President's Message

ABA members, staff and lawyers in general worked to give voice to the voiceless

Posted Aug 1, 2013 4:20 AM CDT
By Laurel Bellows

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Photo of Laurel Bellows by Marc Hauser.

What a year it has been. In the past 12 months, we have watched unsettling events, including the constitutional crisis that pushed Egypt into turmoil, the civil war that continues to destroy families in Syria, and terrible bloodshed in Connecticut, Boston and elsewhere.

At the same time, we have seen the sustaining power of human resilience as demonstrated by the millions who rallied for solutions to violence against women in India after the brutal gang rape and death of a 23-year-old woman. And we were jubilant when human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa in Zimbabwe was released from prison as demanded by people around the globe—including the American Bar Association.

Lawyers are different folk. We are trained to think differently. The concepts of liberty and justice are on our minds. Obviously, lawyers are not the only people who want to change the world, but we may be the only ones who recognize that lasting and just change must be consistent with the rule of law.

I have come to realize that without lawyers, the fight for justice would have been lost long ago. We have a sacred duty and responsibility to continue what at times may seem an uphill battle.

We lawyers are problem solvers. We give people hope; we give people their lives back.

We speak for those who would otherwise have no voice. We serve our communities, we represent the law and we are the key to a just society. Even as our attention is turned to struggles abroad, there is no shortage of issues that could alter the path of justice here at home.

During my time at the helm of the ABA, we mobilized against modern-day slavery within our own borders. We worked to eliminate gender discrimination in our profession, and we confronted significant national security and economic questions about the cyberwarfare confronting our nation and cybertheft threatening our clients. We lobbied successfully to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act with substantive improvements, along with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. We continue to advocate against the diminution of the attorney-client privilege. And the effort continues to fund our courts at the federal, state and local levels.

This is only a small sample of what we have accomplished in a year. The entities, directors, general staff and members of the ABA have made incredible strides. Your work is proof of how much we can accomplish when we work together.

Gone are the days when working as a lawyer was a one-discipline, one-time-zone, one-dimensional career. At the ABA, we are working hard to help all lawyers—from veteran practitioners to newly minted law graduates—find their way in this rapidly changing economy and profession.

But some things will never change about being a lawyer. Fundamentally, lawyers matter.

We matter because we are trained observers of the human condition and skilled advocates for positive change. We are compelled to speak against unfairness and act against injustice.

That is the role of lawyers. Every time an attorney stands to represent a defendant in court, every time a lawyer refuses to divulge privileged information, every time the justice system seeks to hold an individual accountable for a crime—lawyers show that they matter.

It has been a wonderful year. Thank you for the honor of leading the ABA. I leave you in the capable hands of incoming President James R. Silkenat, who will continue the great tradition of our association as a place for every lawyer. The ABA will always be where lawyers can develop their skills, network for business and build lifelong relationships. The ABA is the place where the passion of lawyers is harnessed for the defense of liberty and the pursuit of justice. Our ABA will always be the place where lawyers are inspired by the reality that we matter.

Sidebar

ADDITIONAL THANKS

We are the ABA. We are a diverse, nonpartisan nation of lawyers from all states and many countries—from world practitioners to global megafirms, including expert and developing practitioners of all ages. Together, we accomplish miracles.

I have written about how we have come together this year on presidential initiatives that contributed to the safety of human trafficking victims, advocated for gender equity and made our country safer in the face of cyberattacks. Below, I recognize some of the many achievements of our committees, sections, divisions, forums and committees that demonstrate the ABA’s national and international leadership—by and for lawyers—as well as our pursuit of access to justice and the rule of law.

The Section of Antitrust Law provided 13 comments and reports, as well as testimony, on domestic and international antitrust and consumer protection laws, regulations and policy to the Chinese antitrust authority, the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets, and the directorate-general of the European Commission, among other agencies. The section also issued a transition report to the White House on the section’s views on the state of antitrust enforcement and recommendations on prospective policies and initiatives.

The first Collaborative Bar Leadership Academy to hone skills of the next generation of diverse bar leaders was a project of the Division for Bar Services and the Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity, which worked with five bar associations — the American Bar Association, Hispanic National Bar Association, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, National Bar Association and the National Native American Bar Association — to launch the event June 27-28 in Minneapolis. The initiative is a coordinated effort to strengthen the pipeline of diverse bar association leaders by providing leadership training and professional development programs that will benefit current and future leaders, the bar association community and the legal profession overall.

As many as 1,100 participants took part in the Business Law Section’s “In the Know” series, a free six-part continuing legal education program focused on hot topics and developed by industry experts. Business Law also made significant contributions to business conduct standards that will address human trafficking from corporate supply chains.

