Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Executive Director's Message: ABA President-Elect Paulette Brown Encourages Inclusion at Diversity Luncheon

By John F. Kynes

A product of segregated schools in Baltimore, American Bar Association President-Elect Paulette Brown says the only lawyer she knew growing up was TV’s Perry Mason. So she says it will be a little “surreal” when she makes history and is installed this summer as the first African-American woman to become president of the ABA. Brown also will be only the sixth female president in the ABA’s 137-year history.

“I could not have imagined that this day will come,” said Brown, who was the keynote speaker at the HCBA’s Diversity Membership Luncheon on January 22 at the Hilton Downtown.

In her remarks, Brown talked about the need for greater diversity and inclusion in the legal community, the values instilled in her as a child that have helped her along in her career, and her priorities as incoming president of the ABA. Over the years, Brown has held a variety of leadership positions within the ABA, and she has been recognized by the National Law Journal as one of “The 50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America.”

The issue of diversity at law firms should not just be about numbers or quotas, said Brown, who is a labor and employment lawyer and chief diversity officer with the Morristown, N.J., office of Locke Lord Edwards. “Clients are requiring law firms to be more and more diverse and inclusive,” Brown told the more than 350 people in attendance.

Law firms are viewed as more progressive by young lawyers and students when they make people from diverse backgrounds feel accepted and included, she said. And firms have a responsibility to provide real opportunities ― economic and otherwise ― that will make diverse employees want to remain. It’s up to firm managers to help bring about greater diversity because “those in power are those who can effectuate change,” Brown said.

She also referenced recent events in the news dealing with race, such as the police shooting case in Ferguson, Mo. “Even with all the tensions going on … more people are coalescing together for the same goals, and there is beginning to be a dialogue in this country about race relations,” Brown said. “It’s a difficult subject to talk about.”

Brown encouraged those in attendance to participate in the national discussion about race because “talking aids us in being diverse, and not just in the legal community, but society as a whole.”

The only one of four siblings to attend college, Brown said the values ingrained in her at an early age ― such as working hard to succeed, treating others with respect, and giving back ― have remained with her throughout her career.

Concluding her remarks, Brown said she is looking forward to her term as ABA president. “I have a duty to do my best,” she said.

One of her main initiatives will be what she calls “Main Street ABA.” In her travels around the U.S. during her term, Brown says she intends to go to places that ABA presidents traditionally don’t visit, such as Boys & Girls Clubs, so she can encourage young people and serve as a role model.


Also at the membership luncheon, U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. announced Marsha Rydberg as the winner of the HCBA’s 2014 Outstanding Lawyer Award. In his introduction, Judge Moody cited Rydberg’s many accomplishments and “firsts” during her impressive career.  For example, Rydberg, who has her own firm, became the first female president of the HCBA in 1991, and she was recently inducted into the Stetson University College of Law Hall of Fame.

Meanwhile, Anthony Martino, president of the Young Lawyers Division, announced two YLD awards. The 2014 YLD Outstanding Jurist Award went to Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Emily Peacock, and the 2014 YLD Outstanding Young Lawyer Award went to Jacqueline Simms-Petredis of Burr & Forman.

Congratulations to all these outstanding award winners.

See you around the Chet.