September 23, 2017

Monday Open Thread

Good morning Obots!

This week we are featuring some of America’s top black Super Lawyers.


A founding partner in Los Angeles’ Del & Shaw, Nina Shaw has spent more than 20 years structuring lucrative contracts for a long list of stars, among them Oscar winner Jamie Foxx, Laurence Fishburne, James Earl Jones and Cedric the Entertainer. In 2005, she received the Women in Film Crystal Award, a testament to her distinction among Hollywood’s movers and shakers. She has been named in Hollywood Reporter’s “Women in Entertainment Power 100” and featured in Black Enterprise’s “America’s Top Black Lawyers” and Savoy’s “The 100 Most Influential Blacks in America.”

When Nina Shaw started negotiating her client Laurence Fishburne’s salary for the sequel to The Matrix, she was prepared for the challenge. “Sequel deals are always difficult to make,” she explains, when they are not pre-negotiated, as you balance your client’s perceived leverage against the producer’s desire or need to hire talent. But Shaw mastered the negotiation, securing a deal that trade publications estimated at over $10 million. The tough negotiator recently helped bring Laurence Fishburne to CSI and closed a major partnership between client Nick Cannon and Nickelodeon.

A legal career was on her radar from an early age.. After high school, she attended Barnard College, then went on to Columbia, where she earned a J.D. in 1979.

After earning her degree, Shaw moved to Los Angeles and took a job in the entertainment department at O’Melveny & Meyers.  One of O’Melveny’s major clients was the television firm founded by Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin, and Shaw began her career working on television shows like All in the Family, Good Times and The Jeffersons. In 1981, Shaw left O’Melveny and joined a boutique firm. On her first day, she met her current law firm partner Ernest Del, and the two clicked.  In 1989, they decided to start their own law firm.

Over the years, Shaw’s star-studded client roster grew quickly. Many of her celebrity clients have been with her since the beginning of their careers. Shaw started representing Foxx when he was on the TV show In Living Color. Fishburne hired Shaw as he negotiated the Ike Turner role in What’s Love Got to Do with It.

Her tactic: “Never wing it” and “start from a place of incredible knowledge.” For starters, she researches the current salaries of talent comparable to her clients to ensure they’re not lowballed. She also memorizes box office grosses when negotiating with studio executives. Rumor has it her poker face is superb. In a discipline where pitching is everything, Shaw is a rainmaker, studio-shark beater, and vigilant attorney.

Even with all the press about her being a prominent African-American attorney, Shaw doesn’t focus on race as a primary part of her work. While many of her clients are well-known black entertainers, Shaw says, “I feel extremely lucky to be in the position to provide minority talent with superior representation, but it’s not like I thought to myself, ‘I have to go out and be some kind of savior.’ I’ve just focused on doing a good job and building a good practice.”

More: The Nina Chronicles

Monday Open Thread!

Good Morning P.O.U. Fam!

With football season in high gear, this week we will highlight notable Heisman Trophy winners throughout the decades.  The series begins today with Ernie Davis — the first African American Heisman Trophy winner.

Early Life

Ernest E. Davis was born on December 14, 1939, in New Salem, Pennsylvania, to Marie Davis. His parents were separated, and his father was killed in an auto accident before Davis was born. Young and needing a job, Davis’s mother sent him to live with his maternal grandparents in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, when he was fourteen months old.

Willie Davis, a coalminer, and Elizabeth Davis already had twelve children but welcomed their young grandson into their home. Davis spent his early years playing sports with his older uncles.

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College Career 

More than thirty colleges and universities, including football superpowers the University of Michigan and Notre Dame, actively sought to add Davis to their football programs. He was also heavily recruited by Syracuse University, another football powerhouse, who sent Jim Brown, their All-American running back and one of the team’s first African Americans players, to convince Davis.

Based on Brown’s influence, his own coach’s friendship with Syracuse coach Ben Schwartzwalder, and its close proximity to his home (90 miles), Davis chose Syracuse.

Over his college career, Davis broke numerous records previously set byBrown, including 2,386 yards rushing, 6.6 yards per carry, 35 touchdowns, and 220 points. At the end of the season he edged out Ohio State halfback Bob Ferguson by 53 votes to become the first African-American player to be awarded the Heisman Trophy, college football’s highest honor.

NFL Career Cut Short 

After graduating from Syracuse with a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1962, Davis prepared to enter the NFL. The Washington Redskins took Davis as the overall number-one pick and then traded him to the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland gave Davis a three-year contract worth $200,000. Jim Brown was already a member of the Cleveland organization, and Browns’ owner Art Modell was looking forward to having the most explosive backfield in the history of the NFL.

On July 28, 1962, Davis felt swelling in his neck and was admitted to a hospital.  It was suspected that he had the mumps or mononucleosis, but the tests brought back much more dire results: Davis had acute monocytic leukemia.

On May 16, 1963, Ernie Davis passed away.  Thousands turned out to mourn his passing. Nearly thirty Browns players and staff flew in to his hometown for the funeral service. President John F. Kennedy sent a telegram, and more than 10,000 people filed past his coffin in one day. The Browns retired Davis’s number 45, even though he had never played an NFL game. He was elected into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979.

(Ernie Davis, right, and Jim Brown)

Monday Open Thread

This week, we’ll honor lawyers of the Civil Rights Movement.  The series begins today with Charles Hamilton Houston.


Houston completed high school at the age of 15 and graduated as one of six valedictorians from Amherst College in Massachusetts in 1915. He then taught at Howard University in Washington, D.C., for two years until the onset of World War I. Houston enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in Europe in World War I as a second lieutenant in field artillery.

As a result of some of his experiences in the segregated and racist army, Houston decided that he needed to become an advocate to enforce the legal rights of the oppressed. In pursuit of this, following his honorable discharge from the army in 1919, Houston enrolled at the Harvard Law School from which he earned his law degree in 1922.

Houston was the first African American student elected a member of the editorial board of the Harvard Law Review.  Our President was the first editor-in-chief.

U.S. President Barack Obama honors Charles Hamilton Houston in a Black History Minute (1991)

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In 1924 Houston began teaching at Howard University School of Law, then a part-time night school. During his tenure as Dean, Howard University developed into a full-time law school and was the training ground for about a quarter of the nation’s black law students. Houston’s pupils at Howard University included Thurgood Marshall, the nation’s first African American U.S. Supreme Court Justice.


As a constitutional law scholar, Houston knew that the “separate but equal” doctrine was contrary to a sound rule of law. In 1934, Houston became special counsel to the NAACP.

Mr. Houston is recognized as the architect behind the ultimate success of the long struggle to end legalized discrimination and, in particular, the “separate but equal” doctrine. Mr. Houston, together with a select group of mostly Howard lawyers, including Thurgood Marshall, created a number of precedents that ultimately led to the dismantling of the “separate but equal” doctrine after Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

In 1940, ill health led Houston to retire from the NAACP as special counsel. On April 22, 1950, Houston died, four years after the Brown decision. In 1950, the NAACP posthumously awarded him the Spingarn Medal. In 1958, Howard University School of Law’s main building was dedicated as Charles Hamilton Houston Hall.

Thurgood Marshall is reported as having remarked that “[w]e owe it all to Charlie.”

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