Black lawyer nominated as ABA president

ABA president elect Paulette Brown.
Photo courtesy of American Bar Association.

The American Bar Association (ABA) has nominated a black lawyer as the first woman of color to be its president.

Paulette Brown, a labor and employment law partner and chief diversity officer with the Morristown, N.J., office of Edwards Wildman Palmer, was nominated as the ABA’s president-elect for 2014-15.

If elected by the ABA House of Delegates in August, she will become, in August 2015, the first woman of color and third African-American to serve as ABA president, the ABA said.

As a candidate for the president-elect position, Brown said the ABA should prepare itself to be more inclusive.

“Just as the U.S. Constitution has been amended to safeguard our liberties, the ABA must continue to respect and include lawyers in all practice areas and types, from solo practitioners to members of our largest international law firms, as well as public servants and in-house counsel,” she said.

Brown has held many positions throughout her career, including as in-house counsel to a number of Fortune 500 companies and as a municipal court judge.

In private practice, she has focused on all facets of labor and employment and commercial litigation.

Brown has been recognized by the New Jersey Law Journal as one of the prominent women and minority attorneys in the state of New Jersey and by the National Law Journal as one of “The 50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America.”

She has been listed as a NJ Super Lawyer since its inception and for the past three years as one of the top 50 women lawyers and one of the top 100 lawyers.

Brown has repeatedly been named by U.S. News as one of the “Best Lawyers in America” in the area of commercial litigation.

In 2011, she was honored with the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession.

Brown earned her J.D. at Seton Hall University School of Law and her B.A. at Howard University.

Also nominated today at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Chicago was Patricia Lee Refo, a partner with the Phoenix office of Snell & Wilmer, as chair of the ABA House of Delegates for a two-year term starting in August 2014.

“When I first started going to court and so forth,” said Brown, “I had the usual experiences. ‘Are you the defendant? Are you the court reporter? Are you the plaintiff? No? Well then, who are you then?’ It never occurred to them that I could be the lawyer.”

Brown still says people aren’t accustomed to seeing high powered black women and was even asked if she was a flight attendant during a plane ride recently.

“My father always said there were no girl jobs and no boy jobs,” said Brown. “My brother had to wash dishes and clean up just like we did—and my father did, too. He did laundry, he cooked, he did everything. And he went to work every day.”

Brooklyn Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, who represents the 9th Congressional District, said Brown’s career in law has been “distinguished by her expertise in employment law, her effort to support diversity in law firms, and her commitment to social justice.

“She has the respect of her colleagues in the legal profession and the public,” Clarke told Caribbean Life. “Historically, membership in the professions, particularly law, was closed to women and people of color.

“It is my hope that the American Bar Association will continue to address the inequities that persist in the legal profession, in which women, African-Americans, and Latinos are still substantially underrepresented in the partnerships of corporate law firms and in the judiciary,” she added.

With nearly 400,000 members, the ABA said it is one of the largest voluntary professional membership organizations in the world.

As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA said it works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

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