At Jackson Walker, our values stem from our goal of creating a positive impact in all that we do—and Houston partner Chevazz G. Brown is an outstanding example of that desire to help others. In addition to maintaining a demanding litigation practice, Chevazz devotes his personal time to moving the legal profession closer toward equal access and opportunity through his work with the Coalition of Houston Diverse Bar Associations and the newly launched DiversePro legal directory.
In an interview with Renee Griffin, host of the “Lead2Lead” podcast, Chevazz spoke about his involvement with the Coalition, his path to practicing law, his experience with Leadership Houston, and his passion for helping members of underrepresented communities find local counsel who understand them and their situation on a personal level.
To explore Chevazz’s impact on advancing diversity within the Firm and broader legal community, view the Firm’s article regarding Chevazz winning the TMCP Trailblazer of the Year Award last year.
Hosted by Renee Griffin of Leadership Houston Class XXIX, “Lead2Lead” features interviews with fellow Leadership Houston alumni as they share their ideas, experience, and solutions for addressing challenges, creating opportunities, and making a lasting difference. To listen to Chevazz’s episode, see “Chevazz Brown: Driving Diversity From Bar to Bench.”
Chevazz Brown: When over 60% of Houstonians are people of color and where, when we compare the number on our bench here in Houston, there’s a wide gap, we have to ask ourselves: Is our federal judiciary meeting its fullest potential in terms of addressing the legal needs of the community?
Renee Griffin: Unifying, amplifying, and advocating for diversity in federal courtrooms and across the legal profession in the Houston area. I’m talking with attorney Chevazz Brown, an alumni member of Leadership Houston Class XXXIII. I’m Renee Griffin, and this is “Lead2Lead.”
Chevazz Brown is a litigator, a commercial business dispute resolution attorney with the Jackson Walker law firm in Houston. He’s also one of the lead coordinators of the Coalition of Houston Diverse Bar Associations, which is made up of members from seven local minority bar groups.
Chevazz Brown: We have the Asian American Bar Association of Houston, the Houston Lawyers Association – which is the African American group, the Hispanic Bar Association of Houston, the Mexican American Bar Association of Houston, the Korean American Bar Association of Texas, the Middle Eastern bar group, and the South Asian Bar Association of Houston. A good number of groups working together. Our mission is to work in a unified manner to increase diversity in the legal profession, and we do that by facilitating dialogue between our bar groups, identifying areas of common concern, and coming up with ways to tackle and help address those common areas of concern. And so far, we’ve had some pretty good success.
Renee Griffin: Has this coalition been around a long time, or is it new?
Chevazz Brown: The Coalition is about three years old. Just a little over three years ago, a few of us saw an opportunity for our groups to work together. And so we had to go out and convince these various groups that this is a platform where they can amplify the great work that they’re already doing for their respective communities. It took just a little bit of effort, but once these groups understood the potential in amplifying their voices and the impact that they’re having on the community, it was a very easy sale. And in these three years, we’ve made some waves and we hope that we haven’t even touched our full potential. So, I look forward to continuing our good work through the Coalition.
Renee Griffin: Chevazz, the Coalition recently came out with a resolution calling for policies, practices, and goals aimed at recruiting and appointing people of color as federal judges – especially in the Southern District of Texas, where we are here in Houston.
Chevazz Brown: We are the most diverse metropolitan region in America, and the Southern District of Texas (Houston Division) is in the epicenter of that. It is important that our federal judiciary reflect the community that it serves. But when we look at our demographics, when over 60% of Houstonians are people of color and where, when we compare the number on our bench here in Houston, there’s a wide gap, we have to ask ourselves: Is our federal judiciary meeting its fullest potential in terms of addressing the legal needs of the community? The Coalition in our statement said while we have exceptional judges currently sitting on the bench, there is a lot of room for improvement in terms of quality. And quality, as I appreciate it, is not only the technical skill to be a judge, but the ability to put litigants in context, understanding all the nuances of one’s life experiences, and that’s very important when you’re deciding cases not only that involves civil matters, but many times, as well, criminal matters.
Renee Griffin: And federal judges are not elected, they are appointed for life. Can you explain how and why that factors into the need for diversity across federal benches?
Chevazz Brown: You’re absolutely right. There are categories of federal judges that are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, and those judges we call Article III judges. They serve for life. Now, there are Article I judges, and those judges are magistrate judges and are bankruptcy judges. There’s an entirely different process through which those judges are selected. And one of the recommendations that the Coalition has made is for our leaders in the Southern District of Texas to create policies, procedures, and practices that help diversify judges at the magistrate and bankruptcy level. And a lot of those judges get elevated to the Article III judges, our district judges, and our judges that sit on our Court of Appeals.
Renee Griffin: I see. On another front, you and members of the Coalition also recently came out with a stern statement denouncing the president of the State Bar of Texas, Larry McDougal, and calling for his voluntary resignation. Explain the issues surrounding Mr. McDougal and why you and the Coalition feel he must go.
