Labor and employment attorney Paulette Brown became the American Bar Association’s first black female president last week and has pledged to make diversity a rallying cry for the association.
A prominent legal group has a new leader at the top who hopes to make the field more diverse.
Last week, Paulette Brown formally began her reign as leader of the American Bar Association (ABA), a position she was voted into about a year ago. In comments to The Washington Post, the New Jersey-based lawyer noted that her goal was to boost the recruitment of women and minorities into the legal field.
There are some prominent black women working in the legal profession—such as Michele Roberts, whose career as a trial lawyer led to a position atop the National Basketball Players Association last year—but those stories are few and far between. While the percentage of female lawyers has increased from 8 percent to 30 percent between 1980 and 2005, around 88 percent of lawyers are white—a number that has stayed stagnant between the 2000 and 2010 U.S. Censuses.
Roberts says this is highlighted in the recent controversies over the deaths of unarmed black men and women while in police custody.
“People of all races appear to be having less confidence in law enforcement,” Brown told the Post. “We have an obligation to understand that and speak out on those issues, and that is what we’re planning to do.”
Brown says that she plans to work on boosting the industry’s recognition of diversity issues throughout the pipeline. For currently practicing lawyers, she hopes to create guidelines for implicit bias training of prosecutors and public defenders.
For children, meanwhile, Brown emphasized that the association would increase outreach efforts in elementary schools and through Boys & Girls Clubs.
The goal is to show how the legal industry helps protect both children and their families, she told the Post, but with the additional exposure, “selfishly, maybe they’ll be interested in becoming lawyers.”
Brown’s swearing in represents a major long-term shift for the ABA, which didn’t allow black members to join until 1943 and didn’t admit a black member until 1950. Brown’s appointment comes more than a decade after the ABA elected its first black president, former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer.
But Brown’s association credentials are nonetheless strong: She’s a former president of the National Bar Association and won its highest honor, the C. Francis Stradford Award, last year.