5 Minutes With... Paulette Brown
Paulette Brown (BA Howard University, JD Seton Hall) is due to be the first-ever female African American President of the American Bar Association, starting in 2015. Elections take place next year, and her nomination is uncontested. She is a partner in Edwards Wildman's labor & employment practice group and the firm's chief diversity officer, based in Madison, New Jersey. Throughout her career of over 35 years, Brown has held a number of positions, including in-house counsel to a number of Fortune 500 companies and as a Municipal Court Judge. Early in her career, she was the first person of color to win the New Jersey State Bar Association’s young lawyer of the year award.
"I would try to persuade law students to think more globally – what areas of law are hot outside of the USA?"
When did you decide to become a lawyer? Why?
decided to become a lawyer when I was in undergraduate school. I went
to college knowing that I wanted to make a positive impact on society. I
did not think about law, but rather social work. My roommates, as well
as several of my professors who were lawyers, persuaded me to go to law
Starting out, what did you expect from a career in the law?
expected to serve the public and obtain justice for the underserved. I
learned that there are several ways that can be accomplished. Pro bono
activities, for example.
How did you get into the areas of law you are known for today? By design? Chance? Both?
It was both by chance and design.
What do you consider to have been your big break?
have had many breaks and many people who have provided opportunities to
me which I have seized upon. A turning point was probably when I went
to my first National Bar Association
Convention and met so many successful African American lawyers, working
in areas of the law that at the time I had no familiarity with. They
were so embracing of me as a new lawyer and as a lawyer new to the NBA, I
really started to expand my thinking.*
What achievement are you most proud of?
are a couple of things. The adoption of my son, leading a delegation to
monitor the first and free democratic elections in South Africa and
forming my Women of Color Mentoring Group.
What do you consider your greatest failure or regret?
focusing more on the possibilities at a much younger age and not having
an understanding that you must be a participant to effectuate any type
Who is your legal hero?
I have multiple legal heroes. If I could choose three, they would be Charles Hamilton Houston [1895 - 1950; former Dean of Howard University Law School and prominent African American lawyer], Gertrude Rush [1880 - 1962; first African American lawyer in Iowa] and Constance Baker Motley [1921 - 2005; African American civil rights activist, lawyer and state senator].
particular challenges (if any) did/do you face in your legal career as a
minority woman, and how did you overcome them? Do you have any
particular advice for minority women about to embark on their careers in
There is no short answer to this question.
Sometimes, I remain invisible. That is to say, for example, even when I
have expertise in a particular area and I am speaking to someone about a
presentation, they will not necessarily think to include me. My opinion
is that, to me, I am invisible to them. I remind them. I challenge
assumptions. I ask the direct question when necessary.
relates to young women of color, there are examples. I advise them that
their number one job is to become the best lawyers they can be. I advise
them not to be side tracked by firm committees (such as diversity) when
they are new lawyers. I advise them to get as much exposure to as many
people as possible. I advise them to get immediate feedback on their
work. I advise them to know what their reputation is (perceived or
actual) at all times within their organization.
What career would you have in your second life?
I would be a personal chef.
What slogan would you like to be remembered by?
To whom much is given, much is required.
advice would you give to students trying to enter the legal profession
today? And secondly, to those who hope to ultimately get into the areas
of law in which you are expert?
My area of the law is
becoming commoditized and while it is extremely interesting, I would try
to persuade law students to think more globally – what areas of law are
hot outside of the USA? What are the common needs in the USA and
abroad? *if blacks were always supportive of one another, the community would prosper and people wouldn't be limited to what they know, but would be shown that blacks can have and be anything they want