Judge Anna J. Brown: “Fundamentally inclined toward solving problems” –Lifetime Service Award 2019


Becoming a Lawyer

Anna started night law school in 1976 with “a lot of other students who, like me, had full time jobs and families to support, so we pushed each other through.” She acknowledges, nonetheless, that “I didn’t do very well during my first year. After my first mid-term exam, a professor asked whether I was taking the class for a grade or for ‘pass/no pass.’ When I responded, ‘for a grade,’ he said, ‘You might want to change to pass/no pass. And while you’re at it, you might think about whether this is what you really want to do because you’re taking the seat of an otherwise qualified man.’” While his comment upset her, Anna realized there was a lot that she did not understand about law school and what a practicing lawyer needed to know. She decided to quit her well-paying job with benefits to work as a law clerk in a small law firm. That exposure helped her to find practical applications for what she was learning in her classes, and her grades improved accordingly.

Paul T. Brown and Anna Jaeger Brown, December 1977.

During the winter break of her second year of night law school, on December 22, 1977, Anna Jaeger married Paul Brown.  She was now Anna J. Brown and her family had expanded to include her husband and four stepchildren.

In 1978, Brown learned that Multnomah County Circuit Judge John C. Beatty Jr. was looking for a night law student to work as his full-time courtroom law clerk. To her everlasting shock (“I wouldn’t have hired me”), Brown got the job and was immediately hooked on trial practice. Judge Beatty made special efforts to point out attorneys who did the right thing, the right way, for the right reasons, and those examples stayed with her. She recalls, “Working in front of the bench in the courtroom, I had a premiere seat to watch great lawyers, like Kim Frankel and Marc Blackman, to name just two, doing excellent work. It didn’t take long before I was thinking ‘I could do that, I could make that argument, and by the way, why aren’t you arguing this point?’ I just loved being in the courtroom. For the first time I began really to understand what being a lawyer was about, and I knew I wanted to be a trial lawyer.”

At the same time, Brown was also observing the first wave of women lawyers joining the bench at various levels. Justice Betty Roberts was appointed to the Oregon Court of Appeals in 1977 and then to the Oregon Supreme Court in 1982. Judge Kimberly C. Frankel joined the Multnomah County District Court in 1978. With President Carter’s appointment in 1980, Judge Helen Frye became the first woman to serve as a U.S. District Judge in Oregon, and Judge Polly Higdon was appointed to Oregon’s Bankruptcy Court as a half- then full-time bankruptcy judge in 1983.

She was in the last months of completing her law degree when her mother, Margarete, died the morning of March 25, 1980, the same day she was to interview at the law school placement office for an associate position with a “medium-sized Portland law firm.” Brown told her father Adalbert she would be canceling the appointment. Adalbert, who often criticized her law school venture as “too much,” was adamant that she proceed, reminding her she still needed a law job for after graduation. Holding back tears and terrified she would break down when asked to speak, Brown went to the interview.  There, she insists, “divine Providence” intervened. She was interviewed by a firm partner who had just spent the previous week trying a case in Judge Beatty’s courtroom. Fortunately for Brown, the interviewer seemed more interested in talking about that than in asking her to speak. A few weeks later, Brown was invited to the firm for additional interviews. She then received a telephone call offering her the position on the condition that she pass the bar. She was so excited to accept the offer, she forgot to ask what the position paid.

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