Annual Meeting

Paulette Brown announces ambitious plans as she assumes the ABA presidency

Paulette Brown

Paulette Brown called for initiatives to increase diversity and a commitment to pro bono service in her speech. All photos by ┬ęKathy Anderson.

Introducing Paulette Brown, outgoing ABA president William Hubbard joked that Brown clearly has the strength and stamina to take up the presidency—because if you try to join her on her daily walks, “your ankles will burn like fire.”

Brown, a partner at Locke Lord in Morristown, New Jersey, made good on that introduction by announcing an ambitious list of presidential initiatives for her 2015-2016 term, which will begin at the close of the 2015 ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago. First among these was the Commission on Diversity and Inclusion 360, an initiative to build on existing ABA work toward a more diverse and inclusive profession. To that end, she said she’d already formed partnerships with critical groups, including the Department of Justice and the National Center for State Courts.

Noting that the legal profession is still one of the least diverse of all comparable professions, Brown said the initiative would look for ways to provide tools for success to diverse attorneys; give lawyers of all backgrounds “a seat at the table”; and develop training materials on implicit bias.

Paulette Brown

Paulette Brown is the first woman of color to serve as ABA president.

Racial bias also plays a role in public confidence in the justice system, Brown noted. Listing names from high-profile cases of alleged police brutality—Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice—she noted that one study showed that half of young people have no confidence in the justice system.

Another initiative, Main Street ABA, will bring Brown to every state in the union during her presidency—at least two states a month, she said. Brown has already visited Mississippi, she said, and promised a visit to North Dakota’s chief judge.

“All lawyers deserve a little love from the ABA,” she said.

William Hubbard and Paulette Brown

Outgoing ABA President William Hubbard passes the gavel to Paulette Brown.

Brown put a special focus on young lawyers—whom she expressly included in her diversity initiative. She also discussed inviting them to join her on frequent visits to Boys & Girls Clubs across the country, where she hoped to inspire children and teens to explore careers in the law.

“It is important for our youth to see the diversity of our profession and for members to show them what is possible, because it’s difficult to aspire to be something you can’t see,” she said.

In addition, Brown said, she is calling on all lawyers to join her for a national week of pro bono service October 25-31. Called And Justice for All, it’s organized through the Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service.

Finally, Brown announced ABA Everyday, an initiative promoting all the benefits of membership and showing that “our sections, divisions and forums have something for everyone.”

Brown was extremely well-supported in the audience; colleagues, friends and family were present, including her father. Judge Sherry Hutchins-Henderson, a fellow New Jersey resident, swore her in as president. Two Chicago-area Boys & Girls Clubs were present. And, she joked, if it looks like you missed a memo on the dress code, it was because a large contingent of her sisters from the sorority Delta Sigma Theta had come, forming “a sea of crimson and cream.”

“It is indeed a joyous day,” she said. “Although it has been almost 40 years since I started practicing law, on a day like today, I feel like an excited, newly minted lawyer who just learned that she passed the bar exam.”

Brown's supporters

Numerous supporters, including Brown’s father, were on hand to witness her swearing-in ceremony.

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Related article:

ABA Journal: “Paulette Brown will be the first woman of color to serve as ABA president”

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