Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Deciding to Become a Lawyer

BOND: I'm guessing now that that's one reason you decided to become a lawyer. Is that right?


BOND: What did you think that would give you?

BRAUN: A bunch of skills. I thought being a lawyer -- in fact, to answer your question, I thought being a lawyer would give me the ability to use the law which, of course, is the instrument in a large sense, of social control, right? To use that instrument in constructive and positive ways to help build community, to help people have opportunity and have a chance to have a better life. And when I first got out of law school, in fact, I turned down an offer from one of the biggest firms in Chicago to sign on to a community-based organization that I would use my legal skills, my training, rather, to work in the community. So that was my first commitment, and when that didn't work out, I became an Assistant U.S. Attorney and, of course, [what] my father called a paper-pusher for the government. He said, "Oh, you've become a paper-pusher for the government," but that was my path. I really thought that was useful.

BOND: Were there lawyers in Chicago or elsewhere in the country or the world that you said, "I want to be like that"?

BRAUN: Oh, sure. Yes, Jewel Lafontant was this model of elegance and you know, I mean, she was just the cat's pajamas as far as I was concerned and so I looked up to her. I mentioned Anna Langford and Edith Sampson, both of whom I had met. I knew– of course, everybody knew about Thurgood Marshall and the Legal Defense Team from the NAACP. I mean, everybody knew about them and so that was a real model because these were people who had used the law to transform society, and so, yes, there were a lot of role models in that regard.

BOND: What was being an Assistant D.A., what was that like?

BRAUN: Wonderful training, wonderful training. I could not have asked for better. I didn't like the criminal side, to be honest. I did some criminal prosecutions and didn't like it much. I did some appellate work. In fact, I helped write the brief on the first RICO case, Racketeering and Organized Crime. We had the first RICO case in Illinois in regards to the prosecution of the former governor of Illinois, the Kerner case, so I got a chance to work on some really high profile cases there, but I preferred the civil ones and the good thing about that was that it allowed me -- it gave me a real taste of the structure and operation of the law that I wouldn't have had otherwise and a real taste of policy issues in ways that I wouldn't have had otherwise.

I mean, Igot to third chair the lawsuit that the American Medical Association brought against Jimmy Carter's health care reforms and so as result, I read every dot and tilda, as we say, of the health care laws. Well, my views of how health care was structured that I developed at that point, helped to shape my views on health care even to this day. And so because of the grounding that I got there, I was involved with some environmental cases that helped to shape where I wound up on environmental law. And so there were a variety of housing and health care and the poverty cases, all of the cases that I got a chance to try– and, of course, you got great trial experience because you're in court everyday– helped me develop an appreciation for the issues in a way that I don't think I could've gotten any other way.