Chevazz Brown: What has come to light were a couple of postings on social media. He called the Black Lives Matter organization terrorists that promotes the killing of police officers, and there were some additional comments that aren’t worth noting here. Folks can find it online just by googling his name and the State Bar of Texas. But it sparked huge outrage and rightfully so, because they are what I’ve been referring to as surface manifestations of deep-seated views about people, black folks like myself. When we have leaders in positions that give them the power to affect policies and practices, it’s important that those leaders reflect the values of the organization. And the State Bar of Texas has very strong values in support and in furtherance of diversity, inclusion, respect, and equality. Mr. McDougal, his comments don’t reflect those values, and we felt it was appropriate to voice our opinion.
Renee Griffin: What has been Mr. McDougal’s response? Do you believe that he will be stepping down?
Renee Griffin: He has not decided to step down. Currently, our rules don’t have a clear pathway for forcible removal of a president, and so it looks like that that’s not a viable option for the State Bar of Texas board. He would have to voluntarily step down. Recognizing that, several groups including the African American Law Section didn’t call for his resignation, but instead called for him to adopt fully certain calls to action that they had identified – specific, concrete things, including creation of a task force and education about the Black Lives Matter movement that help further the State Bar of Texas mission.
Renee Griffin: I reached out to the State Bar of Texas for comment regarding the denouncement of Larry McDougal by the Coalition of Houston Diverse Bar Associations. The State Bar sent me a response which in its entirety reads as follows: “The State Bar of Texas Board of Directors held special-called meetings on July 27th and September 10th to discuss and consider action regarding online commentary by the State Bar president and other directors. The board welcomed and received hundreds of public comments on the matter and moved forward with a process to take positive action. The State Bar of Texas is committed to using this opportunity to make progress in line with our mission of promoting diversity in the administration of justice and the practice of law and improving the quality of legal services in Texas.”
Up next, the lighter side of my conversation with Chevazz Brown.
Chevazz, walk me through your journey to becoming an attorney.
Chevazz Brown: So, I’m an army brat. My mom, when I was 7, joined the Army. We’re originally from Portland, Oregon, and she came from nowhere. She put herself through school, and she wanted her kids to have a better life. I remember my grandma drove me, my mom, and my little brother to the recruiter’s office, and my mom wouldn’t let me out the car because I had my jammies on. I remember her walking into the building and then it coming out a short time later. And within a few weeks, we were off to our first duty station in Fort Ord, California. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing her career blossom, this girly girl second lieutenant, and 30 years later retiring as a full-bird colonel hospital administrator. I saw the hard work of my mom and, you know, her desire for all of her kids to go to college and do well for themselves. And so, I was motivated by her to become a professional. It was in my senior year of college and one of the hot television shows at the times was “The Practice.” You probably remember it.
Renee Griffin: Yeah. I loved “The Practice.” Yes.
Chevazz Brown: Loved the star of the show, Bobby Donnell. Super handsome guy, got all the girls, he had this great job, lot of drama in the courtroom, and I told myself, “Hey, that’s a pretty sexy job.” And that sparked my interest.
Renee Griffin: And so Chevazz, how sexy has your law career been?
Chevazz Brown: It’s not as sexy as Bobby Donnell made it to be, but it’s been very fulfilling. I’ve been very fortunate to have this platform. I’m a litigator. I’m a trial attorney. I represent businesses of all kinds, of all sizes, in commercial and business disputes. And over the past, I would say, five or six years, I’ve gravitated toward real estate, representing a lot of land owners, land developers, and land managers in a variety of disputes. For the most part, I enjoy it. I enjoy helping people, and I enjoy problem-solving for my clients.
Renee Griffin: And then what led you to participate in Leadership Houston?
Chevazz Brown: I looked to my friend, Pam Vasquez. She is my law school classmate. We both graduated from Thurgood Marshall School of Law here in Houston, which by the way is one of the most—if not the most—diverse law schools in America. I always got to give my law school love. And she was a class ahead of me. Her and I both, you know, evolving into to where we’re at today, she had recommended Leadership Houston as a way to organically network, meet friends, and to learn more about this great city that we’re in. And so I went through the process, and I was fortunate to be selected. I very much enjoyed my experience at Leadership Houston.
Renee Griffin: Yeah. Tell me about it. I mean, I was in class 29. You were in class?
Chevazz Brown: Thirty-three.
Renee Griffin: Tell me about it. How would you characterize your Leadership use and experience, and the overall value that it created for you personally and professionally?
Chevazz Brown: Well, for me, I can look back at various times in my life where I’ve met lifelong friends – whether it’s in high school, in college, or in law school – and I would put Leadership Houston on that same level. The folks that I got to know and befriend, many of them are going to be lifelong friends. So by nature, I’m an introvert and it does take time for me to develop relationships. As a professional, unlike in school, you don’t have that social construct that’s built around you where you can easily connect with folks. That’s been difficult. But Leadership Houston provided that platform, and the number one takeaway from my experience were the lifelong relationships that I had coming out of that. Second was what I mentioned earlier, in education about this great city of Houston. Leadership Houston does a very, very good job about looking at the wonderful things that our city has to offer, whether it’s the economic landscape of the city, the educational landscape, the arts, entertainment, the different types of people that were here. I learned so much in that nine-month period than I had any time up to that point since 2004. And so my takeaway was that there’s nowhere I would have been able to get this education if not for Leadership Houston.
