By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES — The law firm of Ivie McNeill Wyatt Purcell & Diggs is still serving clients in Los Angeles and nearby regions after 80 years and reaching new heights as well.
From a one-story building on Washington Avenue in South Los Angeles to the 18th floor of a high-rise complex in the city’s downtown business district, the firm has carved a place in American history as one of the oldest and more successful Black law firms in the country.
“People are shocked sometimes that a Black law firm like us even exists,” said Rodney Diggs, a partner with the firm since 2011. “After the shock wears off, the respect builds.”
Diggs and the firm’s 40-plus staff gathered with more than 300 people Aug. 19 at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel to celebrate the 80th anniversary of a firm started in 1943 by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Earl C. Brody Sr.
The celebration included numerous dignitaries and public officials in California, including U.S. Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove, state Sen. Steven Bradford, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer and Los Angeles City Council members Heather Hutt and Marqueece Harris-Dawson.
The firm offers a variety of litigation services, ranging from labor disputes, civil rights, product liability, banking, finance and sports and entertainment.
In the past four years, the firm won judgments in two cases totaling $34 million. The firm represented Michael Ross, a former school teacher, in a retaliation case against the Bassett Unified School District in the San Gabriel Valley.
Ross was awarded $25 million in 2022, a judgment regarded as the largest retaliation verdict against a public entity in California. Diggs was the firm’s lead attorney in the case.
“If somebody looks like you and shares your values, you’re more willing to work with them,” said Ross, who is Black, in reference to the firm’s lawyers. “I’m very happy with the work they’ve done. They destroyed all the witnesses the school district had on the stand.”
Family members of Sinuon Pream, a mother of four, were awarded a wrongful death judgment of $9 million after she was fatally shot by two Long Beach police officers in 2017. At the time, the judgment won by the firm was the largest against the Long Beach Police Department.
The Ross and Pream cases enhanced the firm’s profile and sent a message to corporate America that the firm can deliver significant legal victories.
“These two cases in particular allowed us to show that Black attorneys can get large settlements as well,” Diggs said. “There was a time when the firm was known primarily as a defense firm.”
Brody started the firm with the intent of balancing the legal system for Blacks during a time there were few Black attorneys. Even today, the number of Black attorneys and Black law firms is far below in comparison to white attorneys and firms.
According to the American Bar Association, only 5% of lawyers in the country are African American, yet African-Americans comprise 13.5% of the U.S. population.
Founders of the firm believe the work done over the past 80 years will help change the numbers and improve diversity in the legal system.
“Since the conception of our firm, dedication to our community and clients has always been paramount,” said Rickey Ivie, a founding partner when the firm re-branded in 1980. “We work alongside our clients each and every day with a level of care and attention that generates the best results possible. We’re proud to have done that for 80 years. We plan on continuing this tradition of excellence for years to come.”
Ivie teamed with attorney Robert McNeill to take over the firm as Ivie & McNeill. The move was necessitated by the departures of Charles R. Scarlett and Robert L. Roberson when they received judicial assignments to serve in Los Angeles Superior Court.
The firm still carries McNeill’s name after his death in 2016. W. Keith Wyatt joined the firm as managing director in 1981 and became a partner in 1986. Attorney Byron Purcell was added as a partner in 2001. Diggs was welcomed a year after graduating from Howard University Law School.
The firm’s work attracted the attention of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who appointed Ivie to his Commission on Judicial Performance in 2021.
“We’re up there with some of the biggest law firms in L.A.,” Diggs said. “To be around 80 years is even more impressive.”
In addition to new partners, the firm has expanded to offices in the Crenshaw District, Oakland and Las Vegas. International offices have been opened in Paris and Brazil.
Alumni from the firm include seven Los Angeles Superior Court judges, five past presidents of the John M. Langston Bar Association of Los Angeles and two past presidents of the Black Women Lawyers of Los Angeles and California Association of Black Lawyers.
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at email@example.com.