Lawyer fights for social justice—and classic rock

When local attorney Brad Pierce isn’t in the courtroom, you may find him rocking his Rickenbacker bass at a local nightclub.

By Bill Motchan, Special to the Jewish Light

By day in the courtroom, Brad Pierce is an expert at commercial litigation. At night onstage, he lays down a mean bassline for a long-running St. Louis rock band.

Pierce, a partner at Kramer & Frank P.C., also recently completed two years as board president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. Welcome free time means more opportunities to champion social justice and, of course, to rock out on his Rickenbacker Fireglo.

The University City resident looks less like John Entwistle or Sting than he does a corporate lawyer. But Pierce comes to life onstage, belting out the Van Morrison classic “Brown Eyed Girl.” He’s been a member of the Decades, a cover band, since 1993. The group has a strong local following of primarily baby boomers who dance the night away to its  classic rock repertoire.

“It provides a release from the stress of working,” said Pierce, 64. “In fact, I originally wanted to call the band Group Therapy. Playing music uses a different part of the brain than when I’m practicing law.”

His inspiration for the instrument is another Rickenbacker player: Paul McCartney. Offstage, an important mentor was an activist and voice for peace, the late Rory Ellinger. In 1982, before Ellinger served in the Missouri House of Representatives, he was Pierce’s boss at Legal Services of Eastern Missouri (then part of the Legal Services Corp. known as LSC).

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Pierce remains committed to the LSC’s Volunteer Lawyers Program. For the past 25 years, he has provided free legal advice to victims of domestic abuse at Safe Connections in St. Louis.

You can tell Pierce is not a native St. Louisan by the way he pronounces “Chi-CAH-go” and his ball cap. 

“I can finally wear my Cubs cap proudly and without attracting derision,” he said. 

He grew up in Skokie, Ill. The public schools were closed during the High Holy Days due to a large Jewish population. It was a different story in college. Pierce enrolled at DePaul University, a private Catholic university, and that’s when the Jewish kid from the Chicago suburbs experienced culture shock. 

“I remember sitting in a philosophy class where they studied Christian philosophers,” he said. “I raised my hand and said, ‘How many people in this room actually believe that women are being punished for original sin?’ And 75 percent of the class raised their hands.”

Before college, Pierce considered a career as a musician. He started playing guitar in junior high school. The first major concert he attended was a Rolling Stones show in the late 1960s.

“I always played bass, but I also play some acoustic six-string guitar for fun,” he said. “I actually studied upright bass in Chicago and played with the Loyola University Jazz Band for a while.”

He wanted to get his degree first and then take a shot at playing music full time. He figured if music didn’t work out, he could go to law school. That ended up being the correct path. Pierce’s passion for justice made law a natural career choice.

“It might sound like a cliché, but I like being a lawyer because I’m able to help my clients,” he said. “In a broader sense, it has allowed me to do good, to work at Legal Services and do community organizing, volunteer for the ACLU, and for my clients at Kramer & Frank.”

Pierce became ACLU board president (for the second time) just a few months before the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson ignited a national protest movement against police use of excessive force against black men.

“That changed everything,” Pierce said. “Our focus had to be racial justice. We had two strategies: trying to stop bad legislation in the Missouri Legislature, and winning important court decisions for protestors on First Amendment issues.”

Another challenge during his recent tenure as board president was merging the ACLU organizations in St. Louis and Kansas City into a statewide affiliate. That was a tough assignment, but one Pierce was well suited for, said Jeffrey Mittman, the group’s executive director.

“The conversion was complicated, but he guided us through the process,” Mittman said. “Brad’s leadership was inclusive and thoughtful. He set the tone for the organization.

“It was all about our mission and collaboration. I don’t know that we could have become a statewide organization as well as we did without Brad. It’s rare in life that you meet someone who is so genuinely kind and positive. He is a real mensch.”

So, which gives Pierce a bigger adrenalin rush: successfully arguing a case or receiving a standing ovation when his band is in the groove?

“I love doing a good job for my clients,” he said. “But that doesn’t come close to a good musical performance.”