LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

New Jersey Attorney Could Be the First Woman of Color to Lead the American Bar Association

Prominent New Jersey attorney Paulette Brown could make history if she’s elected president of the American Bar Association, a position for which she’s nominated. The partner at Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP would be the first woman of color to head the organization. She sat down with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider to discuss the historic nomination.

In the past, the ABA didn’t allow people of color or Jewish individuals as members. Brown said much has changed since then and believes her nomination is meaningful on several fronts.

“It’s meaningful because the ABA has tried diligently for the past several years to be a more inclusive organization and I think that as a result of that, I’ve been able to hold various positions in the American Bar Association which sort of leads me to where I am right now in this pretty nice position,” Brown said.

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Brown was educated in segregated Baltimore public schools and served as president of the National Bar Association, which served as a parallel bar association for those who could not join the ABA. While many would say she has been part of the fight for equality for a long time, Brown said she doesn’t necessarily view it that way.

“I was raised in a way that you were supposed to do what was right and you were supposed to speak up for yourself and speak up for others who couldn’t speak up for themselves. And so I didn’t necessarily always see it as a fight,” Brown said.

The ABA has a number of initiatives to fight for justice in the United States, according to Brown. She said the organization is heavily involved in access to justice, trying to make sure there is adequate funding for legal services. The organization holds ABA Day — which actually lasts three days — each year “where we develop specific issues that particularly relate to the rule of law and relates to issues that directly impact the constituents,” Brown said.

Human trafficking is another justice issue. In New Jersey, Attorney General Jeff Chiesa has made the issue a high priority. Some worry that with the Super Bowl coming to the Garden State in 2014, there will be an increase in the practice. But Brown says because officials are aware, steps will be taken against human trafficking.

“I think that there’s a possibility but I think that because we know that it could happen, I think there are precautionary measures that can and should be taken to minimize it,” she said.

Brown isn’t facing any opposition to her nomination as ABA president. When asked what she would like to achieve as president, she said, “I’d like to help lawyers become better lawyers.”