ABA Honors Advocate for Equal Opportunity in Life and Law
By Rabiah Alicia Burks
American Bar Association News Service
July 25, 2011
WASHINGTON – Paulette Brown, partner at the Madison, N.J., law firm Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge, is one of five trailblazing women attorneys to be honored with the 2011 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award, given annually by the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession.
“The Margaret Brent Awards recognize the remarkable achievements and accomplishments of distinguished women lawyers from around the country” said Roberta D. Liebenberg, chair of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession. “Our honorees have not only achieved great professional success, they have also blazed the trail for other women lawyers, and served as inspirational role models.”
Eleanor Dean (“Eldie”) Acheson, Karen J. Mathis, Col. Maritza Ryan, and Hon. Esther Tomljanovich will also receive the award. A sixth honoree, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin of the Supreme Court of Canada, will receive a special award. Previous honorees include Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Brown says the award is particularly significant because of Margaret Brent’s legacy. Brent, the first woman lawyer in America, arrived in the colonies in 1638 and was involved in 124 court cases in more than eight years, winning every case. In 1648, she formally demanded a vote and voice in the Maryland Assembly, which the governor denied.
“She was absolutely fearless,” Brown said. “I cannot say I am as fearless as she was, but I would like to be.”
These words may be ironic for a woman who has dedicated her life to breaking down barriers and opening doors for people throughout the world. Brown has been nationally recognized for advocating on behalf of women and women of color. As an employment and commercial attorney, she has successfully litigated a wide variety of cases involving class actions, sexual harassment, and age, racial and marital status discrimination.
“To whom much is given much is required,” Brown said. “I get a lot less sleep than most people… but it is fine with me.”
As a past president of the National Bar Association, the oldest and largest association of African American Lawyers, Brown has touched the lives people internationally. Her delegation monitored the first democratic elections in South Africa.
“I can not think of another experience that might compare to that, other than the day the adoption was final with my son,” said Brown. “It reminded me of the old civil rights days, and it reminded me of the day people went out to vote when Barack Obama was running for president.”
Brown goes out of her way to help others even with some of the smallest tasks such as reviewing resumes and business plans.
“There are so many things that I didn’t know when I graduated from law school,” Brown said. “I don’t think that people should have to go through what I did. It shouldn’t be that difficult. I just believe that whatever small knowledge that I have should be shared with others.”
Brown’s parents taught her the importance of service and promoted equity. All members of the household participated in cleaning, cooking, and laundry regardless of gender, Brown said.
“My father’s philosophy was that there were no ‘girl’ jobs and no ‘boy’ jobs. Everybody did everything,” Brown said.
In addition to managing the demands of her career, which keeps her working seven days a week, she says, Brown has mentored countless young women lawyers providing them with a place to discuss issues that affect them.
“It’s very humbling that someone thinks I have done enough to receive this award,” Brown said.
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