President's Message

Upward and Onward: ABA Initiatives Continue to Educate and Inspire

Posted Aug 1, 2012 4:00 AM CDT
By Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III

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Prior to my ABA presidency, I was privileged to attend the 20th anniversary of the ABA’s Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project, which represents thousands of detained immigrants seeking to stay in this country.

In Harlingen, Texas, I had an awakening, a defining experience in my professional career. A young man seeking asylum spoke frankly to me about the ProBAR lawyer volunteers. He said, “You must understand that for us, these men and women are not lawyers; they are angels.” His words crystallized the essence of volunteer service that characterizes the ABA and the organized bar.

Time and time again as president, I have been reminded that it is a privilege to be a lawyer and a member of the ABA. Our association accomplishments have strengthened our profession, advanced the rule of law and enhanced access to justice through volunteer service and leadership.

As my term draws to a close, it is timely to reflect on all we have achieved together. Our efforts to awaken the legal profession, legislators and the broader public through a proactive advocacy campaign about the ongoing underfunding crisis in our courts continued. We co-hosted a national symposium and a general counsel summit. We reached out to new partners, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to enhance our efforts to preserve the justice system. We spoke at every opportunity, authored more than 50 op-eds and letters to the editor, created a new website, and developed a tool kit for state bar leaders. Our Law Day theme, “No Courts, No Justice, No Freedom,” effectively carried our message around the country.

But it is not only our courts that are in need. Too many Americans are hurting financially and unable to obtain legal representation. For the first time, we had 50-state participation at ABA Day, our annual lobbying event on Capitol Hill. This year’s effort focused on additional support for the Legal Services Corp., the Violence Against Women Act and the “Intercept Act” for our state courts.

We also sponsored our first-ever National Pro Bono Summit in Washington, D.C., where we explored ways to expand pro bono representation. We highlighted the outstanding volunteerism of lawyers through the new Lawyers Giving Back section of the ABA Journal. Law professors around the country report that they use these pages to teach professionalism to their students.

The ABA further enhanced diversity within the association with more diverse ABA volunteer leaders, and also through our entities. The ABA’s Diversity Plan is more visible on our website. And we have strengthened membership outreach to specialty bars and national bars of color. Our executive director, Jack Rives, serves as staff chief diversity officer. He has appointed three deputies to continue progress toward this goal.

Our sections continued to excel as we worked to serve our members and recruit new ones. Our new CLE Premier Speaker Series, a members-only benefit, has generated more than 3,400 registrants per month. And this year’s Member-Get-a-Member campaign, of the ABA Rewards for Referrals program, has added 4,000 new lawyer members. Our ABA midyear meeting this past February experienced record attendance.

We sustained our strong commitment to our military and veterans, including their families. And I was privileged to visit four of our military service academies to emphasize the ABA’s support for those who defend our freedom.

As president, I visited and delivered remarks in more than 60 cities. These opportunities included visiting state and local bar associations, law schools, legal assistance offices, law firms, rotary clubs and editorial boards, in addition to attending various meetings and programs on behalf of the ABA. I could not have accomplished this without the unwavering love and support of my wife, Joan, and our family, including Miss Brooke and William V. Much appreciation is also due my law firm, Frost Brown Todd LLC, for its generous support, encouragement and 100 percent ABA membership.

Many thanks to our dedicated ABA volunteer leadership, to our executive director and to our outstanding senior management and staff for their dedicated service to the association. I am delighted to be succeeded by Laurel Bellows. Laurel is assured of our collective support for this coming year as she leads the ABA “upward and onward” in FY 2013. Finally, thanks to our membership for the opportunity to serve our association as president. It has been a personal and professional privilege to do so.

Wm. T (Bill) Robinson III, Frost Brown Todd LLC, is a civil litigator and member-in-charge of FBT's office in Florence, Ky., and also has an office with FBT in Cincinnati.

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