Midyear Meeting

ABA ‘will bend the moral arc towards justice,’ President Bob Carlson says

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Photo of Bob Carlson courtesy of ABA Media Relations

The ABA sets the gold standard for the American legal profession, ABA President Bob Carlson told the ABA House of Delegates at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Las Vegas—and it will never stop championing due process and the rule of law.

Carlson, a shareholder at Corette Black Carlson & Mickelson in Butte, Montana, said the ABA’s forte is its united voice for American lawyers—even if sometimes the association is “a very large, raucous family.” Even lawyers who aren’t members are touched in some way by the ABA, he said, via law school accreditation, the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the advocacy work of the ABA Governmental Affairs Office or membership in the bar groups with delegates in the House.

“We share values as lawyers no matter where we’re from, no matter what kind of law we work in or what our politics may be,” he said.

Politics was a theme in Carlson’s speech, starting with a reference to the government shutdown that ended Jan. 25. He thanked the government employees who went without pay, particularly those in public safety roles who worked without pay for more than a month, and he urged Congress and President Donald Trump to prevent another shutdown.

“Failure to fund our federal courts and institutions of justice is an attack on due process and the rule of law,” he said to applause.

Carlson touted the ABA’s work on issues relating to the courts and the rule of law, particularly in immigration. He also approvingly quoted Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who said in November that we do not—as Trump had suggested—have “Obama judges or Trump judges,” but a dedicated group of judges doing their best to dispense justice.

“At times, it seems that compromise is beyond reach, and our great experiment in democracy will fail. But our institutions have helped us weather political scandal and extremism,” he said. “In the end, the rule of law has prevailed.”

Carlson also touted several of the ABA’s initiatives—first and foremost, pro bono work. Public service is crucial, he said, and the ABA offers many opportunities to provide pro bono, including the Disaster Legal Services Program—a project of the Young Lawyers Division—Pro Bono Week and the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service.

Another initiative that got a mention is the ABA’s Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession, an attempt to address the consistently high rates of mental health and substance abuse problems in the profession.

Carlson urged the audience to take advantage of resources the ABA offers and raise awareness of the problem because “we cannot afford to lose this battle.”

Carlson also paid tribute to John Bouma, a member of the House of Delegates who died in January. Bouma served as chair of the Snell & Wilmer law firm for 32 years.

Carlson closed by promising that the ABA will always speak out when lawyers are under attack.

“It will do this from a position of strength, bolstered by the work done in this House,” he said. “We will bend the moral arc towards justice.”

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