To address the advancements in the use of neuroscience in courts as lawyers begin to use brain-based defenses and lie detection as evidence in brain-injury litigation, the Criminal Justice Section co-sponsored a conference in Chicago with the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience, Vanderbilt Law School, and the Gruter Institute for Law and Behavioral Research. The conference, “The Future of Law and Neuroscience,” provided introductory courses to lawyers on neuroscience and its use in criminal justice.

Volunteer lawyers and law firms recruited by the Death Penalty Representation Project to handle post-conviction capital cases continue to have notable successes, such as overturning the death sentence of Mississippi prisoner Fred Spicer, exonerating former Louisiana prisoner Damon Thibodeaux through the use of DNA evidence and overturning both the conviction and death sentence of Virginia prisoner Justin Wolfe. The project also launched a new online database of state and national capital defense standards for capital defense lawyers, www.capstandards.org.

The Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence worked tirelessly to ensure that the Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized and improved. The 2013 act includes better protections and resources for combating sexual assault and stalking, targets campuses and underserved communities, adds important housing protections to ensure that violence does not lead to homelessness, and expands resources for attorneys to assist survivors in civil matters related to their victimization.

The ABA “Lawyer as Citizen” initiative, established by the Standing Committee on Election Law to encourage participation in the electoral process, urged attorneys to volunteer as poll workers on election day. Concurrently, the standing committee worked with me, as well as with the Communications and Media Relations Division, to set up a process for lawyers to be the ears and eyes of the association during the Nov. 2012 election. The standing committee investigated more than 70 reports of irregularities from across the country through its ABA Votes webpage.

The Health Law Section has been collaborating with medical associations on programming and legal education. In 2012 the section entered into a three-year memorandum of understanding with the Chicago Medical Society. For the second year, the two groups have planned and participated in the annual Physicians Legal Issues Conference. This year, the CMS had 35 doctors in attendance compared with six last year. The American Medical Association also co-sponsored the Saturday sessions of this program, and they were held at the hotel hosting the AMA’s annual convention. The group had about 80 doctors in attendance Saturday. In addition, the Health Law Section contributes legal articles to Chicago Medicine magazine every month as part of the MOU. It is very rewarding and beneficial for the section to be working with the medical profession.

Through its Homeless Veterans Justice Initiative, the Commission on Homelessness and Poverty is collaborating with the U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services on a national initiative aimed at addressing child-support issues for homeless veterans.

After the Center for Human Rights’ Justice Defenders Program wrote to the government of Zimbabwe expressing concern about the arrest of women’s rights attorney Beatrice Mtetwa, she was released from custody. In Colombia, the prosecution of Monica Roa was abandoned after the ABA expressed concern about the use of criminal defamation charges against an attorney for filing human rights claims.

In May, the Commission on Immigration’s Immigration Justice Project of San Diego received the first-ever Department of Justice award of a contract to provide direct legal representation services to detained respondents in immigration proceedings, and the commission will represent several individuals who are found unable to represent themselves because of a mental disability.

The Commission on Immigration’s pro bono legal services projects in South Texas, Seattle and San Diego also continue to grow and attract new volunteers. These projects provide direct legal services and recruit and train volunteer lawyers to represent vulnerable noncitizens.

The Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities spearheaded ABA amicus briefs to the Supreme Court in Shelby County, Ala. v. Holder, United States v. Windsor and Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. In Shelby County, the Supreme Court’s decision challenged the constitutionality of the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. In U.S. v. Windsor, the Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. Fisher v. Texas raised the question of whether the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment permits the University of Texas at Austin’s use of race in undergraduate admissions decisions, and the Supreme Court remanded the case to the lower court for further review.

I had the honor of participating in the Section of International Law’s ABA Day at the UN on April 29, along with ABA President-elect James R. Silkenat, ABA Alternate Representative to the U.N. Jamir Couch, board member Thomas Curtin, ABA Judicial Division Chair William Missouri, ABA Executive Director Jack Rives and other ABA and section leaders. We attended a morning briefing with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and also discussed the ABA’s commitment to developing the rule of law around the world.

Section of International Law books this year featured topics such as export controls and economic sanctions, and an examination of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

The International Models Project on Women’s Rights (IMPOWR), administered by the Section of International Law, won a Puget Sound Association of Phi Beta Kappa’s annual Pathfinder Award. IMPOWR is a Web-based collaborative database to leverage legal resources worldwide to empower the global community with information on effective reform and enforcement efforts on laws affecting women’s rights. It plays a unique role in supporting the worldwide implementation of the principles underlying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Lawyers honored their responsibility to the profession and to their communities by volunteering their legal services for thousands of low-income Americans during the annual National Pro Bono Celebration, sponsored by the Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service. More than 800 pro bono events in nearly every state—conducted by more than 300 law firms, bar associations, courts, law schools, corporations and other groups—took place during the October celebration. Most events involved volunteer training or direct service to clients.

