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Diversity & Inclusion 2021: Lisa White Hardwick


Missouri Court of Appeals Western District

As one might expect, the influence of The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on Diversity & Inclusion honorees is omnipresent. For Judge Lisa White Hardwick, it’s also deeply personal.

hardwickThe former Jackson County legislator and family court judge, who was appointed to the Court of Appeals Western District two decades ago, cites experiencing King’s assassination during her childhood as a formative experience.

She also credits the influence of her parents, Dan and Gustava White, first-generation college graduates who “rose above the indignity of forced segregation.”

A Kansas City native, Hardwick is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and Harvard Law. She began her legal career working for the late civil rights icon and Washington power broker Vernon Jordan at the D.C. law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld.

She returned home for a position as Shook, Hardy & Bacon’s first Black lawyer, rising to become the firm’s first Black partner before her appointment to the bench.

What makes you most proud of your law firm/legal practice? 

As an attorney and judge, my proudest moments have come in watching the rise of Black women in our profession and on the bench. I had the good fortune of graduating from law school in 1985, at a time when doors of opportunity were just beginning to open for attorneys of color. Black women had never been hired at any of the major law firms, nor appointed to any circuit, appellate or federal courts in Kansas City. Once given the chance to break barriers, I worked with others to develop a pipeline of diverse legal talent by recruiting and mentoring law students and young attorneys. The progress over three decades has been gratifying, with Black women now in leadership roles at major law firms, bar associations, offices of corporate counsel and almost every level of the judiciary in our federal and state courts.

What goal remains unfulfilled for you as an attorney and advocate for Diversity & Inclusion?

Our 400-year history as a racially divided nation has produced systemic inequalities that have persisted beyond the enforcement of civil rights laws. Statistical data shows that Blacks lag whites in measurable progress for nearly every sector of our economy. For me, the data is most discouraging regarding our law enforcement and court processes, where Blacks are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, convicted, sentenced to longer prison terms and subjected to the death penalty. These egregious disparities command my attention as a co-chair of the Supreme Court of Missouri’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Fairness. My goal is to lead a study of systemic racism in our state courts and develop an action plan to eradicate the implicit and explicit biases that deny equal justice under the law.

2021 Diversity & Inclusion Awards