President's Message

The Joy is in the Journey: A year of meeting members, giving back, advancing diversity and inclusion

  • Print.

Paulette Brown

Photo of ABA President Paulette Brown by Marc Hauser.

“We do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”

The great American author John Steinbeck penned those words in Travels with Charley, a book about his trek across America with his dog, Charley.

As president of the American Bar Association, one of my initiatives was to rediscover the American lawyer. I left my dog, Faye, at home to battle the fauna of New Jersey, but my goal was similar to Steinbeck’s. I wanted to see and speak with ABA members in their hometowns, to hear their concerns and to gain a greater understanding of issues affecting the legal profession. I called this initiative Main Street ABA.

As I conclude my year as ABA president, I have so many wonderful memories of interactions with members and am so proud of the many accomplishments that hard-working and dedicated lawyers achieved.

I managed to visit all 50 states, D.C. and two territories at least once as president or president-elect. These were not just drop-ins, but real visits to bar associations and law schools. From Anchorage, Alaska to Bangor, Maine and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to San Diego, I crisscrossed the country to meet with members and to spread the message that the ABA cares about the legal profession and them. Several states had never had a sitting president visit them.

Included in these trips were many visits to local Boys & Girls Clubs where I met so many young women and men yearning to do something important with their lives. They just need to see what is possible.

Often, I would bring along law students and/or young lawyers because I believe we all have the responsibility to give back to society. That’s why another initiative of my presidency was “And Justice for All: A National Day of Service.” As part of pro bono week, October 30 was designated as the Day of Service. The ABA made a special effort to recognize the valuable pro bono contributions made by lawyers across the country through a little friendly competition and a social media blitz.

No other profession has a greater proportion of leaders who perform pro bono work, and last October tens of thousands of lawyers stood tall. I kicked off the week volunteering at a senior law project clinic in Portland, Oregon. Thanks to the efforts of so many committed lawyers, the week was a huge success that I hope will continue and grow in the years ahead.

But as much as I love lawyers giving back to society, I also felt lawyers needed some love. My ABA Everyday initiative provided a distinct benefit to ABA members every day of my presidency. The program, available online and through the ABA Journal, generated more than 10.5 million impressions and showed members that the association provides great value.

Perhaps the most challenging and far-reaching effort of my presidential year has been the Diversity and Inclusion 360 Commission. It was created to review and analyze the state of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, the judicial system and the ABA itself, with the aim of formulating the best methods, policies, standards and practices to advance diversity and inclusion over the next 10 years. That’s a lot to try to accomplish in a year.

But with a lot of hard work and creativity, the commission has worked wonders. It created training videos—targeted to judges, prosecutors and public defenders—that examine implicit bias. It proposed policies to encourage clients to use their purchasing power to increase economic opportunities for diverse attorneys, and it called for governing bodies to make diversity and inclusion a required area of study within mandatory continuing legal education.

And that is just a small piece of their work. I encourage you to check out the commission’s full report online at

As I reflect on my year as ABA president, I am grateful for all the people I encountered and experiences I had. I was inspired by my interactions with so many hard-working lawyers dedicated to making a difference. The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote that the “journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” My journey as president has ended, but I hope I inspired others to do more pro bono, to embrace diversity and inclusion, and to just be better lawyers and people. You made it possible for me to take that one step with no regrets.

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “The Joy Is in the Journey: A presidential year of meeting members, giving back, advancing diversity and inclusion.”

Follow President Brown on Twitter @Brown4Lawyers.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.