A program by the Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice’s pro bono project, “The War Against Foreclosures: Combating Foreclosures and Mortgage Crisis in Communities of Color,” educated the legal community and communities of color on strategies, experts and resources (state, federal and local) available to help save homes and property from foreclosure. It also trained, educated and recruited law students and lawyers to provide pro bono assistance to individuals and communities of color that have been plagued by foreclosure and the mortgage crisis.

In May, I visited China, where I had the opportunity to meet with Rule of Law Initiative partners, Chinese legal dignitaries, diplomats and representatives of the international legal community. From training judges and lawyers to better handle domestic violence cases to increasing access to legal aid for indigent criminal defendants, ROLI is working with innovative leaders in China and around the world to promote justice system reforms that seek to enhance and protect the rights of citizens and promote societies based on rule of law.

Since July 2012, ABA ROLI has operated an early warning system to prevent instances of violence—including sexual violence and human rights abuses—in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s volatile eastern region. Working alongside the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, ABA ROLI improves emergency communication between vulnerable populations and local assistance providers. So far, the system has received more than 540 reports from remote communities in eastern Congo and initiated more than 125 assistance response efforts in coordination with the United Nations and the Congolese Armed Forces. Twenty-five of these initiatives have helped thwart rebel attacks on villages that are home to approximately 140,000 people. When outbreaks do occur, ABA ROLI works with local and international nongovernmental organizations to deploy mobile aid clinics that deliver comprehensive legal, psychological and medical assistance to victims, as well as longer-term assistance in securing justice against their perpetrators.

The Section of Science and Technology Law published six authoritative books for lawyers and scientists on cutting-edge issues, including the legal implications of bringing your own device to the workplace, bioinformatics law, health care IT, botnet and cybersecurity research and scientific evidence. The section brought deep understanding about cyber issues to the Cybersecurity Legal Task Force and hosted many cyber-related CLEs on topics ranging from data encryption to information security law.

More than 40 judges, lawyers, educators and court managers participated in a frank discussion about bias, implicit bias and perceived bias at the Judicial Division’s Perceptions of Justice Summit at the ABA headquarters in Chicago in March. They represented groups from inside and outside the ABA, such as the National Bar Association, the National Association of Women Judges and the International Association of LGBT Judges.

More than 3,000 attorneys attended the Section of Labor and Employment Law’s CLE programs throughout the U.S. and around the world. The section sold more than 15,000 copies of its treatises, to which nearly 500 section members contributed. The section also hosted 18 events promoting diversity, including a diversity reception at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta that was attended by nearly 600 Annual Section Conference registrants.

The Commission on Law and Aging, in collaboration with nine co-sponsors, released a landmark Symposium Issue of the Utah Law Review containing a groundbreaking set of national standards to guide guardians and conservators in their duties.

The commission also led the ABA’s organizing efforts for National Healthcare Decisions Day on April 16, which led to a radio news release, a joint op-ed with the American Medical Association and an article in the AARP Bulletin, with a circulation of around 35 million. The efforts were geared toward communicating the importance of health care advance planning. The radio news release aired nearly 2,000 times to an estimated 7 million listeners.

The Standing Committee on Law and National Security quickly assembled national security law and privacy experts in June to discuss the “facts and fiction” of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program called PRISM. The disclosures made by NSA contractor Edward Snowden touched the hot-button topics of government secrecy, intrusion into American citizens’ privacy interests and the era of big data. Co-hosted by the Freedom Forum, the Newseum Institute and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, the event was held on June 25 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., before an audience of 350 and a webinar audience of more than 1,500 viewers.

The Law Student Division finished another spectacular competition season, hosting four national moot court and client skills competitions. More than 1,600 ABA law student members from 172 ABA-approved law schools participated in the Negotiation, Arbitration, Client Counseling and National Appellate Advocacy competitions. Several ABA lawyer and judge members served as competition judges.

The Military Pro Bono Project connects volunteer lawyers with junior-enlisted military members facing civil legal issues involving family law, consumer law, probate and other matters. This year, the project placed more than 180 cases with lawyers, who donated an average of about $5,500 worth of pro bono assistance per case, for a total value of nearly $1 million over the year.

The Pipeline Council awarded class of 2013 Legal Opportunity Scholarships to 20 students of color entering their first year of law school at a full-time, ABA-accredited program. The scholarship is for $5,000 a year for each year of law school.