Renee Griffin: Education, connections, and collaboration. Chevazz, what should we look and listen for about Chevazz Brown in the future? Any political aspirations, business entrepreneurship?
Chevazz Brown: No on the political side. I never did. Although I do see many of my Leadership Houston classmates and I see other alumni Leadership Houston pursue that path. And I think that’s great, but for me, I’m being tugged in a different direction. My future will be working for communities, for underrepresented communities. The legal profession is the least diverse profession in America, and I think for underrepresented communities, that creates access barriers and I think it also creates quality limitations in the quality of legal representation that these underrepresented communities receive. So, I set out to start a company. It’s a legal tech startup company. I call it DiversePro, and DiversePro is a community tool. It’s a lawyer directory, an online lawyer directory, that’s what I call a self-guided, free, easy-to-use lawyer directory that helps members in underrepresented communities find lawyers from their community who share their culture, their heritage, their language, or their experience. And by sharing those characteristics, a lawyer is better able to assess his or her client, is better able to more effectively communicate with his or her client, and to be able to put his or her client and the situation into context. And what we know about commonality in communities is that by having these similarities, naturally embedded are things like trust and understanding and comfort and familiarity. I think DiversePro works to solve the issue of access to find lawyers in your community, and it helps lawyers find clients and to supply that cultural or experiential competency that can enhance the underlying legal representation – starting with lawyers.
Renee Griffin: Wow. And so DiversePro will be about cultural diversity as well as practice diversity?
Chevazz Brown: This did start out as a diversity project. And what I’ve learned is diversity is a byproduct of what DiversePro has to offer. DiversePro is about communities, it’s community-focused. For example—and this is a true story—years ago, I represented a large landlord that owned one of these big buildings in one of these big city downtowns here in Texas, and there was a dispute with one of the tenants. Representing the big company, we had to go through a mediation with the tenant and her lawyer. Well, she barely spoke English and she had her daughter there with her. She had an attorney, but there was no interaction between her and her lawyer, and everything that we were saying, the daughter was hearing and translating it. And I remember thinking to myself, if my friend Esther Noh were sitting across that table and were her lawyer, I guarantee you that the quality of the representation would have been better in terms of the ability for Esther, who’s Korean American and who can speak Korean, effectively communicating what’s going on with her client. And the level of comfort and understanding that her client would have with her would have been appreciably different. And I’m not saying the outcome would have been different – it probably would not have been different, but the quality of the representation would have been different. And that’s the purpose of DiversePro: making it easier for those legal consumers to find lawyers like an Esther Noh from her community that can better understand her and her situation.
Renee Griffin: Will the lawyers in the directory be available for criminal as well as civil cases?
Chevazz Brown: Yes. The lawyer directory features lawyers in a large number of practice areas—about 70 practice areas, both civil and criminal—and then also featured are lawyers that have specialties, and featured on the site are lawyers that have 276 different specialties. So whether we’re dealing with a divorce, or whether we’re dealing with a criminal defense matter, or whether we’re dealing with a business transactional matter or an immigration matter, all of these practice areas and specialties are available for legal consumers to find in lawyers and for lawyers to come claim their profile, update their information, and identify specifically what their practice area is, where they’re located, what their specialty is, and how legal consumers can find them, and, most important, what cultural, linguistic, or experiential competency they have to offer legal consumers. That’s my value.
Renee Griffin: Are you spearheading this on your own Chevazz, or do you have partners?
Chevazz Brown: No. I’m the founder, and I’m the sole owner. I’ve been doing this on my own, nights and weekends, and it’s been a real journey. It’s been very fun, very frustrating, very expensive, but this is my passion, right? Helping diverse underrepresented communities. Whether it’s communities of color, whether it is women, whether it is the LGBTQ+ community, whether it’s the community of people with disabilities, and whether it’s the military community, lawyers who are from these communities are featured on the site.
Renee Griffin: Excellent. Well, I applaud you for that and wish you all the success with it. By the time your episode is released, you will have launched.
Chevazz Brown: After a very long time and a lot of work, I’m launching DiversePro. You know, you take baby steps to make sure that everything is working properly. And then hopefully I can do a what we call hard launch, where I’m really getting the word out that, hey, this is a platform where you can find lawyers who truly get you.
Renee Griffin: It took a few years to bring it to fruition, but Chevazz recently launched DiversePro to help connect diverse clients with top lawyers who share their culture, heritage, language, and experience. DiversePro provides a unique platform to search and to choose from over 100,000 lawyers in 65 practice areas and 275 specialties, and it’s just getting started. Check it out online at DiversePro.com.
Jackson Walker is extremely proud of Chevazz’s contributions and his sense of purpose both in his legal career and in his community involvement. To explore the Firm’s deep-rooted commitment to serving the community, visit our Community and Diversity & Inclusion pages.