Angeleno native Najmah Brown has built a successful international legal career by finding common ground between the United States and Kuwait.
After working in entertainment law for several years, she moved from Los Angeles to Kuwait to run the international department at Al-Adwani Law Firm.
Three years later, she’s returned to advocate for her brother, who has been incarcerated for a decade. She’s working on a commutation with the California governor’s office to get him released from prison.
“I always had this guilt because I was living this amazing life abroad but there were all of these political changes going on back home and I felt like I wasn’t being of service to my nation,” Brown said.
“My brother had already served all of his time; now he’s just serving time for enhancements, which have always been an issue in our system because of mandatory minimums and excessive sentencing. There had been some changes in the law and there was an opportunity to get my brother’s case looked at. He’s one of those candidates the organization is behind because he’s been a role model in prison and they believe he’s ready to come home.”
Started from a visit
Brown, who graduated from Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego in 2013, took her first trip to Kuwait in 2015 to visit a friend. It was so enjoyable that she returned the following year on a business trip. While there, she met a diplomat who introduced her to his brother, who was a Kuwaiti lawyer.
“He asked if I would work with him and run his firm’s national department,” Brown said. “My experience before that had been in media, so I was unsure as to how that would translate to working in an Arabic country. But after accepting the position, the first client I worked with was a telecommunications company. I immediately noticed there were a lot of similarities between my work there and my previous work in media. I was still working with contracts and paperwork, just in different industries.”
Back in the United States, Brown’s media industry clients included the Oprah Winfrey Network, Al Jazeera America and CBS. Using her years of business and legal affairs experience, she provided the same transactional legal services to companies in Kuwait.
When she joined Al-Adwani Law Firm, Brown worked with a wide range of local and foreign clients from different industries, such as construction, franchises, licensing and distributorships. For an event producer client, she worked on the talent agreements for musical artist Russ, who performed the first rap show in Kuwait, as well as hip-hop artist Tyga.
“I was not a litigator at that point in time,” Brown said. “I would talk to clients, gather information, then refer them to another attorney in my office who spoke Arabic. I also handled mediation and arbitration issues, which were usually disputes over payment or how to get out of contracts.”
The biggest transition for Brown was learning the local laws, so to prepare for her new job she spent time reading about all the different laws that pertained to her practice, such as intellectual property, international transactions, cyber laws and business laws. She also wrote a legal column for the Arab Times, which gave her the opportunity to learn different areas of the law, and consulted with the U.S. embassy on local matters when it needed an English-speaking lawyer.
“In the United States we follow a common law system, whereas Kuwait follows civil law,” Brown said. “When we were working with international companies, they were always concerned with how a judge would apply the law in their case. Because there’s no precedent, any judge can interpret the law the way he wants to. Their system is not as complex as ours and their laws aren’t as detailed, so you don’t know what is going to happen until you get in front of the judge.”
One of the things that Brown loved most about working in Kuwait was the work culture, which was the opposite of the United States.
“In America we’re workaholics and we never take time for ourselves,” Brown said.
“Kuwaitis, on the other hand, are very serious when it comes to their off hours, so once they’re done with work they’re focused on being with their families. I appreciated that because it showed a great respect for people’s personal time. Here, if someone from work calls you and you say you’re with your family, that tends to be looked down on. I liked the fact that I didn’t have to work crazy hours—I worked from 9 to 5 and then I was able to enjoy my free time.”
As an African American woman living and working in Kuwait, Brown never experienced any discrimination based on her race or gender. While there are cultural differences between the female’s role in society in Kuwait and the United States, Brown noted that what she encountered was quite different from the stereotypical views that some people have of the Middle East.
“My race never affected me at all; people just saw me as a human,” Brown said. “A lot of people have these beliefs regarding what they think is happening, but in Kuwait they’ve always been more progressive. The women are educated and very liberated. Many study abroad, own businesses and have political positions in parliament. They can drive and choose what to wear. I paid attention to the local culture and norms and followed them while I was there.”
Within the first few months after moving to Kuwait, Brown befriended an American woman who had been a resident for 40 years and was married to a Kuwaiti national.
“She was very worldly and became like a second mother to me,” Brown said. “She showed me how to navigate daily life and offered me guidance. I learned a lot from her.”
Besides attending ladies’ gatherings, shopping at the souk (market) and having custom garments made from fabrics she had picked out, Brown’s other favorite thing to do while living in Kuwait was travel.
“I traveled every weekend I could,” Brown said. “In Kuwait you can’t have alcohol and there are no nightclubs, so people head to Bahrain or Dubai, which is like the Las Vegas of the Middle East. Kuwait is in a central location and flights are inexpensive, so I took weekend trips to London, Paris, Vienna, Thailand and many other places.”
In addition to working on her brother’s case, Brown continues to consult for Al-Adwani Law Firm, performs consulting and contracting work for clients in the Middle East, and does litigation work for local clients in Los Angeles. Brown and her family members have also been honored by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for the work they have done to eliminate homelessness in Los Angeles.
“I’m excited about this new journey,” Brown said. “Right now, my main focus is getting things on track with my brother. Once I finish my duties here, I would love to go back abroad. I loved my experience in Kuwait and would live there again, but I’m also interested in Amsterdam or Dubai.”