Meet Alpha Brady, the new ABA executive director
In July, Alpha Brady became the first person of color to lead the American Bar Association as executive director.
“It’s very humbling, but it also reminds you of your responsibility,” Brady says. “I firmly believe this is an organization that has done so much but also has the capacity to do so much more. My responsibility is to steer the ship with members in a way that enhances the ABA’s presence both in the profession and, I would say, in society.”
As executive director, Brady oversees more than 1,000 staff at the ABA’s headquarters in Chicago; at its Washington, D.C., office; and at program sites in California, Texas and about 60 countries around the world. She manages a consolidated budget of more than $200 million.
Brady is also responsible for directing membership and nondues revenue programs, implementing the association’s strategic goals and leading initiatives adopted by the Board of Governors and House of Delegates.
Her immediate goals for the ABA include enhancing the membership experience. Brady plans to provide members with new and improved offerings that support both their professional development and interest in giving back. She aims to more effectively promote existing volunteer opportunities through ABA Free Legal Answers, the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project and other programs.
In the coming months, Brady hopes to help the ABA recruit and retain more young lawyers, identify new sources of nondues revenue and aid the Board of Governors in its creation of a new strategic plan. She says this includes asking members for input on what the association should be doing in the next several years and addressing concerns they raise during the process. The strategic plan is set to be completed this summer.
Brady has a few long-term goals in mind for the ABA. She and her staff are paying close attention to artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge issues that could have a significant impact on the practice of law.
“We have to have our ear out there and understand, here is an issue that is of concern to our members, that is of concern to the profession,” the ABA executive director says. “How should we be working with members to address those concerns?
“As a member organization, you want to make sure members have the best experience,” she adds. “That’s in the short and long term.”
Leading with experience
The Board of Governors selected Brady as the ABA’s new executive director after a nationwide search that was overseen by House of Delegates Chair Palmer Gene Vance II and other volunteer leaders. Brady was a familiar face to ABA members and staff.
“During our search, we evaluated many outstanding candidates,” Vance said in a press release. “Alpha Brady, with her long history within the ABA and her abundant talents as a leader, stood out as clearly the best.”
Brady served as interim executive director of the association after the departure of former executive director Jack Rives in March 2023. The Northwestern University School of Law graduate joined the ABA staff in 1988 after working for a year as assistant corporation counsel with the City of Chicago.
She served as the assistant director of the newly created Commission on Opportunities for Minorities in the Profession, which is now the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. She recalls being interviewed by Dennis Archer, who was the first chair of the commission and became the first Black president of the ABA in 2003.
“It was exciting to be on the ground floor of that project,” Brady says. “It was clearly an opportunity to be part of something that was bigger than me, and it was also an opportunity to look at an issue, which was how do we increase participation by lawyers of color? As a lawyer of color, that was very important to me.”
She later joined the ABA Office of the President, broadening her understanding of the association. One task was assisting ABA President William Paul with the Legal Opportunity Scholarship Fund, which he established during his term in 1999-2000. She pre-screened some of the first applicants, many of whom shared inspiring stories about being the first in their family to go to college or law school.
“Their commitment to law and their commitment to giving back to their community—it reminded me of the good in the profession and how this generation continues to share that commitment,” Brady says.
She also has served the ABA in other ways, including as director of policy administration, senior manager of the Governance and Public Services Group and senior associate director and chief governance officer. Her work with ABA policy was particularly beneficial, she says, as she became deeply familiar with the ABA Constitution and Bylaws and the array of important legal issues the association advocates for each year.
‘We are partners’
Brady became deputy executive director of the ABA in August 2022. She brings that experience to her role as executive director, in which she also hopes to support her fellow staff in their own career journeys. She wants to acknowledge the contributions they make to the ABA and the profession and to provide them with more professional development training and opportunities to enhance their time with the association.
“It’s important to me to recognize that we are all partners in this,” Brady says. “We are partners with the members, we are partners with groups we work with outside of the ABA, and we are partners in something bigger than us. We all just want to make the world a better place.”
Brady, who particularly enjoys mentoring law students and young lawyers, adds that while she may be the first person of color to serve as the ABA’s executive director, she knows she will not be the last.
“When I decided I wanted to go to law school … it was not in my head that one day I would be the executive director of the American Bar Association,” Brady says. “But here I am. And so it’s important for me to take the time to tell my story and to encourage others, however they need to be encouraged.”
This story was originally published in the February-March 2024 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: “At the Beginning: Meet Alpha Brady, the new ABA executive director.”