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The Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum during the early 1960s when African Americans were reflecting upon both their individual and collective situations and evaluating their current status and future goals. Locally, African American attorneys were slowly gaining stature primarily in Essex, Hudson and Union Counties. Representation on the bench was sparse, with Judge Hazelwood sitting on the Newark Municipal Court bench, Judge Yancey sitting on the Essex County Superior Court bench and Judge Wood sitting on the Union County Superior Court bench. Employment in large or medium firms was extremely limited.

The National Bar Association, the first nationwide organization of African American attorneys, was in existence at that time. A group of attorneys from Essex, Union and Hudson Counties came together during 1962 to focus on their immediate concerns. These concerns included projecting a positive image of the African American attorney in the community, as well as expanding and building their practices. The Barristers, the first informally organized group of attorneys included William H. Walls, Irvin B. Booker, Donald King, Calvin Hurd, James H. Coleman, John J. Teare, Chauncey Barett, and Everett Jones. The group expanded and functioned until sometime in 1967.

It was the activism of Black law students during the late 1960s after the Newark riots that caused them, along with several Black attorneys, to organize the Concerned Legal Associates ("CLA"). Their members included attorneys, Isaac McNatt, CLA's first president, Pearl Crosby, and Geneva Sanford, along with students, George Logan, Golden Johnson, Kathy Mitchell, Betty Lester, and Rita Murphy. These students saw the need for an organization that addressed the needs of Black students, graduates and practicing attorneys. The organization of the Concerned Legal Associates coincided with the founding of the Association of Black Law Students at Rutgers Law School in Newark, New Jersey. The strong student base allowed the organization to deal with current legal issues such as the hiring of minority faculty in the law schools, participation in community legal services, and the examination of the bar passage rate for Black graduates in the early 70's.

In 1975, the Concerned Legal Associates changed its name to the Garden State Bar Association to reflect a growing statewide constituency. The organization's membership is now more diverse and has greatly increased since its inception. In 1996, the Garden State Bar Association began the formation of a Young Lawyers Division to address the needs of recent law school graduates and attorneys practicing less than six years.