Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Chair in Civil Rights
In recognition of Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr.’s lifelong journey to justice, Loyola Law School established the Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Chair in Civil Rights. Cochran ’62, a Loyola Law School alumnus, was an extraordinary trial lawyer and civil rights leader. He received numerous accolades and awards for his professional and philanthropic achievements, and Loyola Law School is proud to honor him with this chair to acknowledge the passion and dedication he championed while shattering longstanding racial stereotypes and fighting for the disenfranchised.
Cochran was born to Hattie and Johnnie L. Cochran, Sr. in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1937. He was the greatgrandson of slaves and the grandson of a sharecropper. When his family moved to California in 1943, he discovered his fervor for debate. He became one of only 12 black students enrolled at Los Angeles High School. He went on to earn his BS from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1959.
While a student at Loyola Law School, Cochran became the first black law clerk hired by the Los Angeles City Attorney. After passing the Bar exam in 1963, Cochran became one of the first black deputy city attorneys of Los Angeles. In 1965, he left the office, feeling strongly that African-American men were being abused by the criminal justice system. His experience ignited his passion for civil-rights law and led him to establish the firm of Cochran, Atkins & Evans.
While in private practice, Cochran was named the “Criminal Trial Lawyer of the Year” by the L.A. Criminal Courts Bar Association in 1977. Shortly afterward, he joined the L.A. District Attorney’s office at its request. As a Los Angeles County assistant district attorney, Cochran instituted many lasting reforms, including the Domestic Violence Council and the Sexual Assault Program. He returned to private practice in 1981. By 1990, Cochran received L.A.’s “Civil Trial Lawyer of the Year” award, making him the only person to be so honored for his work in both the criminal and civil courts.
In the late ’90s, Cochran founded The Cochran Firm, a national plaintiffs’ firm with more than 300 lawyers and offices in 20 cities. His mission was to fight on behalf of injured and disenfranchised parties. He also formed Cochran, Neufeld & Scheck, a firm that focused on police misconduct and wrongful convictions.
Cochran is often noted for his landmark victories in police misconduct cases and for his work with highprofile clients like O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson and Reginald Denny. But Cochran considered his most important legacy to be his work on the case of Geronimo Pratt, who spent a quarter century in prison for a crime he did not commit. Cochran worked tirelessly on and ultimately secured Pratt’s release. Cochran would later call Pratt’s release the happiest moment of his legal career.
Cochran’s impact on our world will continue to be felt for generations. He spent his life proving that the rights guaranteed by the laws of our land indeed belong to all of us and that one determined man can make a difference. Throughout his career, Cochran was guided by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As the titles of his two autobiographies suggest, Cochran was proud to lead a Lawyer’s Life that most certainly was a brilliant Journey to Justice.
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