Posted Oct 24, 2006 11:21 am CDT
After a demanding year of crises, countless speeches and barnstorming travel that included 22 foreign countries, Hawaii might have seemed like just the kind of relaxing destination where Michael S. Greco could wind down his ABA presidency.
Hardly. If Greco appeared to gain any color in his face as the 2006 ABA Annual Meeting unfolded in Honolulu, it was from the flush of rushing from one event to another rather than the sun on Waikiki Beach.
The annual meeting always climaxes an ABA president’s yearlong term, so Greco’s grueling schedule during the gathering in early August was no surprise.
Nevertheless, the past year has been notable for the rush of events and issues that have barged in on Greco’s agenda, which already was crowded with a number of his own initiatives. His presidential year started, for instance, with Hurricane Katrina and ended amid debate over President Bush’s use of signing statements.
So when Greco of Boston finally took a seat in the Massachusetts bloc of the House of Delegates during his final hours in office, it was an opportunity to savor some of his achievements as ABA president. Key actions were taken, for instance, on three issues that Greco has emphasized throughout his term: legal services to the poor, renewing idealism in the legal profession, and strengthening the rule of law on an international scale.
In an action Greco described as historic, the House of Delegates adopted a policy urging government at the federal, state and territorial levels to assure that poor people have access to legal counsel as a matter of right in civil cases “where basic human needs are at stake, such as those involving shelter, sustenance, safety, health or child custody.” The policy was recommended by the Task Force on Access to Civil Justice, which Greco appointed at the start of his presidential term in August 2005.
Greco and other proponents of the recommendation compared its potential impact to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1963 ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright establishing the principle that individuals are entitled to counsel in criminal cases.
Greco said the policy expresses the principle “that every poor American, like every wealthy American, should have access to a lawyer to protect the fundamental needs of human existence.”
The policy will bolster efforts to help fill the gap between pro bono services by lawyers and the work of legal aid offices that receive federal funding through the Legal Services Corp. The LSC estimates that those offices have to turn away at least a million people a year.
“We have to do something different from what we’ve been doing,” Greco said.
Bolstering Pro Bono
In other action, the house approved several recommendations by the Commission on the Renaissance of Idealism in the Legal Profession, which Greco appointed. One reinforces the ABA’s commitment to pro bono service by lawyers in all practice settings. Another urges law firms and other legal employers to develop strategies to enhance pro bono work by lawyers, and a third calls on law schools to require on-campus recruiters to disclose information about their pro bono policies and activities.
On the international front, the Board of Governors approved the execution of memoranda of understanding between the ABA and its organized bar counterparts in Japan and Russia. A similar agreement was reached earlier this year with a lawyers group in China. The agreements will help foreign lawyers, especially in China and Russia, tap into expertise that the ABA has developed working on rule of law projects in central Europe and Eurasia, Africa, Asia and Latin America. For U.S. lawyers, closer cooperation with foreign counterparts will create opportunities to develop knowledge and skills to the benefit of clients doing business overseas.
“Economic benefit is a two-way street,” Greco noted.