The country’s oldest organization for minority lawyers has tapped a North Carolina native to serve as its first female executive director. Demetris W. Cheatham, formerly the National Bar Association’s interim executive director, has taken the helm at the 87-year-old group.
Cheatham, who grew up in Tarboro, said her first order of business is to firm up the NBA’s relationships with government and political leaders. For more than 30 years, the face of the organization was its longtime executive director John Crump. The organization has been in a transitional mode since he retired in 2009, Cheatham said.
“We have to reintroduce ourselves,” she said.
Also high on Cheatham’s list of priorities is addressing the declining number of African-American lawyers. “Right now we’re only 4.8 percent of the total number of practicing attorneys in the United States,” she said. “We would like to see our numbers mirror the national population.”
African-Americans account for about 16 percent of the U.S. population.
Cheatham graduated from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University with a bachelor of science in computer science. She earned a joint juris doctorate/ MBA at the University of Maryland School of Law and its Robert H. Smith School of Business. Since 2009, she has worked with the NBA in many roles, including managing editor of the NBA’s corporate law section magazine, “In House View,” communications director, and special assistant to the NBA president. Last year, Cheatham helped produce the inaugural “Nation’s Best Advocates: 40 Lawyers Under 40” program, a joint project of The National Bar Association and IMPACT, a group for emerging minority professionals.
Before joining the NBA staff, Cheatham was an associate with the Huron Consulting Group’s legal financial consulting practice, where she focused on internal investigations, SEC accounting, reporting and data analysis. Her experience also includes a stint as a technology analyst at Goldman Sachs in New York. Her focus at the investment banking firm was to assess the company’s technology needs and vulnerabilities in the event of a domestic or global disaster.
Cheatham lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband Cornelius and their daughter, Zahra Joy.
The National Bar Association has about 44,000 members, including lawyers, judges, professors and students. It is the largest minority legal organization in the country.