President's Message

ABA initiatives have made a difference from small communities to Capitol Hill

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Photo of James R. Silkenat by Marc Hauser.

It has been a great honor and privilege to serve as president of the American Bar Association this past year, as we mobilized our profession to work on challenging, timely issues of law and justice.

A main priority was to help resolve a paradox that faces our profession and society—the oversupply of lawyers who need experience and training, and the undersupply of lawyers who serve poor and moderate-income communities. The ABA Legal Access Job Corps Task Force reached out to bar associations, law schools, law firms and others to identify and encourage expansion of programs that jointly address lawyer underemployment and the lack of meaningful access to legal services for populations that are underserved.

The Legal Access Job Corps website provides details on programs nationwide, and includes a brief video created by the task force—called Be the Change—which encourages bar associations and others to adopt programs that enlist new lawyers to expand access to justice. The task force this year also provided grants to expand existing programs and promote new initiatives that employ recently admitted lawyers to serve people of modest means.

The ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education addressed another important set of issues for the profession. Its report, issued earlier this year, calls for changes to law school accreditation to allow for more experimentation and innovation, and expansion of opportunities for delivery of legal services. Acting on a report recommendation, the Task Force on the Financing of Legal Education was formed to examine and make recommendations to reform the cost of legal education for students, the financing of law schools, student loans, educational debt and scholarships.

This year, the ABA also promoted dialogue on two of our society’s most important priorities: ensuring voting rights and curbing gun violence. Our Standing Committee on Election Law held town hall meetings in Arizona, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, providing substance for its paper Dialogues on Election Reform: A Continuing Conversation With the States (PDF). The paper’s nonpartisan approach sets out a variety of views and raises key questions about early voting, voter identification, voter registration, election administration, redistricting and voting technology.

The ABA Standing Committee on Gun Violence held town hall meetings in Philadelphia and St. Paul, Minnesota, to foster solutions to reduce gun casualties, in line with our nation’s Second Amendment jurisprudence. America’s lawyers must be part of our nation’s discussion on solving the problem that has caused so much grief and despair in our communities.

As we work on important national issues, we can also be proud of the ABA’s continuing efforts to defend the independence of the courts and legal profession:

• We mobilized lawyers to fight a proposed provision in the U.S. tax code that would require inequitable, cumbersome and costly changes to the way many law firms bill their clients.

• We persuaded lawmakers to restore funding to critical services of the federal courts.

• We began a dialogue with the U.S. National Security Agency on the need to protect attorney-client communications in light of government surveillance activities.

• And we challenged politicians who attacked lawyers seeking public office because of their legal work on behalf of unpopular clients. We must reject the disturbing message to lawyers that their clients’ past actions or beliefs will stain their careers, especially if they want to serve their country in public office.

As we look forward to the service of incoming ABA President William Hubbard, I am grateful for the hard work and dedication of ABA members and staff to improve our justice system. Together, we will strengthen our profession, while pursuing justice for all.

This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Multi-Tiered Accomplishments: ABA initiatives have made a difference from communities to Capitol Hill.

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