For the ABA’s Business Law Section (BLS), the appointment of Mike Flowers as chair of the Section (1999–2000) was significant in many ways: Not only was he a talented lawyer who excelled in advising clients on business matters, but he was also the first African American attorney to lead the Section.
Flowers attended his first BLS meeting in 1985 and, for him, it was an exciting and opportune time to become involved in the ABA. “Many initiatives were about to be launched by the ABA that would begin to open doors and remove barriers to participation for women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups,” said Flowers. “The first of these initiatives began in 1986 when the ABA created the Commission on Opportunities for Minorites in the Profession.”
Now known as the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, this Commission was initially led by Dennis Archer, who was mayor of Detroit from 1994 to 2001 and would become the first African American president of the ABA.
According to Flowers, another groundbreaking initiative occurred the next year in 1987 when the ABA launched the Commission on Women in the Profession under the leadership of its first chair, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“The work of these two Commissions has been at the forefront of making the ABA more diverse and inclusive,” said Flowers. “These two Commissions were the initial and primary advocates for creating more opportunities for women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups to have representation on the Board of Governors of the ABA and as members of the Nominating Committee of the ABA House of Delegates, which is the Committee that for all practical purposes selects the officers of the ABA.
“I attribute my past service as a member of the ABA Board of Governors and my present service as a member of the ABA Nominating Committee to the governance reforms championed by these two Commissions. I am pleased that many of the processes and methods used by the ABA to achieve greater diversity and inclusion have been made available to the larger profession and are helping to create more diversity and inclusion within law firms, in-house legal departments, and in the judiciary.”
Year as BLS Chair
Flowers was chair of the Section during the 1999–2000 bar year. And as the year 2000 approached— “Y2K” as it was commonly called in the media—there was a great amount of anxiety, as well as dire predictions, that computers would fail on a widespread scale causing havoc in the business world. “Happily, as we now know, the world did not stop, and the year 2000 arrived without any significant glitches,” said Flowers. “I navigated the Y2K waters for the Section but, on a more long-lasting note, my year as chair we were able to expand the pool of lawyers participating in the Section’s highly successful Business Law Fellows program to intentionally include lawyers of color and lawyers from the LGBTQ community.”
This was a significant accomplishment that still resonates in the Section today; the continued diversity of BLS fellows can be credited to Flowers and his initiative back in 2000.
In addition, during Flowers’s year as chair, William G. Paul, president of the ABA at that time, established the ABA Legal Opportunity Scholarship Fund. The mission of the Legal Opportunity Scholarship Fund is to encourage racial and ethnic minority students to apply to law school and to provide financial assistance to attend and complete law school. During Flower’s year as chair, the Business Law Section made the largest gift to the Legal Opportunity Scholarship Fund of any ABA Section, Division, or Forum at that time.
Significant Contributions Beyond BLS
Flowers’s appointments to various civic and charitable organizations are particularly impressive:
- Member and Chair, Minority Development Financing Advisory Board (Appointed by Ohio Governor 2019–2026);
- Board of Trustees, Columbus State Community College (2005–2017);
- Member, Board of Trustees, Bucknell University (2007–2022) (Chair, Audit & Risk Management Committee);
- Member, Board of Trustees, National Church Residences (2012–2020) (Chair, Housing Subsidiary Committee);
- Member, Ohio Small Business Advisory Council (Appointed by Ohio Lt. Governor 2010–2018);
- Leadership Council, UNCF (Central Ohio Region);
- President’s Advisory Council, Elon University, Elon, NC (2011–2015); and
- Board of Trustees, Mount Carmel Health System (2002–2010).
“Lawyers are frequently invited to serve on the boards of civic and charitable organizations,” said Flowers. “My service on these boards has hopefully allowed me to add value to these organizations through the use my knowledge and experience around the issues of corporate governance, enterprise risk management, and ESG (environmental, social, and governance).”
Legacy – and Continued Service in the Profession
At Steptoe & Johnson PLLC, Flowers’s focus on diversity issues led to him being named the Director of Diversity & Inclusion for the firm. In that role, Flowers works with the Diversity & Inclusion Committee and firm leadership to develop, implement, and execute the firm’s aggressive initiatives around diversity and inclusion. Flowers champions policies that impact attorney and staff recruiting, increase attorney retention and engagement, and create an inclusive and welcoming culture.
“The legal profession is becoming more diverse,” said Flowers. “This diversity is producing a fresh re-evaluation of how lawyers can best discharge our responsibility to defend liberty and pursue justice. Leadership opportunities will expand when you are ready to use your voice to speak up about the things that you feel are important to our society that derive from the existence of the just rule of law.”
Flowers’s career, indeed, is marked by his incredible leadership to the legal profession as well as to the community at large. His legacy is inspiring to generation after generation of new lawyers, and his efforts have created a more diverse and welcoming legal culture.