Report from Governmental Affairs

ABA lobbying efforts are an important member service

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Illustration of people jumping across a gap using the scales of justice as a bridge


One of the most valuable benefits enjoyed by every member of the American Bar Association—and indirectly, by every attorney in America—is the ABA’s advocacy on their behalf in Washington, D.C. On many different fronts, the ABA works hard with its allies to preserve the independence of the legal profession and safeguard the ability of attorneys and law firms to practice law and represent their clients. Over the years, these efforts have included:

Defending the attorney-client privilege. Working in close cooperation with a broad coalition of legal and business groups, the ABA has helped preserve the attorney-client privilege in numerous areas.

One important success entailed persuading U.S. Customs and Border Protection to improve its border search policy to better protect privileged client information on attorney laptops and cellphones.

The ABA also helped convince the Justice Department, Securities and Exchange Commission, U.S. Sentencing Commission and other federal agencies to reverse or greatly improve their harmful policies requiring companies to waive attorney-client privilege and work-product protections to receive full cooperation credit during investigations.

Preventing federal agency regulation of the legal profession. The ABA and its state and local bar allies successfully helped defeat or modify key legislative and regulatory proposals that would undermine the courts’ primary authority to regulate attorneys engaged in the practice of law.

We convinced Congress to exempt the vast majority of practicing attorneys from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s broad regulatory authority under the Dodd-Frank Act; successfully fought to exempt attorneys from the Federal Trade Commission’s costly “Red Flags” identity theft remediation rule for “creditors”; and helped persuade the CFPB to withdraw a proposal that would impose special due diligence litigation requirements just on creditor attorneys.

Working to obtain tax relief for attorneys and law firms. Over the years, we also won hard-fought victories on several key tax issues affecting the legal profession.

We helped convince Congress to reject mandatory accrual accounting proposals that would have required many law firms to pay taxes on work in progress, accounts receivable and other “phantom income” long before it is received from clients. These proposals would have caused serious financial hardship to many attorneys and law firms throughout the country.

Defending law students and young attorneys. The ABA continues to push the federal government to ease the student loan debt burden on many young attorneys.

After helping create the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which promises student debt forgiveness in exchange for work in public service jobs, the ABA has vigorously opposed all attempts to cut or repeal the program for law school graduates. We also successfully sued the U.S. Department of Education to end its use of a secret eligibility test to exclude attorneys from many nonprofit jobs.

Helping the legal profession navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. When COVID-19 response efforts first started across the country in 2020, the ABA contacted the federal agency issuing guidance to help states and localities identify essential critical infrastructure workers. In its outreach to the agency, the ABA requested that if a national stay-at-home order became necessary, legal services be included in the definition of “essential services” so attorneys and law firms could continue to help individuals, families and businesses address unexpected legal challenges caused by the pandemic.

The ABA asked Congress to expand the Paycheck Protection Program and other economic relief to include all 501(c)(6) organizations, including nonprofit associations such as the ABA and state and local bar associations. The result? In December, then-President Donald Trump signed a coronavirus relief bill into law that makes many bar associations eligible for the PPP.

The ABA also successfully advocated for temporary suspension of federal student loan repayment obligations for borrowers, during which time interest does not accrue and borrowers get credit as if they had made the payments, including for the purposes of the PSLF program. Although relief helps, student debt continues to be of paramount concern to many in the legal community. Therefore, the ABA is working with Congress, agencies, affected attorneys and other professionals to identify potential solutions and the best ways to influence policymakers.

Together with its allies, the ABA will keep working to ensure the legal profession’s voice is heard on these and many other issues of critical importance to the practice of law. Effective advocacy remains an integral part of the ABA’s mission to serve our legal profession and a valuable benefit to ABA members.

This report is written by the ABA's Governmental Affairs Office and discusses advocacy efforts by the ABA.

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