Annual Meeting

'Lawyers Matter,' ABA President Laurel Bellows Tells House of Delegates


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At House of Delegates meeting, outgoing President Robinson
shakes the hand of new ABA President Laurel G. Bellows.
Photo by Kathy Anderson.

Laurel G. Bellows emphasized a theme of “lawyers matter” when she took over as ABA president during the ABA House of Delegates on Monday.

Bellows praised lawyers for promoting fairness and strengthening the rule of law. “We are the first responders when liberty and justice are imperiled,” she said. “Without us, the rule of law is a mere abstraction.”

Sometimes victims are invisible, she said. Sometimes opponents of needed change have too much power. “We are not going to be popular,” she said. “We’re not going to do what’s expedient. We are going to do what’s right.”

Bellows said lawyers can join to fight the horrors of human trafficking, a problem that will be a focus of her yearlong term. In a prior interview with the ABA Journal, Bellows said she finds it shocking that human trafficking doesn’t get more recognition as one of the most serious crime problems facing the United States and the world.

In her speech to the House, Bellows outlined other priorities, including:

• Improving cybersecurity. The ABA will work to strengthen digital security in a way that is consistent with corporate and individual rights. Bellows outlined these unanswered questions: What is the role of private enterprise and government, and how do they relate to each other? What legislation is needed? How must privacy be preserved?

• Preserving justice. Bellows said the justice system must have adequate funding to ensure that it is a coequal branch of government.

• Promoting the importance of civil jury trials. The ABA’s Commission on the American Jury Project will be directed to take the lead on the issue.

• Promoting diversity. No more than 16 percent of equity partners in law firms are women, Bellows said, and women of color continue to leave law firms “in droves.” A model law firm compensation policy could be based on those few firms that are succeeding in attracting and retaining women as equity partners, she said.

• Reviewing the fiscal health of the American Bar Association. Bellows says the review will present a positive opportunity to allocate resources to the ABA’s future needs rather than programming for yesterday’s agenda.

“The one thing we can be certain of is that the American Bar Association will continue to be universally recognized as the leading voice of the legal profession,” Bellows said. “We are lawyers. We change policy. We change laws. We change attitudes and we change lives.”

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