Your ABA

ABA: Perception vs. Reality

Henry White

Henry White. Photo by Paul Berg

The October ABA Journal reported on what American lawyers think of their profession, based on the ABA’s The Pulse of the Legal Profession survey. That survey also asked respondents what they think of the ABA itself.

Here’s what you didn’t read in last month’s issue:

Some respondents labeled the ABA as elitist and exclusive. They view the ABA as run for the benefit of its leaders, rather than for the benefit of the typical member. Some say our House of Delegates deals too often with social policies and not enough with the nuts-and-bolts issues that uniquely concern the legal profession. They believe we are an undistinguished association that does not compel membership.

These lawyers were, to be sure, among the minority of respondents. But given that just 351,000 of the nation’s 1.15 million lawyers are members of the ABA, it is fair to assume that many of our colleagues who are not members share their views. We need to take their criticisms seriously if we’re to substantially increase our membership.

It seems like just yesterday, and not a year ago, that I journeyed to Chicago to assume responsibilities as the ABA’s executive director. In that time, I have had the opportunity to meet a great number of you and immerse myself in the extraordinary work of this great institution. For all the help and assistance you have given me, I am most thankful.

Many of you have asked what surprised me the most. The answer is easy—the staff’s intellectual capacity and professionalism, and the extraordinary breadth of programs in which the ABA engages on a daily basis.

That I was largely ignorant of the enormous scope of ABA activities after having been an ABA member for 30 years points to our biggest challenge: If we’re to close the gap between our critics’ perceptions of the ABA and reality, we have to do a better job communicating what we do to the entire legal profession.

The ABA and its members are called upon to advise government agencies and review nominees to the federal bench. We are the profession’s leading voice on ethics, and our law school accreditation process has helped shape the world’s best legal education system. When Congress considers bills that would affect the legal profession, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle seek out the views of ABA members and staff.


We also deliver valuable and comprehensive resources to assist members in their daily practice of law. Our publications and CLE programs feature the insights of America’s most experienced lawyers, and the thousands of meetings we hold each year provide unrivaled networking opportunities in dozens of practice areas. At a time when the practice of law is increasing­ly national and international in scope—even for lawyers in the smallest of towns—the ABA has never been more relevant to more lawyers’ bottom lines.

In October, the ABA staff convened an internal commu­­nica­tions summit to assist our Stand­­­ing Committee on Strategic Commu­ni­ca­tions and Stand­ing Com­mittee on Membership in laying the foundation for an updated communication plan. But we also need your help to reach out to lawyers who are not members of the ABA, because members like you are our most effective advocates.

I’m asking each of you to take at least one colleague out to lunch, and use that opportunity to explain why you find ABA membership of value. Educate them on how the ABA advocates on behalf of not only the legal profession but the public at large. Explain to them how you keep up to date on developments in your field through our publications and CLE programs. Encourage them to join you in rubbing elbows with America’s leading lawyers at meetings of our sections, divisions and forums.

Ours is the only institution in America whose work touches every American, every single day, in every single way. Help us—and your colleagues—by making more U.S. lawyers a part of this great organization.

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy and the ABA Code of Conduct.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.