Posted Sep 02, 2009 04:10 am CDT
Oliver Wendell Holmes, father of the late Supreme Court justice, once wrote, “I find the great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.”
Since our founding in 1878, the American Bar Association has outlasted 25 American presidents, survived the Great Depression, overcome two World Wars, and experienced countless ups and downs along the way to become the single largest voluntary professional organization in the world.
Today, our profession faces the most difficult economic environment that many of us have seen in our lifetime. Now more than ever, it is crucial that the ABA provide a clear vision for the future and I am grateful to have the honor of serving as president during this critical time.
Before I discuss the priorities for my presidency, I want to first take this opportunity to thank my predecessor, Tommy Wells, for the outstanding work that he has done in guiding the ABA for the past year. His important work on judicial independence—with his summit on fair and impartial state courts that brought together key representatives of all three branches of state governments to begin the discussion of the issue—is groundbreaking and exemplary, and I have asked him to continue it. Many of the priorities laid out below would not be possible without the exceptional work that he undertook during his productive term.
We need to help lawyers weather the tough economy. Many lawyers within our ranks face an uncertain future. We must provide support and information to help our membership navigate this difficult economic terrain. We recently appointed a Task Force on Financial Markets Regulatory Reform to monitor any legislation proposed to prevent it from happening again and to assist in formulating our association’s views. Moreover, we have launched a Web portal filled with recession recovery resources, online CLE programs, and a job bank to assist those hardest hit by the economic downturn.
Yet, our work is not nearly complete. I have appointed a Commission on the Impact of the Economic Crisis in the Profession that will consider how our economy failed and how to prevent it from happening again. It will also recommend ways the ABA can help lawyers cope with economic distress, assess the impact on legal needs, and decide how else the ABA might help.
We need to review our system of legal governance and ethical regulations to keep up with a changing world. The practice of law is far more global in reach than it was when many of us entered the profession. While the explosion of new technology and its ever- expanding global reach has created a number of valuable opportunities for the legal profession, we must ensure that our current ethics rules and regulatory regime are keeping up with our needs.
Toward this end, I have appointed a Commission on Ethics 20/20 that will perform a thorough review of the impact of globalization and technology, and assess whether our ethics rules and regulatory regime are up to the challenges of a 21st century profession.
We need to increase our advocacy for the profession and for the public. We must ensure that our efforts to advocate for our profession—as well as our work to strengthen the rule of law and expand access to justice in our country—are heard through the halls of Congress and the White House, and in each of the state capitols around our country. The ABA should be at the forefront of advocacy on these issues, and I intend to utilize my years of experience in Washington, D.C., to make sure that the ABA is fully heard.
We need to boost diversity to make our profession better reflect America. To be sure, much has changed in our profession since I stood as one of only 20 women taking the Florida bar exam in 1973. I am keenly aware of the need to promote a diverse profession that reflects the best of our country. With that in mind, I have appointed a Commission on Diversity to work with all existing entities on a project that will make progress on eliminating the glass ceiling that prevents some within our ranks from achieving their own ambitious goals.
We need to draw more lawyers into the ABA so we can be a more effective voice for the profession and the causes that you care about. Now more than ever, we need to deliver the benefits of the ABA to our current and future members. I have already launched the Segment Value Membership Initiative to better understand how to make ABA membership more valuable and affordable to a broader cross section of lawyers. What is clear is that a strong and vibrant membership is the only way to accomplish the ambitious goals that we have set.
Oliver Wendell Holmes’ words are no less true today than they were the day he uttered them. Although the challenges we face are real, the ABA is well-positioned to lead our profession in confronting the trials of today and seeking out the opportunities of tomorrow.