Leaving on a High Note
Over the Past 12 Years, the ABA Has Grown in Membership, Diversity and Relevance
Posted Aug 12, 2006 2:03 PM CDT
By Robert A. Stein
After 12 years as executive director and chief operating officer of the American Bar Association, I have decided to step down from this position at the end of this bar year later this month. In this, the last of my 128 ABA Journal columns, I would like to review some of the accomplishments of the ABA during the past 12 years.
I have had the good fortune of serving at a time of great growth and important milestones for the association, and I believe the ABA is well-positioned for further growth and success in the years to come.
Among the several important milestones reached by the ABA during the past 12 years were the election of our first woman president (Roberta Cooper Ramo), our second woman president (Martha W. Barnett), and our third woman president (Karen J. Mathis).
Equally important milestones were the election of our first African-American president (Dennis W. Archer), as well as our second African-American president (Robert J. Grey Jr.).
Also during this period, the association elected its first woman chair of the House of Delegates (Martha W. Barnett), its second woman House chair (Karen J. Mathis), its first African-American House chair (Robert J. Grey Jr.), its first Hispanic House chair (Stephen N. Zack), and its first Hispanic secretary (Armando Lasa-Ferrer). It is clear that the past 12 years have been a period of enormous growth in the diversity of our leadership in the association. This is true throughout the association, as more and more section and committee chairs and staff leadership positions have been filled by persons of color.
I am proud of the new physical facilities that we secured during my time as executive director. During the past 12 years, we have moved our offices into new quarters in both Chicago and Washington, D.C. Many of you have visited our remarkable new headquarters in Chicago. It is a spectacular home for the ABA in every way—from functionality and beauty to location and state-of-the-art communications, and it also provides a convenient connection to an upscale hotel. Similarly, our Washington, D.C., office is housed in a superb, award-winning building that has the distinction of having been designated the international historical building of the year by the Building Owners and Managers Association.
I am very proud of the improvements made in our physical facilities in both cities during the past 12 years, and I believe these facilities will serve the association well for many years to come.
The past 12 years have been a time of growth in the association by many measures. During this time, our total membership moved past the 400,000 level for the first time. Our official membership at the conclusion of the last bar year was 407,244. We have set new all-time record-high totals of membership during this period, and we continue to be the largest professional membership organization in the world. We have not suffered the significant membership decline experienced by many other national professional membership organizations.
I am happy to note that we are on track to set a new all-time record high in total membership in the current association year, which ends on Aug. 31, exceeding the previous record high of 410,700. I am very pleased by the possibility of concluding my service as executive director on such a high note.
Finances and Staff
Our general revenue budget in 1994 was $68 million. In the current year, our general revenue budget is $110 million and all budgets total $180 million. In 1994, ABA permanent reserves totaled $25 million; today, our permanent reserves are at nearly $40 million. In addition, we have an operating fund of $48 million. In each of the past 12 years we have had a surplus of revenues over expenses in our operations—with a surplus of $3.8 million in the past year. I am pleased to note that these increases have been achieved with no growth in our general revenue-funded staff. From September 1997, when we began compiling employment data by source of funding, to the present year, our general revenue-funded staff has decreased by more than 30 positions.
I am very proud of the staff of the ABA. Hardly a week goes by without my receiving a letter, e-mail or phone call complimenting one or more staff members of the ABA for the excellence of their work. Our staff has never been stronger, and the great quality of our staff is one of the achievements for which I am most proud.
One of the areas of greatest development during the past 12 years has been in our international programs. In 1994, the association had only one international legal technical assistance program—what is now known as our Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative. CEELI was then only four years old. Today, we have four regional international legal councils engaged in projects all over the world. In addition to CEELI, the association has ABA-Asia, ABA-Africa and the Latin America and Caribbean Law Initiative Council—all part of our newly established Center for Rule of Law Initiatives. A new ABA Center for Human Rights was established in 2001, and our Section of International Law and other sections carry out programs in many countries throughout the world.
Grants to support our international programs in 1994 were $4.3 million. That figure has multiplied many times over, and in the current year we expect to have total grants supporting our international programs in excess of $30 million. There are now more than 5,000 alumni lawyers who have served as volunteers in our programs in 44 nations. ABA volunteers have trained judges, strengthened bar associations, developed law school curricula, and assisted in drafting constitutions and legislation that have led to democratic change in many nations throughout the world.
Another major development during the past 12 years has been the explosion in the use of technology to serve our members and carry out our work. In 1994, the American Bar Association had no Web site and e-mail was not widely used as a method of communication. In the current year, the association has one of the most powerful Web sites of any nonprofit organization in the world, with more than 1.2 million visits and more than 8 million pages viewed each month. At the current rate of growth, the number of pages viewed will exceed 100 million each year! Electronic communication is increasingly becoming the primary method of communication with our members.
We expect to sell more than $5 million of books and other legal products in our Web Store this year. Our goal is to maintain a Web site recognized as the premier legal Web site in the world.
I believe the association has never been more relevant in representing the lawyers of America than it has been during the past 12 years. It has addressed such profession- defining issues as the growth of multidisciplinary practices, the challenges of multijurisdictional practice, and the difficult tensions between national security and protection of our treasured civil liberties. Through the great work of our volunteers and staff, our thousands of programs are thriving, and the American Bar Association is one of the most recognizable names and organizations in the world, representing the legal profession in this country and throughout the world.
It has been a great honor and privilege to serve as executive director and chief operating officer of the American Bar Association. I look forward to continuing to work with you as an active volunteer in this great association in the years ahead.