Passing the Gavel, Keeping Our Purpose

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As my presidency of the American Bar Association comes to an end, and as I prepare to pass the gavel to Michael S. Greco at our annual meeting in Chicago, I want to share what a privilege it has been to represent our association and the legal profession throughout the country and around the globe. In events large and small, I am reminded of what an honor it is to be a lawyer and of the responsibility we bear to our country’s justice system, par­ticularly to our courts and juries.

At the beginning of my presidency, I undertook as my key initiative improving our jury system and thereby strengthening our system of justice.

As officers of the court, it is our obligation to be vigilant in protecting and bettering American justice. In doing so, we serve our country while promoting and serving our profession’s best interests.

Serving justice and the legal profession of course extends beyond the jury system. Now more so than ever, our justice system is in need of our support. Proposals abound that threaten a fair, impartial judiciary that is free of manipulation and intimidation.

There have been suggestions to create an inspector general’s office that would subject federal judges to closed-door inquiries from investigators reporting to Congress. There have also been numerous attempts to declare important topics off-limits to federal court scrutiny.

Some view these attacks as merely political weapons that score points on the left and right with narrow con­stit­uencies. In these skirmishes, however, it is our country that is diminished–for the gain of a few. When the next crisis besets us, will we have the collective respect for our courts that allowed us to move forward through such painful chapters as school desegregation, Watergate and the 2000 election?

I am proud that as a profession, we have been the voice in support of our courts, our judiciary and constitutionally protected separation of powers. Throughout the country, the organized bar has been a constant defender of our courts and a barrier against the erosion of their independence, the very foundation of the United States, because the independence of our courts is vital to the independence of our profession.

Protecting Attorney-Client Privilege

This very issue of independence is at the heart of what we do and what it means to be a lawyer. Unfortu­nately, recent years have seen efforts to circumscribe our profession’s independence that stem from the notion that lawyers are unwilling or unable to govern themselves. This is not the case.

It is in our professional best interest, and in the best interest of our profession’s future, that we engage in meaningful work to maintain our professional independence, which is the only means by which we gain and hold the public’s trust.

A key component of our trust covenant with the public is the attorney-client privilege. In October, I appointed a task force to examine the privilege because the protection of communications between client and lawyer is a bedrock principle of our justice system and is among the most vital characteristics of our professional independence and integrity. I am pleased that, in June, the task force released its report, which will come to the association’s House of Delegates for debate at this year’s annual meeting.

As members of the American Bar Association, it is our responsibility to ensure that the voice of the legal profession is heard and is a part of any national discussion involving issues that touch on the law and the rights of United States citizens, to initiate and support innovative ways to better our justice system, and to serve as guardians of our courts.

I thank you for your unstinting support in all of these efforts. I’m honored to have served as your president this past year, and I’m honored to have had the opportunity to lead our association and stand with you in our profession’s most important work: defending liberty and pursuing justice.

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