for Black Attorneys in the U.S and previously recognized as the #1 law firm with African American partners. It is an approach we want to nurture in firms nationwide.
AAJ Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Academy graduates are encouraged to participate in leadership opportunities throughout AAJ, including the six-to-seven-year national officer track. The Leadership Academy provides leadership and benefits from continued training and leadership development. It is one way the organization guarantees the retention of minority leaders who can ensure underrepresented member groups have a voice in the future of the AAJ.
Navan has demonstrated this type of active leadership, having served in other AAJ leadership positions, including past chairman of the AAJ Minority Caucus, past chairman of the Diversity Committee, and a member of the Board of Governors. He is a former Alabama State Bar delegate for the American Bar Association and Past President of the Alabama Lawyers Association, the Alabama State Bar’s Young Lawyers Section, and the Montgomery County Association for Justice.
LaBarron echoes Navan’s thoughts about the culture of Beasley Allen, saying:
The firm has provided opportunities for minorities to grow as attorneys and leaders and recognizes that when we succeed, the firm succeeds as well.
LaBarron joined Beasley Allen in 1995 and soon became the first African American lawyer to make partner at a major law firm in Montgomery, Alabama. He says he appreciates the firm’s support throughout his career and of his new role with The NBL. LaBarron is honored to lead the NBL this year and is working to “provide this same support to non-majority lawyers so that we can empower them to create meaningful change in the legal industry.” His goals for The NBL are to engage and empower its members so that they “will excel exponentially as lawyers and leaders.” He is working to “organize and utilize the organization’s unique bounty of resources, harness the intellectual property of [its] members, promote their expertise and maximize the benefits of [The NBL] to all [its] members.” LaBarron praises the group as the best of the best and encourages the members to support each other and as The NBL’s vision urges, to “forge a brain trust for diverse thought, and level the legal playing field for all.”
Like Navan, LaBarron serves in other leadership roles, including the executive committee of The National Trial Lawyers – Top 100 Civil Plaintiff and the Attorneys Information Exchange Group (AIEG) Board of Directors. He is also involved in many local (Montgomery-area) community and social activities, including serving as a member of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Committee of 100, which works to strengthen and drive economic development for the local River Region community. Additionally, in January 2021, LaBarron was elected to serve as Vice Chair of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, a five-year commitment to the economic development organization. Previously, LaBarron served on the Alabama State Bar President’s Executive Council from 2013 to 2014 and served as the liaison for its Access to Justice initiative. LaBarron was the first Beasley Allen attorney to serve as President of the Alabama Lawyers Association and the Capital City Bar Association.
Helping shape consumer law landscape and improving health and safety.
Both Navan and LaBarron are award-winning attorneys who have achieved many successes throughout their careers. These successes have helped improve health and safety standards for consumers and workers nationwide.
Navan has obtained more than $360 million for the specific clients he has represented in the various areas he has practiced. In recent years, he has focused his practice on seeking justice for consumers injured or families of those who died because of harmful medications and medical devices. Navan’s cases expose pharmaceutical companies who put consumers at risk. He is the firm’s lead attorney on the metal-on-metal hip implant litigation and proton pump inhibitor (PPI) litigation and practices from the Atlanta office. Currently, Navan serves on leadership committees for national multidistrict litigations. He has been instrumental in assisting with the verdicts and global settlements against major hip implant manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson / DePuy for $4.057 billion, Howmedica Osteonics Corporation / Stryker for over $1 billion, and Biomet Corporation for more than $250 million, and additional confidential settlements involving other metal-on-metal or modular-neck hip components. He has also been appointed to the Plaintiff’s Executive Committee for the PPI MDL and was heavily involved in other pharmaceutical litigation, including Meridia and Cox-2.
LaBarron has a laser focus on and is a passionate advocate for product and consumer safety. His background and experience as an industrial engineer have shaped his advocacy approach – a gatekeeper for fairness, justice, and equality in consumer safety. It is a role he takes seriously for clients whose lives have been upended by companies that choose to put profits before people.
For more than 20 years, LaBarron has handled an array of cases, resulting in verdicts that have impacted consumer safety worldwide, including tire tread failures or separations (Ford/Firestone), smoke alarms, crashworthiness, seatbelt restraint failures, accidental airbag deployments, tractor rollovers and consumer/insurance fraud.
As the lead attorney, LaBarron’s most recent notable verdict was for $151 million on behalf of Travaris “Tre” Smith (Travaris D. Smith v. Ford Motor Company), who was left paralyzed after the 1998 Ford Explorer he was riding in rolled over after the driver made an emergency avoidance maneuver to avoid a deer. The jury agreed with Smith in finding that Ford failed to meet its safety guidelines for the Explorer’s rollover resistance requirement and attempted to cover up the vehicle’s defective design. It was the largest product liability verdict in Alabama history.
A case LaBarron handled for the family of a log truck driver killed on the job helped expose the truth behind a defective cab guard, which was sold as a safety device. LaBarron was the lead attorney, and the jury awarded $16.8 million as a result of a defective cab guard. The jury found the cab guard failed to protect a log truck driver from being killed by logs that broke through the truck’s cab when the load shifted. Like his work on the Ford case helped raise awareness about the company’s decision to put profits ahead of its customers’ safety, LaBarron’s work on cab guards since 2002 has also exposed the industry’s failed promises and forced it to make changes. Two cab guard makers, Road Gear and Merritt, were ordered to issue warnings to their customers of the dangers of using cab guards on log trucks.
Indeed, there are many approaches to encouraging diversity and inclusion for minority lawyers in law firms across the country. It is inspiring within the firm, and we hope it is equally inspiring to others to see two veteran minority lawyers from the same firm leading professional legal organizations on the national stage. As the ABA has noted, the legal profession has made some progress in racial and ethnic diversity, but we have many more struggles ahead to truly embrace diversity and inclusion. As we move forward, the firm remains committed to continuing this journey of enlightenment and progress and hopes to encourage others in the profession along the way.
Sources: History Channel, American Bar Association, Trial Magazine, American Association for Justice, The National Black Lawyers Top 100