Executive Director's Report

Challenges and Accomplishments

Posted Sep 1, 2009 11:00 PM CDT
By Henry F. White Jr.

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Henry F. White Jr.
Photo by Paul Berg

Barring any unforeseen ca­tastrophes in the final weeks of our fiscal year, which ended Aug. 31, the association should post a mod­­est financial surplus. In a year when the challenges of the economy were manifest, that result is a testament to our hardworking volunteer leaders, members and staff.

But the coming year is shap­ing up to be even more chal­lenging fi­nancially, and we have spent much of the last year planning for it.

The coordinated effort of then-President H. Thomas Wells Jr. and President-elect Carolyn Lamm focused enormous attention and energy on our membership efforts—both in the near term and in reconstruction of a solid foundation on which to build longer-term membership growth. Our future will belong to the bold, and their efforts to align the association with the most refined, sophisticated marketing and communication efforts are vitally important.

Our approach to the development of nondues revenues and benefits has also received a useful overhaul this year. I discovered the value of ABA member benefits in a very personal way when I compared my own existing insurance policies of all types to the policies now offered by the American Bar Endowment. In almost every case, I found the premiums charged by the ABE were lower than those I was paying. In the case of one policy, I saved 55 percent—a savings that alone paid for my ABA dues three times over!

In the year just ended, the influence of the ABA with a variety of audiences grew in demonstrable ways.

President Wells visited with almost 20 editorial boards throughout the country and released far more op-ed articles, thanks to the hard work of the Media Relations Department. The sessions of the House of Delegates were webcast live on the ABA’s site for the first time.

At our midyear meeting, more than 2,600 individuals (400 of them overseas) viewed the webcast, which in­­cluded a “State of the State Courts” address by Confer­ence of Chief Justices President Margaret H. Marshall, who is also chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judi­cial Court.

Also included in the webcast was a presentation by Walter Dellinger, former U.S. solicitor general, on Abraham Lincoln’s role as a lawyer, along with robust House debates on a variety of issues of concern to the profession. During the last year, we launched a slate of programs in our Chicago offices featuring ABA authors and other newsmakers. Hundreds of members of the public and the bar attended, and these programs were also made available for viewing online.

The ABA’s influence also grew in the corridors of power in Washington. The Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary’s comprehensive reviews of can­di­dates for the federal bench are again being conduct­ed before nominations—other than those for the U.S. Supreme Court—are announced. This is a return to the practice that has been the norm since the reviews were first conducted by the ABA during the Eisenhower administration.

President Wells convened the first summit on fair and impartial state courts this past year in Charlotte, N.C., once again demonstrating the ABA’s unique role in bringing members of the legal profession together to discuss common issues.

SHELTERING MEMBERS

The ABA also played a role in helping our members weather the economic storm. An Economic Recovery Resources website (abanet.org/economicrecovery), developed by volunteers and staff, put a spotlight on hundreds of resources—both inside and outside the ABA—to help lawyers manage their practices and careers.

A set of four free teleconferences—one of which drew almost 1,600 participants—gave members the tools they need to navigate these troubled economic times. All four sessions are available for download online (abanet.org/cle/recoveryseries). And the ABA launched a new, online legal-job board, which pulls in every legal job posting that can be found from across the Internet (jobs.abanet.org).

To enhance your understanding of all that the ABA produces, all association members who log on to our website starting in October will be able to review my monthly report to the Board of Governors. This report discusses all ABA activities in a given month, as well as our current finances. I’ve been sharing it widely among our volunteer leaders in recent months, and the remark

I’ve heard most frequently has been: “I didn’t realize the ABA did so much.”

While economic conditions remain challenging, I am optimistic about our 2010 fiscal year. I and my colleagues on staff are intently focused on being careful stewards of the revenues our members provide for the association’s operations. Our goal is to ensure that all our members have the tools and opportunities they need to become better lawyers.

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