The Senior Lawyers Division published a series of three special issues of Experience magazine in 2012-13. This series focused on topics of particular interest to elder law attorneys, including senior fraud and abuse, senior driving issues, end-of-life care and implications of the Affordable Care Act on senior clients and their families. The latest issue, published in late spring, focused on financial and life planning for attorneys and their clients. The series has received so many positive reviews by members that the articles may be used as the basis for a new book.

The Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division held the first-ever “National Dialogue” to generate and share ideas about serving the needs of solo and small-firm practitioners. Representatives from state and local bar associations’ solo and small firm practice sections explored the common challenges facing their colleagues—transitioning from law school to solo practice, the impact of unbundled do-it-yourself services and other law practice management tools, and business development. The results of the National Dialogue conversation can be used to generate new ideas for local and state bar associations.

In the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division’s training session “Cultural Sensitivity and Working with Victims of Violence,” panelists discussed the effects of surviving violence and addressed how to be sensitive to those effects, consider cultural differences and communicate effectively when interviewing survivors.

The Section of State and Local Government Law approved a new committee, the State Attorneys General and Department of Justice Issues Committee. The objective is to create an intellectual, quasi-academic environment where individuals can vigorously debate matters involving state attorneys general, thereby generating an environment for civil discourse. Membership will consist of corporate counsel, private bar members, nonlawyers, government attorneys and members of state attorneys general offices.

The Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section celebrated its 80th anniversary, and TIPS Chair Dick Semerdjian embraced “80 years of relevance, professionalism and excellence in the practice of law” as the theme for the event. In conjunction with the anniversary, the section offered a podcast series that discussed the importance of civility in the legal profession.

TIPS created a new Asbestos Task Force to examine issues relating to asbestos trusts and litigation. The task force held a June hearing at the ABA’s Washington, D.C., offices, where a panel of academic experts and attorneys discussed topics that included providing proper compensation for plaintiffs, protecting trusts from fraud and erroneous payments, and preserving trust funds for future claimants. Another hearing is scheduled to take place in October at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

TIPS also welcomed its sixth Leadership Academy class, consisting of 23 members. This unique program, created for young lawyers with diverse backgrounds, aspires to serve the public by providing participants with the knowledge and skills necessary to develop a vision to lead the legal profession and to improve leadership service in the community. The Leadership Academy is designed to increase the diversity of leaders within communities, nurture effective leadership with respect to ethical, professional and community-service values, build relationships among leaders from across the country and from disciplines within the profession, and raise the level of awareness among lawyers on issues facing the profession.

More than 300 female lawyers attended the Commission on Women in the Profession’s Women in Law Leadership Academy in San Francisco in December 2012. They learned leadership skills, negotiation techniques and rainmaking strategies that will help advance their careers to the next level.

The commission analyzed the results of its survey of diversity dynamics in Fortune 500 corporate legal departments in its third “Women of Color” report, “Visible Invisibility: Women of Color in Fortune 500 Legal Departments.” The report focuses on the experiences of female attorneys, particularly women of color, as they go through the four major aspects of an attorney’s career: recruitment, hiring, retention and advancement. The report is on the commission’s website, www.americanbar.org/groups/women.

The commission marks its 25th anniversary this year and is celebrating by hosting the Day of the Woman at the annual meeting on Friday, Aug. 9. The day features eight CLE programs and a rally at noon with sparkling wine and prizes.

The Young Lawyers Division held the ABA’s first-ever “CareerLine LIVE!” at the midyear meeting in Dallas. The program, which attracted 200 third-year law students and new lawyers, offered career guidance and resumé advice through personal phone calls, one-on-one in-person sessions and live Twitter and Facebook conversations. ABA YLD volunteers also made personal phone calls to more than 90 newly licensed lawyers to welcome them to the profession and the ABA, making them aware of their free year of membership in the ABA and inviting them to the YLD’s local Young Lawyer Meet and Greets.

As a follow-up to the CareerLine LIVE! program, three YLD leaders provided more than 2,000 law students and new lawyers with advice during a March webinar titled “What I’d Wished I’d Known About My Job Search.” CareerLine LIVE! will be repeated on Aug. 8 during the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

Working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state and local bar groups, YLD also coordinated volunteer lawyers for toll-free legal assistance hotlines for disaster survivors. This year, the hotlines received more than 6,000 calls for assistance on landlord/tenant, bankruptcy, wills, insurance and other matters. More than 5,000 calls were related to Hurricane Sandy.

As I reflect on these successes, as well as countless others across our organization, I am proud to have led the ABA for the past year. We have worked together efficiently and effectively to achieve critical change—and we will continue to do so far into the future.

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