Paulette Brown, First African-American Woman to Head American Bar Association

Written by Jae Jones


, 63, became the first woman elected to lead the 400,000- member . The Association up until 1943 did not even allow African-Americans to join. Brown, a partner in the Boston firm , has fought many cases on discrimination, subtle racism, and small slights known as “micro-inequities.” Throughout her career, she has pushed firms to hire and encourage more minorities and women; mentored hundreds of lawyers, mostly women of color; and has trained many others on diversity in the workplace.

Brown, who was one of the few African-Americans who were in her law school class noticed that the Black students were often geared toward jobs in legal service or public defenders (who mainly assist the poor). The Black students were not steered in the direction of more prestigious jobs in large law firms. However, Brown didn’t let that stop her. She refused to be moved from her path of goals. She eventually served as an in-house counsel for several Fortune 500 companies.

A profession that only 7 percent of partners are people of color and the number of female associates are dropping, Brown turns her attention, among many other things, to raising awareness about unspoken bias in law offices, American society and the legal system.  The Boston Globe reported Brown saying this, How is it that defendants of different races who commit the same crime get different sentences, she asked. Why are more black and Latino children suspended from school? Once you recognize that it’s a possibility that you could have some unconscious bias, then it hopefully will adjust your behavior. You will take a second to say, ‘Wait a minute, am I reacting this way because I could have some sort of bias in this situation?’ ” Brown said. “As a result, I think that you will be more fair in any kind of deliberation that you are engaged in.”

Brown know what it is like to be discriminated against. She grew up attending segregated schools in Baltimore, the fourth and youngest child of a truck driver and a stay-at-home mother, who later did clerical work. As with others who have had to overcome obstacles in order to succeed, she is resilient — and determined.

One thing great about Brown that so many people have seen is that she stands firm for what she believes in. Boston Globe also reported that, once, when a judge kept telling her to be quiet, Brown slammed her checkbook down on the table and said, “You can fine me whatever you want, but I am talking today.” And the judge left her alone. She is an attorney that you definitely would want fighting for you.

Brown loves her family and believes education is a must. Neither of Brown’s parents went to college, nor did her siblings. But Brown was determined to go. She studied political science at in Washington and earned a full scholarship to law school at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. Her son, Dijaun, now 30, whom Brown adopted out of foster care on her own when he was 8, recalled his mother sneaking into his fifth grade class to teach him a lesson. Brown slipped into the desk behind him, caught him reading an Easy Rawlins mystery tucked inside his social studies textbook, and tapped him on the shoulder: “Why are you not paying attention?” she asked.

Friends, colleagues, and family have described Brown as someone who is warm, engaging and wins people over wherever she goes — even those on the other side of her legal cases.


Read more about Brown here: Boston Globe


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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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