Annual Meeting Report

New ABA President Bass touts lawyers’ role in protecting democracy

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Incoming ABA President Hilarie Bass (center) attends the House of Delegates meeting in New York City. Photo by Len Irish

The American Bar Association’s new president, Hilarie Bass, appeared to be speaking partly to nonmembers at the ABA Annual Meeting when she related her experiences in the organization and touted its ability to make changes that enhance public confidence in the justice system.

The ABA is a powerful organization that can make the justice system more effective, more efficient and more available to every American, Bass said in a speech to the ABA House of Delegates in New York City.

“That is the power of the American Bar Association,” Bass stated.

She recalled her first association experience happened as a third-year associate at Greenberg Traurig in Miami, when a partner entered her office and told her they were going to a Dade County bar luncheon. Bass said it was the last thing she wanted to do, but she went anyway.

“Little did I know at that time that that lunch would start me on the path that led me here today,” said Bass, co-president of Greenberg Traurig. She became ABA president at the end of the House session on Aug. 15, replacing Linda A. Klein.

Bass said the ABA has helped her to live up to the ideals of fighting for justice and creating social change. Through the ABA, she said, she led a group of lawyers traveling to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake to help rebuild the justice system.

“I assure you, every lawyer on that trip understood the value of ABA membership,” she said.


Through bar membership, Bass noted, she has formed friendships, worked on critical issues, obtained leadership opportunities and gained substantive experience.

Bass also emphasized how the ABA and lawyers can make a difference at a time when many are concerned about whether the nation can be a “shining example” to the rest of the world. “But all can agree it is lawyers who must lead the effort to protect our democracy from its challenges,” she said.

She pointed to lawyers stationed in airports who offered free legal assistance to immigrants, to attorneys general who challenge what they believe to be unconstitutional mandates, and to lawyers who have spoken out about the need for an independent judiciary.

“Our democracy functions best when there are lawyers prepared to protect it,” she said.

One new initiative, ABA Legal Fact Check, is designed to counteract alternative news and fake facts, Bass said. When incorrect assertions about the law are being made, ABA Legal Fact Check will post a press release explaining the truth.

Bass also announced a longitudinal study that will examine why women are leaving law practice in huge numbers. Currently, more women than men are in law schools, she pointed out; however, by ages 40 and 50, women compose barely 25 percent of lawyers practicing.

Bass discussed other association initiatives, including:

  • A new focus on how the ABA manages and markets itself. Considerations will include how to provide value to members and how to ensure financial protection for the association.

  • A program to pair bar groups, law firms and in-house counsels with homeless shelters to provide pro bono help to more than 500,000 homeless teens and children.

  • The Commission on the Future of Legal Education will look at issues faced by law schools, including bar exam scores plummeting nationwide.

This article appeared in the October 2017 issue of the ABA Journal with the headline “The Power of the ABA: President Bass touts lawyers' role in protecting democracy"

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