Fifteen years ago today, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. passed away. He was a lawyer, a father, a philanthropist, and a civil libertarian. Mr. Cochran dedicated his life to bringing justice to individuals in any situation.
Johnnie’s death came on suddenly on March 29th, 2005. About a year earlier, in April 2004, he received surgery for a brain tumor that he was diagnosed with in December 2003. However, after fifteen years, his legacy still lives on. Join us in honoring the life of Johnnie L. Cochran Jr.
Family and Early Childhood
Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, October 2, 1937, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. was the child of Johnnie L. Cochran Sr. and Hattie B. Cochran. About his early life, he said: “Sundays were for church and family.” The Cochrans worshiped at the Little Union Baptist Church while they lived in Shreveport.
In his childhood, Johnnie was an avid reader and performed well in school. He started reading at the young age of three. One of his favorite books, growing up, was The Encyclopedia Britannica. He said that he loved looking at all the pictures and maps of the world, which inspired his love of travel.
Moving to California and Education
During the second wave of the Great Migration, the Cochran family left Shreveport for California in 1943. A few important places to Johnnie Cochran Jr. in Los Angeles, include the Mt. Vernon Middle School and Los Angeles High School. Johnnie attended middle school at Mt. Vernon, but after his death, it was renamed in his honor as the Johnnie L. Cochran Middle School.
At Los Angeles High, Johnnie was one of 24 black students integrated into the student body. In 1955, Johnnie graduated first in his class, before attending the University of California. Four years later, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration.
Johnnie’s success in education was inspired by his parents.
Johnnie Sr. would say to his son, “your horizons are unlimited. But you must be disciplined and hard-working to attain them. Never forget, though, that you can obtain them.” Johnnie Jr. also said that his parents stressed the importance of getting an education.
His mother would say, “knowledge is power. Not the power to control other people, but the power to control your own destiny.”
His parents would also say, “In order for you to be all that you can be, you have to have an education.” And so, Johnnie Cochran Jr. worked hard throughout his educational career.
When reflecting on his younger years, he also said, “I truly believed that if I worked hard enough, if I was smart enough, if I wasn’t afraid to stand up and say loudly to the whole world what I knew to be true, I could do that. Me, Johnnie Cochran, the great-grandson of slaves, I could cause society to change.” And he did.
He found his path to change society during his later years in high school. At the time, lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, served as chief counsel on the famous Brown v The Board of Education case which overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine established by Plessy v Ferguson. Johnnie watched Marshall as he lead the case to victory. Because Marshall, as a lawyer, used the law to change the laws of the day, Johnnie looked at him as his hero.
He said to himself, “Not only do I want to be a lawyer, but I want to be a lawyer like Thurgood Marshall.”
After graduating from the University of California, he attended the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and graduated with his Juris Doctorate in 1962.
While he was most famous for his defense of football player O.J. Simpson and other celebrities. His other high profile cases included defending Michael Jackson and Sean Combs (P. Diddy).
However, as an attorney, Johnnie Cochran’s true passion was defending the common man. Early in his career, he worked as the deputy attorney in the district attorney’s office of the city of Los Angeles.
After two years at the DA’s office, he founded his first law office in LA – Cochran, Atkins & Evans. This was the start of The Cochran Firm as we know it today.
Together with Atkins and Evans, they specialized in personal injury law. In the early 1970s, Cochran became famous in the African American community for his litigation in many high-profile police brutality and criminal lawsuit cases.
One such case was that of Geronimo Pratt, who was a former Black Panther. Johnnie defended Pratt from murder charges but lost. After Pratt was convicted, he was imprisoned for more than twenty years. Cochran pushed for a retrial and oversaw Pratt’s wrongful imprisonment suit.
Finally, on June 10, 1997, Geronimo Pratt was released from prison. Cochran said that this day was the proudest day of his career as a lawyer. The two men then became very close.
About Johnnie, Pratt said, “[he] is a fighter for the poor and oppressed, the downtrodden. He’s a person who just doesn’t stop.”
Building The Cochran Firm and Receiving Awards
The rest of Johnnie’s career included many more cases. He also returned to the LA County District Attorney’s office, this time as the First Assistant District Attorney, where he served for five years. Afterward, he left to return to private practice and began winning more cases. His successes lead him to join other law firms and began building what we now know as The Cochran Firm.
Notably, he was the only Los Angeles attorney ever awarded with both the “Civil Trial of the Year” and the “Criminal Trial Lawyer of the Year” awards. Other recognitions include listings in Time Magazine and in the Los Angeles Business Journal as one of “The Top 50 Trial Attorneys of 1999.”
The Legacy of Johnnie L. Cochran
As one of the most influential lawyers in the past century, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. created a legacy of hard work and single-minded dedication to representing his clients. Every attorney at any branch of The Cochran Firm is expected to live up to the same standard of service. Whether you need help in a car accident claim, wrongful death suit, or a medical malpractice case, our attorneys are here to support you.
If you or a loved one have been injured in any kind of accident, call 1-800-THE-FIRM for a FREE consultation today.