Adding Up 12 Years
Outgoing ABA Executive Director Robert Stein Looks Back on a Busy Tenure
Posted Aug 29, 2005 2:01 AM CST
By James Podgers
Robert A. Stein has announced that he will end his 12-year run as the ABA’s executive director and chief operating officer on Aug. 31, 2006.
But Stein says he has no intention of using the coming year as an extended farewell tour. “I don’t view the coming year as any different” than the 11 that came before it, Stein says.
Even if Stein were inclined in that direction, the management needs of the 400,000-plus-member ABA don’t afford that kind of luxury during an era when many such organizations are losing members.
“The big challenge has been membership,” Stein says. “People are joining groups less now than in the past, so it’s a challenge to maintain and build membership.”
But Stein is proud that the ABA has managed to buck that trend during his tenure, primarily by emphasizing the value of membership through products, services and educational opportunities. ABA members numbered in the mid-300,00s when Stein arrived from the University of Minnesota, where he had served as law school dean. Membership currently is just over 405,000.
A major membership initiative is in the planning stages. President Robert J. Grey Jr. of Richmond, Va., says he would like the association to set a target of 500,000 members by 2010.
The ABA is emphasizing membership diversity as well as numbers. Stein was executive director for the association’s first two women presidents: Roberta Cooper Ramo of Albuquerque, N.M., who served in 1995-96, and Martha W. Barnett of Tallahassee, Fla., who served in 2000-01. Karen J. Mathis of Denver is in line to become president in August 2006. Grey and his immediate predecessor, Dennis W. Archer of Detroit, are the first African-Americans to serve as ABA president.
The first Hispanic officer of the ABA is Stephen N. Zack of Miami, who chairs the House of Delegates. Armando Lasa-Ferrer of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, will become the ABA’s second Hispanic officer when he becomes secretary in August.
Managing growth while keeping budgets reined in has been an ongoing challenge facing the ABA staff and member leadership, Stein says. He notes that the two dues increases approved by the House during his tenure were fewer than might have been expected. But the association’s continuing financial stability will depend in large part on maintaining membership growth, he says, while also seeking to develop nondues revenue sources.
Meanwhile, Stein says, the ABA has emphasized the use of technology to communicate effectively with members. Those efforts hit a bump in 2003, when a multimillion-dollar unauthorized cost overrun in a major technology-systems-upgrade project was identified. Stein and other ABA leaders implemented administrative policy changes in response to the problem, and he says the overall initiative has produced major improvements.
The ABA has become a key international player during Stein’s tenure. The Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative, which supports development of legal systems in emerging democracies of the former Soviet bloc, has seen steady growth. Also, the ABA has created initiatives for Africa, Asia and Latin America. The ABA Center for Human Rights was launched in 2001.
“What happens in faraway places does affect our lives as lawyers,” Stein says. A key part of the ABA’s mission, he says, “is to advance the rule of law around the world.”
The search process for selecting Stein’s successor is expected to be announced in August during the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago. Stein says it is likely that person will be named before his tenure is up. And then, just maybe, Stein might finally put his feet up and reflect on what a momentous 12 years it’s been.