Paulette Brown is set to become the first Black woman elected to lead the 400,000-member American Bar Association. Ironically, the prestigious organization didn’t allow Blacks to join until 1943.
The 63-year-old Brown is a rarity. She is a partner in the Boston law firm Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP. Only seven percent of partners are people of color and the number of female associates has dropped for the past five years, reports The Boston Globe. Brown has used her career to fight against this, having been focused on increasing awareness about bias in law offices, the legal system, and American society, among other pressing topics impacting the justice system. She has battled against subtle racism, discrimination, and “micro-inequities.” She has even urged firms to hire and promote more women and minorities as well as having mentored hundreds of lawyers, mostly women of color, and trained many others on workplace diversity.
Brown’s efforts to change the face of her profession started way back in her law school days. During that time she noticed career counselors urging her and other Black students to go into legal service or public defender jobs assisting the poor and not into more prestigious jobs in big law firms. Of course, Brown went the corporate route, and wound up serving as in-house counsel for several Fortune 500 companies.
Brown, who had a full scholarship to law school at Seton Hall University, at one point even had her own law firm, focusing on employment, civil rights, and product liability law. She has also served as a municipal court judge. In 2005, she joined Edwards Wildman as a partner.
“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, who was named one of the National Law Journal’s “50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America” in 2008, will take over as leader of the American Bar Association next summer.