For Brandon Vaughn, a career in law seemed predestined. A Chicago native whose father is a lawyer, Vaughn says he grew up with a strong sense of equality and justice for everyone. His call to advocacy was evident in his early participation in student government and his tendency to take up the cause of the underdog.
“I was the kid that read the student code of conduct in school and challenged teachers for not fairly and equitably disciplining students,” he said. “I always had that sense of being an advocate for people who may not have a voice. Ultimately, I knew I’d go to law school.”
Ultimately, I knew I’d go to law school.”
While earning his law degree at the University of Wisconsin Law School, Vaughn spent two summers at Robins Kaplan LLP, where he gained experience in the areas of individual and mass torts, and medical negligence. He joined Robins after law school, and today, he is a principal with a robust medical malpractice and personal injury practice.
“My path to representing injured folks is something I’m passionate about. I feel I’ve been able to make a difference in the world, with a focus on touching individual lives.”
Vaughn frequently represents clients who are experiencing unimaginable crises arising from catastrophic injuries or wrongful death, sometimes as the result of negligence by medical or assisted living facilities. His compassionate demeanor and zeal for justice distinguish his practice and impel him to fight for injured people.
“My focus is on giving someone who has been harmed access to justice and the opportunity to be compensated for their injuries. More specifically, I want to be not just a lawyer, but a counselor for my clients in a time of loss. When bad things happen, I want them to know that they have a zealous advocate who is willing to hold the wrongdoer accountable.”
Vaughn is a bold voice for social issues, recognizing that many of the concerns he fights for have implications far beyond the interests of a single client. He is currently representing the family of a young woman who committed suicide as a result of hazing by a college sorority.
“We are continuing to see more and more injuries and deaths associated with hazing from high school and college students. I think one of the things I’ve learned through this process is the importance of creating awareness about the harms associated with hazing and trying to change the stigma that you need to go through something like this to belong. Sometimes, you don’t see physical manifestations of hazing, it’s more mental trauma than physical. The effects of those situations can be long-lasting, but are less reported. Society hasn’t really moved to recognize that the psychological harms can sometimes be more harmful than physical ones. The law hasn’t caught up with that, and there is an opportunity here to illuminate the issue.”
His keen attention to equality and justice for everyone also manifests in Vaughn’s actions as a law leader. He has long been a champion for greater diversity within the firm and in the profession at large. He is past co-chair of Robins’ diversity committee and current chair of its recruiting/hiring committee, and he has utilized these roles to inspire positive change and reimagine the look of the law.
To augment Robins’ 1L clerkship program, through which the firm hires first-year law students from historically marginalized communities in hopes that they will come back and join the firm full time, Vaughn encouraged participation in the Diverse Attorney Pipeline Program (DAPP). DAPP is a nonprofit organization that addresses the continued and systematic decline of women of color lawyers in large law firms and across other coveted positions in the legal profession. It aims to diversify the legal profession by expanding opportunities for women of color law students to secure summer positions at law firms and corporations following their first year of law school.
“I thought it was a win-win for the firm in terms of achieving greater gender, racial and ethnic diversity,” Vaughn said. “I have also been committed to making time to speak at local law schools, particularly at events hosted by minority student organizations, and participating on panels for legal organizations like Twin Cities Diversity in Practice (TCDIP), with the hope of increasing visibility of Robins as a warm environment for diverse professionals.”
Vaughn emphasizes that recruiting is the easy part. It is the areas of inclusion and retention where law firms generally break down.
We’ve really been focused over the past couple of years on how we can make our firm more inclusive.”
“We’ve really been focused over the past couple of years on how we can make our firm more inclusive. We’ve held trainings on how to be a good ally, on unconscious bias, and on appropriate diversity and inclusion terms to use so everyone can understand how to refer to minority communities.”
Vaughn has also been instrumental in establishing Robins’ future leaders program. “We identify women, attorneys of color and LGBTQ attorneys who are perceived as high achieving and we would like to see advance in the firm, and make sure they receive additional training and feedback to improve their odds of advancement. Of the inaugural class, everybody is still at the firm and is advancing.”
Vaughn, with the help of colleagues from across the country, is now spearheading a new pipeline program for young black lawyers.
“At the national level, we still continue to see significant issues in large law firms in terms of the number of attorneys of color in partner ranks and firm leadership. Our goal is to provide mentorship and feedback to high-achieving law students and junior associates from senior associates and partners inside big law firms and in-house counsel. The hope is that the senior associates, partners, and in-house lawyers can guide the next generation, so they do not experience the same pitfalls we did. Often, what happens is that lawyers of color don’t see anybody like them at higher levels. We’re trying to be a sounding board to help people survive and thrive with the help of a support network.”
Looking back upon his own advancement inside this Am Law 200 firm, Vaughn first gave credit to the influence of his parents.
“My mom and dad both instilled a strong work ethic. They made sure I valued that somebody may be smarter than me, but I never had to let anybody outwork me. My dad also coached me on things to expect inside a big law firm. It was valuable to have somebody with a little insider knowledge and life experience to say these are the things you should be looking for.”
Vaughn also expressed his gratitude for the many mentors who made themselves available to him both inside and outside the firm, among them a former Robins lawyer, the late Eric Jackson. Although Jackson moved to another firm, he maintained a mentor relationship with Vaughn until his passing last year.
“He made sure I still had connections with folks he knew at the firm and had the information I needed to guide my career trajectory.”
Vaughn’s own advice to rising attorneys. “When you show up, show that you are engaged and willing to sacrifice and add value. The reality is that when people feel you’re committed and loyal to them, not just professionally, but at a personal level, they want to champion you. Early in my career, I didn’t take opportunities that were solely work-related. I made time to join committees and go to dinners the firm sponsored for nonprofit organizations. I was also conscious of seeking opportunities to lighten people’s loads and make their lives easier. It turned out to be very valuable. We are in a relationship business. The more you genuinely develop relationships, the more people are willing to put opportunities before you. Ultimately, though, you have to learn the craft and do well with it.”
The more you genuinely develop relationships, the more people are willing to put opportunities before you. Ultimately, though, you have to learn the craft and do well with it.”
At Robins Kaplan, Vaughn is well-poised to go on creating opportunities for equality and justice for people inside and outside the legal profession. He said, “What prompted me to choose this firm and stay here is the people I work for and with. One of the core values of this firm is making sure everyone has access to justice and the legal system. I continue to feel satisfied professionally with the work I’m doing and the results I’m able to get for people who are seeking justice.”