CBA President Plans to Lead Lawyers to Leadership

Jessica Brown’s focus as bar association president is on leadership in the current world


This month, Jessica Brown, a partner in the Denver office of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, began her term as president of the Colorado Bar Association. One of Brown’s main focuses for her yearlong term is a theme she crafted along with her leadership mentor, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser: “Lawyers as Leaders.” 

She believes good leadership by attorneys becomes more important daily, and the need for leadership has never been more apparent.

“We both share a belief that lawyers can be leaders,” she said. “Of course, what that looks like can be varied — I think that lawyers should lead in ways that are true to themselves and their values and authentic to who they are.”

Brown has a long history of leadership positions ranging from serving as president of the Colorado Women’s Bar Association, chair of the Legal Aid Foundation Board of Trustees, twice chairing the Barrister’s Benefit Ball and over 18 years at Gibson Dunn where she chairs the diversity committee. 

With access to justice, equity and inclusion, racial justice, criminal justice reform and assistance to small businesses, Brown believes communities can benefit from attorneys stepping into leadership roles. Brown cited Stanford Law professor Deborah Rhode’s book “Lawyers as Leaders” for solidifying the idea for her. Many attorneys sit at the top of businesses, hospitals and other organizations, but the legal profession does little to prepare lawyers to be leaders.

“These opportunities are not just for fully-formed leaders, they’re an opportunity to get additional leadership opportunity and training,” she said.

Brown has three goals related to the theme of leaders: raise membership in the bar association and to have it viewed as a place for leadership training and opportunities; have lawyers step up to lead in all the ways needed for the legal and broader communities; and to promote lawyers and the legal profession by talking about how lawyers are making a difference, such as showing how they are making good on the promise of equal justice for all.

Despite her focus on urging lawyers to become leaders, Brown said the CBA has programs and structures in place to help lawyers with leadership training and continuing legal education. She hopes to expand on what is already in place.

“The CBA has a formal leadership training program, COBALT, and it’s fantastic,” Brown said in a press release. “But COBALT classes are limited to 20 attorneys per year. 

I hope to facilitate a series of statewide programs and discussions to assist all lawyers who are interested to become leaders in the myriad ways they are needed, especially now.”

Work on diversity and inclusion, in conjunction between the CBA and the Denver Bar Association, has been ongoing for some time, Brown said. Part of the focus is to make the bar association itself more inclusive and diverse. Partially as a response to the George Floyd protests, the executive council is creating a working group to focus on racial justice and equality, which is just getting underway.

Previously, a program on how to understand personal implicit biases and overcome them had over 900 registrants, Brown said. This program focused on tools that could be used and taken back to registrant’s workspaces to work on equity.

She added this was an area where the bar had been working for a long time, but now has greater urgency.

One of her main personal goals during her term is to drive up membership of the CBA, Brown said. She added it was always important for the bar to think about how it is relevant, remain important and continue to provide interest in joining the bar.

Programming, and developing programming, is one of Brown’s self-described “passions.” At one point, when the CWBA was lacking in membership, her programming brought in more members, which went against the trend of bars elsewhere in the country going down, she said. 

She also hopes to bring in the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations GOOD (Guys Overcoming Obstacles to Diversity) Guys program, that provides a toolkit for male attorneys to help as allies. She hopes to have some men speak on how they have used the tools learned from the implicit bias program.

While still figuring out how exactly travelling during COVID-19 will work, Brown said she plans to tour the state and meet with local bar associations around the state to discuss leadership while looping in Supreme Court justices, the attorney general and others.  These discussions will touch on what forms leadership can take, opportunities for attorneys to “step up” into becoming leaders and how the bar can assist in these actions. 

She also wants to tell positive stories of leadership by attorneys in Colorado. Brown pointed to the work the CBA is doing with Judge Gary Jackson, former CBA president Patricia Jarzobski and the Colorado Judicial Institute on a coalition to ensure the bench in Colorado reflects the diversity of the population it serves.

Brown also plans to continue initiatives from previous CBA presidents such as the Greater Colorado Task Force and to make sure that all members of the bar understand how important they are and what membership can offer, and work on broadband internet access for rural attorneys.

 — Avery Martinez


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