Brandi Brown thrives on fielding whatever life throws her way
Published in 2017 Northern California Super Lawyers magazine on July 7, 2017
Brandi Brown leads a guest into her office at One Montgomery Tower in San Francisco on a recent morning, apologizing for the mess. There are stacks of papers and files on her desk, behind her desk and on the floor, sharing space with rain boots.
Her 3-year-old son’s colorful drawings line the walls, while his face beams from photos on her desk. Tombstones from successful deals are scattered about, including a bottle of wine—Endless Sonoma—a thank-you for a referral. She has been happily ensconced since 2007 at Coblentz Patch Duffy & Bass, where she is a partner and head of the firm’s wine industry group. She also serves as outside general counsel to about a dozen midsize companies spanning the advertising, creative services, and food and beverage industries.
She’s also lived in Paris and practiced law in Tokyo.
“I like to keep it interesting,” she says. Brown developed an appreciation for variety in life at an early age. “We lived in military surroundings,” she explains. “I was surrounded by diversity.”
A pre-law and government course in college convinced her that a law degree could lead to a career that would keep her interest. After graduating from UCLA School of Law in 2003, Brown joined Kirkland & Ellis in Los Angeles, handling mergers and acquisitions. In 2006, the fourth-year associate volunteered for the firm’s exchange program with the Japanese firm now called Atsumi & Sakai.
She’d never been to Japan, didn’t speak Japanese, but she wanted to become an expert in cross-border transactions, and Asia was the hot growth sector.
Living abroad wasn’t foreign to her. As an undergraduate, she’d lived in Paris during a summer program and studied French, culture and government.
During her year as an exchange attorney, Brown worked for Kirkland and also for the Tokyo firm on transactions involving mostly Western-based clients, such as Lehman Brothers.
“I fell in love with Tokyo,” she says. “You’d see a businessman walking down the street at the same cadence as a Harajuku girl. Every time I walked to work, I’d see some new innovation, a new gadget. When the Japanese do something, they do it 150 percent.”
On Fridays, she and her colleagues would head to an izakaya, where her Japanese colleagues would play “scare the gaijin.” They wouldn’t disclose exactly what they were ordering; then they would watch as Brown ate whale, raw chicken and fish sperm.
“It was fun!” she recalls. “It was an experience.”
In 2007, back in San Francisco, she got a call from a headhunter, saying Coblentz was looking for someone like her. She was intrigued by the firm’s entrepreneurial model, which she believed would let her diversify her practice. At first, her focus was private equity and mergers and acquisitions. When a client sold off its wine brands, Brown made friends in the industry. One thing led to another, and she landed E. & J. Gallo Winery as a client. Soon, she added Numi Organic Tea. Then she stepped into the world of advertising, advising clients such as global design agency Manual Creative, whose client list includes Nike, Gap and Google.
“I play shortstop,” she says. “I never know, when I come to work, what will be the issue of the day for these companies, and I love that. You have to be able to give a legal solution that’s not a business killer, because as mid-size companies, they need to take risks to grow.”
In 2016, Coblentz opened up an office in Napa to service wine and hospitality-industry clients. “We’d been serving clients in the valley for years and decided it was time to become a full-fledged resident,” says Brown. She spends two to three days a week in Napa, where she lives with her husband and their son, and the rest in San Francisco.
When her boy is old enough, she wants to take him to Marrakesh, Morocco, a location she’s visited on vacation that embodies her love of diversity. “It’s a rare country, predominantly Muslim, but they’ve managed to merge traditional Muslim ideals with Western ideals. It’s not unusual to see a woman walking down the street in a full hijab, and beside her, a friend in jean shorts.
“That the two can coexist peacefully, it’s educational. I want my son to see that.”