President's Message

Community Cohesiveness

Bar associations and other organizations working locally to strengthen justice

Posted Jul 1, 2008 8:00 AM CDT
By William H. Neukom

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William H. Neukom.
Photo by Kevin Gruff

This has been a memorable year for the ABA. We marched on Washington, D.C., to stand up for lawyers, judges and the rule of law in Pakistan. We advanced dozens of bills in Congress to improve the administration of justice and protect people’s rights. We held a diversity summit to encourage more communication and collaboration among the four entities that constitute our Goal IX resource. We launched the World Justice Project, a multinational, multidisciplinary movement to advance the rule of law in the United States and abroad.

But many of our profession’s most noteworthy accomplishments happen at the state and local level. State and local bar associations work tirelessly within their communities to strengthen the rule of law. Dur­ing my travels, I have had the opportunity to learn more about the range of outstanding work being done to strengthen justice. Let me mention three illustrative examples.

The Bar Association of Metropol­itan St. Louis was my host this spring. BAMSL’s leadership and members exemplify the legal profession’s tradition of service. They also understand that advancing justice requires the participation of the broad community, not only lawyers.

St. Louis has a collaborative program between health care professionals and legal aid providers. Clinic staff refer patients to the legal aid program when legal issues contribute to health problems. A patient who suffers from asthma might live in housing contaminated by mold and might need a legal aid lawyer’s help to get the mold removed. Together, doctors and lawyers help patients get legal help that also improves their health. A number of communities have created programs to deliver this sort of medical-legal coordination.

From St. Louis, I went to Memphis, Tenn., where past Pres­ident Shepherd Tate and the Memphis Bar Association demonstrated the power of a unified community. I spoke to the Memphis Rotary Club, in hopes of persuading its members that the rule of law matters to all disciplines, not just lawyers. I learned I was preach­ing to the choir: All segments of the commu­nity, including lawyers, are active in the Memphis Rotary Club, which is recognized as one of the most effective service clubs in the country.

My travels this spring also took me to Minneapolis, where the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and the National Legal Aid and Defend­­er Association held the annual Equal Justice Confer­ence. There I met with bar leaders from the Minnesota, Hennepin County and Ramsey County bar associations. Minnesota’s bar leaders have engaged other community leaders to increase access to justice. They work closely with the supreme court, a bipartisan coalition in the legislature and large corporations to increase funding for legal aid through a combination of state funds, interest on lawyers’ trust accounts and private funds. Their work is another example of how collaboration on local rule of law issues leads to better results.

LAW DAY SPIRIT LIVES ON

State and local bar associations have also embraced the 50th anni­versary of Law Day by organizing a cross section of leaders in their communities to create broader support for rule of law issues. More than 30 state and local bar associations have collaborated to hold or are planning multidisciplinary outreach programs, where representatives of more than 15 disciplines gather to discuss how the rule of law affects us all and how we can work together to strengthen it.

I urge state and local bar leaders to continue to engage their peers from other disciplines and to collaborate on practical programs to strengthen the rule of law in our communities. With broad community participation, we can better address issues that the legal profession has sought to ad­dress for years: insufficient funding for legal services, merit selection of judges and better civics education in our schools, to name a few.

I hope state and local bar leaders have seen the strength of multidisciplinary outreach and will make such meetings part of their annual activities. Most important, I thank them for their commitment and hard work for the rule of law.

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