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Johnnie L. Cochran Social Consciousness Award


The Executive Board of the National Black Law Students Association is pleased to announce the annual Johnnie L. Cochran Social Consciousness Award. Johnnie L. Cochran decided to dedicate his life to practicing law after he was inspired by Thurgood Marshall and his legal victory in Brown v. Board of Education. Cochran felt his career was a calling, a double opportunity to fight for what he considered right and to challenge what he considered wrong; he could make a difference practicing law.

In 1963, Johnnie Cochran's first job was with the Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney in the Criminal Division. Two years later, he entered private practice opening his own firm, Cochran, Atkins & Evans. In his first notable case, Cochran represented Mrs. Leonard Deadwyler, a widow who sued several police officers who had shot and killed her husband. Though he lost, it became a turning point in his career because it confirmed for him that the issue of police abuse really galvanized the minority community.

By the late 1970s, Cochran had established his reputation in the black community litigating a number of high-profile police brutality and criminal cases. One of his most famous police brutality cases involved Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant who was sodomized with a broomstick while in police custody. Louima was awarded a $8.75 million settlement, the largest police brutality settlement in New York City.

In 1978 Cochran joined the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office as its first African-American Assistant District Attorney. Though he took a pay cut to do so, joining the government was his way of becoming "one of the good guys, one of the very top rung." He began to strengthen his ties with the political community and work from within to change the system.

AAlthough he became known for representing O.J. Simpson, Sean "Diddy" Combs, and Michael Jackson, Cochran's clients were more varied than that. Cochran often liked to say that he worked "not only for the OJs, but also the No Js," because he enjoyed representing those who did not have fame or wealth. In Cochran's opinion, his most glorious moment as a lawyer was when he won the freedom of Geronimo Pratt. He considered the release "the happiest day" of his legal practice.

When Cochran died in 2005, family and friends proclaimed they "were most proud of the work he did on behalf of those in the community." He "was willing to fight for the underdog," and often referred to as "the people's lawyer." In fact, many described him as the Thurgood Marshall of his era. This award goes to a chapter whose programming and initiatives best represent his life's work.

Nominations are due on or before March 31, 2013 at 11:59p.m. EST.

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