Posted Sep 01, 2011 08:50 am CDT
I begin by thanking you for entrusting me with this great privilege and responsibility of representing you, our members, as well as our entire profession. The operative term is representing, because that is what we do every day in our practice of law. Whether our client is an individual, a company or a government agency, our calling is to represent others. And that’s how I see my role as ABA president.
Having spent 40 years as a practicing lawyer, I have a good understanding of what lawyers face in today’s difficult economy. It is harder to provide the volunteer efforts that have long characterized our profession and association. We must persevere, however, because volunteer ism is a critical aspect of our profession. It is in our DNA.
Today, we face a challenge we could not have imagined just a few years ago. Due mainly to budget pressures faced by governments at all levels, our courts are running out of money. Our challenge is to reverse court underfunding in this country. America’s lawyers and the ABA must take the lead in fixing this problem. And we have to do this at the same time we fight to preserve funding for the Legal Services Corp., which is also under severe attack.
Our Task Force on Preservation of the Justice System has been studying how our state courts are coping with inadequate funding. Severe cuts have caused state and local governments to close courts, delay trials, lay off personnel, furlough judges and take other extreme measures.
The painful truth is that one of the three branches of our government is now at real risk. Think about it in these terms: Would we take the police off the street for a day? Would we shut the military down for a day, or close a hospital one day a week? Shutting our courthouse doors poses the same types of dangers. Preserving our justice system must be a national priority. We don’t want to regret that we did not do everything in our power to counter this fundamental threat to our constitutional democracy.
Another priority for this ABA year will be to bring more diversity into the profession, and into association leadership. It is critical that we reflect the society in which we live, and ensure that all lawyers are welcome and have a seat at the table. Diversity enhances us individually, as a profession and as an association.
In my travels across the country this past year, I was impressed by the volunteer efforts of lawyers in pro bono and public service. We work every day to help veterans, domestic violence victims, natural disaster victims, those who need legal assistance to resolve housing and child custody disputes, and so many others in need.
Take a moment and turn to the back of this magazine. You will see highlights of lawyers volunteering in local communities and around the world. You can take pride in your fellow lawyers being recognized and respected for “doing good.” Please send us your action photos of volunteer lawyers in your community, bar association or nonprofit organization. We want to showcase the invaluable, voluntary contributions of time and talent by members of our profession.
The ABA is the only bar association with sufficient membership and resources to be effective on Capitol Hill on issues of critical importance to the profession and the rule of law. Our Governmental Affairs Office serves as the eyes, ears and voice of the profession on a daily basis. The ABA has eight full-time, nonpartisan representatives walking the halls of Congress, defending our profession. On ABA Day in Washington, volunteer members from around the country join our professional staff to visit members of Congress. The entire profession benefits from our advocacy and our presence on Capitol Hill.
I look forward to meeting as many of you as I can during this 2012 ABA year and thanking you personally for all you do as lawyers—for our association, for our profession and, most importantly, for our great nation.