Paulette Brown

Paulette Brown is the new president of the American Bar Association. (AFRO File Photo)

Paulette Brown became the first Black woman elected as the president of the American Bar Association (ABA) at its annual meeting July 30 – Aug. 4 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Brown, a partner and chief diversity officer with the law firm of Locke Lord in Morristown, New Jersey, joins U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch as the leader of a large, predominantly White organization in the legal field.

Brown participated in the traditional “pass the gavel” ceremony taking the organization’s physical mantle from her predecessor, William C. Hubbard, on Aug. 3. She was officially ratified as the president by a vote of the ABA House of Delegates on Aug. 4.

Brown is a native of Baltimore and received her bachelor’s degree from Howard University and her law degree from Seton Hall University School of Law. She served as a municipal court judge in Plainsfield, N.J. and has worked as an in-house counsel for several companies.

Brown is a former president of the National Bar Association (NBA), the nation’s largest organization of Black attorneys, and the Association of Black Women Attorneys of New Jersey.

She has been active in the ABA for years and her activism culminated in August 2014 with her election by the House of Delegates as the organization’s first Black female president-elect.

In the ABA, the president serves a one-year term and the president-elect, who also serves a one-year term, can be described as “the president in waiting.”

Brown is the third African American to assume the helm of the ABA, following Dennis Archer of Detroit, who served from 2003-2004 and Robert S. Grey Jr. of Richmond, the organization’s leader from 2004-2005. She is also the fifth female to lead the ABA.

In her address after the gavel ceremony, she announced initiatives on more diversity in the legal profession, taking on police brutality, and visiting all of the states of the Union during her term. “All lawyers deserve a little love from the ABA,” Brown said.

Brown said that part of her diversity initiative will be to encourage young people to pursue 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.

Brown asked her colleagues to join her for a week of national service from Oct. 25-31 and talked about a new program, ABA Everyday, in which the benefits of being a member of the ABA are touted to all legal professionals that are eligible to participate in the organization. “Our sections, divisions and forums have something for everyone,” she said.

Brown’s family and friends attended the ceremony along with her Delta Sigma Theta Sorority sisters. She expressed happiness at being the leader of the ABA. “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.”

On Aug. 1, one of Brown’s sorority sisters, Lynch, addressed the ABA, saying that one of the priorities of her administration will be to restore trust between communities and police. “The Department of Justice will be a committed partner to every community working to identify and implement strategies that will advance public safety, strengthen relationships and foster the enduring trust and respect they need to thrive,” Lynch said. Lynch also said that her administration will continue to fight terrorism and is making progress in stopping human trafficking.

Lynch is the first Black female attorney general. She was sworn in on April 27 by Vice President Joe Biden in Washington, D.C.