President's Message

The Power of Collaboration

Joint efforts from ABA and community at large will help accomplish greater good

Posted Oct 1, 2007 11:05 AM CDT
By William H. Neukom

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William H. Neukom

William H. Neukom. Photo by Paul Berg

The American Bar Association is an en­during institution. Guided by a set of lasting principles, this association has adapted to a rapidly changing world. Consider the policies the ABA adopted at the annual meeting in August. We voted to study ways to protect U.S. attorneys’ work from improper political influence. We also voted to discourage the govern­ment’s use of the state-secrets priv­ilege to needlessly curtail people’s right to a fair trial. And we sent the clear message that torture is not a lawful or effective means of obtaining information that might protect us from terrorism.

We must continue to learn about new challenges and opportunities, and how to apply our principles to them. I invite you to share your ideas about how to improve the ABA member experience and the ABA’s work. Let me offer some lessons I have learned that will inform this bar year.

Management and Structure

We have not re-examined our mission and goals, and whether we manage the ABA according to them, in many years. Surely we should regularly ask: Are we doing what we should be doing, and are we making the best use of our resources?

I look forward to working with our executive director, Hank White, to develop an up-to-date strategic plan for the ABA. Goals-based management will make the mem­ber experience more engaging, increase membership and broaden our impact.

Collaboration

Vince Lombardi once said, “Individual commitment to a group effort—that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” The ABA has made some progress with communication and collaboration, but we can do better.

Internally, resisting the “silo” instinct and working together toward common goals will better serve our mem­bers and the public. Externally, we must recognize that our interests and those of other disciplines and professions often overlap. As the Task Force on Attorney-Client Privilege has shown, we can accomplish more when we collaborate with other organizations.

Fighting Discrimination

Invidious discrimination remains a barrier to advancement in our association, our profession and our communities. We have taken steps to mitigate discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities, women, people with mental and physical disabilities and—with a new commission this year—people of differing sexual orientation and gender identity.

To maximize our impact, we must recognize the common ground these communities face. Although discrimination against them manifests itself in different ways—which can lead to distinct strategies—greater coordination of our efforts to fight discrimination would benefit us all. We will bring leaders of these communities together to explore opportunities for collaboration.

Delivering Justice

We must re-evaluate our approach to the challenges we face delivering justice in our communities. Poor people continue to be shut out of our jus­tice system due to inadequate legal aid funding. Special interests seek to buy justice by funding high-priced judicial elec­tions. In its zeal to protect us from terror, our government treads on due process and individual rights.

Lawyers have a responsibility to correct these problems. But imag­ine how much more powerful our efforts to increase legal aid funding would be if a broad cross section of the community joined us in state capitals and our nation’s capital. Imagine how much more effective we would be in purging partisan politics from judicial selection with help from businesspeople, labor leaders, doctors, engineers and other professionals.

Imagine how much more persuasive we collectively would be in restoring civics to the curricula of our children’s schools; its absence threatens the future stability of our nation.

The World Justice Project will leverage the collective strength of colleagues in other fields to address such problems. We have begun reaching out to other disciplines nationally and at the state level. For more information, visit worldjusticeproject.org.

We have important work to do this year. I hope you will help us take a hard look at how to better apply our principles to the important challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

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