This August, Paulette Brown will become the first Black woman to serve as President of the American Bar Association(ABA). Brown will serve as president-elect for one year before taking over as president in August 2015.
A native of Baltimore, she attended Howard University with the intention of becoming a social worker, but later decided on studying law. After graduating from Howard, Brown received her law degree from the Seton Hall University School of Law, and has been practicing law since 1976. She is also a partner in a New Jersey law firm where she specializes in labor law, employment law and commercial litigation.
“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.
Despite her election to ABA’s top post, she said she still faces such assumptions.
“I’m still asked whether I’m a flight attendant,” she said.
“Her ascension to the presidency just opens the door for so many African-American females to even believe that that is possible,” said Alicia Wilson, the fundraising committee co-chair for the Alliance of Black Women Attorneys of Maryland.
“She has broken down barriers and opened up doors and kept them open for a whole host of African-American women attorneys,” she added.
Brown said she believes that her selection by the ABA leadership as its next president carries with it a great responsibility. Though the term of ABA president only lasts one year, Brown said she is determined to set goals that she can produce tangible results within the term length of her position.
Furthermore, she wants to ensure that whenever she travels for the ABA, she has the opportunity to impact young children – children who would never consider the possibility of a position like president of ABA in their future.
“They need to see that somebody up close and personal, that they can have a conversation with, that this is something that they can do,” said Brown. “That even if it had never occurred to them, because it had never occurred to me, that as time goes on, it can be done.”