When C. Edward Watson enrolled at Kansas University, he wasn’t thinking about a career in law. “I thought I wanted to be a doctor … until I couldn’t take the sight of blood,” he said.
He pursued his next choice of major – political science.
The switch paid off. Watson has built a robust career in law spanning nearly 30 years. He became the first Black partner at Foulston, Siefkin, LLP, and most recently was elected president of the Wichita Bar Association, also the first Black to hold that position.
“It was common for people in my family to become ‘the first Black’ to serve in various ways professionally,” said Watson, who was the first Black debater in the modern era at KU. “I think there were some Black debaters in the ’40s, but none since then, until I came along.”
While serving as president of the Wichita Bar Association provides greater exposure in some ways, he said, “I receive more invitations to serve on boards and committees … people seek my opinion more often.” Watson doesn’t feel these are any different for him than other presidents. He does have some goals and projects he’d like to make happen during his tenure.
“The Wichita Bar has always been a collegial group but attendance at our monthly luncheons has fallen off recently,” he said. “People have lots of ways to get information, but, with over 1,100 members, we’re losing the advantage of getting to know each other in person.” He’d like to see luncheon attendance increase, as soon as COVID-19 is better controlled.
Watson is also working on a “legal job fair” to help students learn more about opportunities in the legal field. This is a project he envisioned before being elected. Watson’s focus in commercial real estate and regulatory law are not commonly known areas of practice. He wants students to understand that law practice is more than criminal and divorce representation.
Watson is also an ordained elder in the Church of God in Christ. He says he balances the demands of both offices through prayer. “I’m busy all the time, but I’m fortunate that the firm welcomes my faith pursuits,” he said.
Watson sees a synergy between the seemingly disconnected roles. “I bring my legal experience to my ministry work and my understanding of church culture helps partners better understand the community,” he said. The connection also generates paying clients for the firm, when congregations need legal representation.
Beyond being the first Black president of the Wichita Bar, Watson wants to be known as, “a compassionate, caring, thoughtful person who advances the entire community.” He aspires to be a bridge-builder, creating a platform for others to rise up, just as he was lifted on the shoulders of his ancestors and their accomplishments.
Watson credits his family, including his wife, a college advisor, with shaping his advice to young people: “Identify your passion, then prepare yourself to follow that passion with excellence. Get the necessary education. Identify mentors who can help.”
He adds, “It isn’t all about you. Everyone still has an obligation to give back.”
Watson is involved with professional diversity and inclusion programs, and serves on the board of The Kansas African American Museum (TKAAM). He says he knows he “can’t do everything,” but these areas of service are things he can do that fit his interests and gifts while also serving the community.