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Growth Spurt

Record number of bar reps take part in ABA Day lobbying event in Washington

Posted Jun 1, 2008 8:00 AM CDT
By Rhonda McMillion

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Stephen Zack.
Photo by Michael Dehoog

True to form for a 12-year-old, the ABA’s annual lobbying blitz on Capitol Hill keeps on growing.

ABA Day in Washington, D.C., which became a two-day event soon after it was launched in 1997, was extended to three days this year. Even more important, the April 15-17 event drew a record-setting 350 bar leaders from around the United States to urge congressional action on issues of importance to the legal profession and the public.

Participants in the lobbying effort “made it clear that the rule of law begins with access to the justice system,” says Stephen N. Zack of Miami, who chaired the ABA Day planning committee for 2007 and 2008. More specifically, he says, “the record number of participants delivered a strong message in support of the Legal Services Corp. and attorney-client privilege.”

JOINT SUPPORT FOR LSC

Led by the ABA, the organized bar has conducted an ongoing effort for more than two decades in support of adequate congressional funding for the LSC, which often has been targeted for cuts. The LSC channels federal funds to local entities providing free civil legal services to the poor.

But this was the first time that bars from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and two territories signed a joint letter urging Congress to increase LSC funding.

The bars are urging Congress to increase LSC funding from its current level of $350.5 million to $471 million, the amount requested by the corporation’s board of directors. But even that amount isn’t enough to bridge the gap between the legal needs of the poor and the ability to meet them through the combined resources of legal services offices, bar programs and pro bono efforts by lawyers. And ABA Day participants emphasized to members of Congress that the rising flood of mortgage foreclosures around the country is adding to the number of Americans eligible for LSC-funded legal services—already estimated at 50 million.

This year’s other priority issue—protecting the attorney-client privilege—is of more recent vintage, at least in its current manifestation.

New policies implemented in recent years by the Justice Department and other federal agencies pressure companies facing possible criminal indictments to waive their privileges as a condition for receiving cooperation credits. The ABA, along with a coali­­­tion of businesses and other groups, is urging Congress to reverse these policies and to protect employees from federal regulations that compromise their rights in the course of corporate investigations. In par­ticular, ABA Day participants expressed support for the proposed Attorney-Client Privilege Protection Act.

ABA Day in Washington is co-sponsored by the Section Officers Conference, the Young Lawyers Division, the National Conference of Bar Presidents and the National Association of Bar Executives. The ABA Governmental Affairs Office coordinates the event.

This year, ABA Day included a lobbying workshop featuring Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and a keynote speech by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C.

The ABA honored Sens. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., Arlen Specter, R-Pa., Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., and Reps. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., and Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-Va., for their efforts to improve the American justice system. Grassroots advocacy honors went to the state bars of Wisconsin and South Dakota; G. Nicholas Casey Jr. of Charleston, W.Va., a member of the ABA Standing Com­mittee on Governmental Affairs; and Florida Bar Foun­da­tion President Bruce B. Blackwell of Orlando, Fla.


This column is written by the ABA Governmental Affairs Office and discusses advocacy efforts by the ABA relating to issues being addressed by Congress and the executive branch of the federal government.

Rhonda McMillion is editor of Washington Letter, an ABA Governmental Affairs Office publication.

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