Standing up for our principles is all part of a year’s work
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s words come to mind as I conclude my term as president of the American Bar Association: “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
Fighting for what is right is paramount. Building consensus along the way can make all the difference. That’s what lawyers do. We are advocates. Advocates for our clients, but we must also be advocates for the principles that unite us as a profession and a nation. This year presented opportunities to stand up for those principles.
When the integrity and legitimacy of our judiciary was attacked, we spoke out and offered educational resources at ambar.org/ProtectOurJudiciary.
When funding for the Legal Services Corporation was threatened with elimination, we mobilized supporters with social-media tools like DefendLegalAid.org.
When tensions between law enforcement and communities boiled over, we produced resources for bar associations to foster dialogue at ambar.org/PublicTrust.
When the Department of Education changed the rules on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, pulling the rug out from under dedicated public service lawyers, we fought back and filed a lawsuit against the government.
A top priority was to fight for military veterans who fought to preserve our rule of law. Legal problems such as evictions, child-custody disputes and credit trouble hit veterans particularly hard. Lawyers can help and change lives in the process.
The ABA Veterans Legal Services Initiative, led by 20 experts, worked creatively to ensure that veterans receive the legal assistance they deserve. Legal software developer CuroLegal, with support from ARAG legal insurance, developed a free online legal needs checklist for veterans.
The initiative also received significant support from the Jones Day law firm to develop VetLex, a comprehensive database to facilitate referrals to pro bono and low bono lawyers for veterans with legal needs. Our veterans initiative worked to promote medical-legal partnerships to provide legal assistance in VA medical clinics. Programs are now running in 17 states, up 55 percent in just one year.
We worked to develop a certification of law specialty in veterans legal issues to help with benefits claims. One has been launched at the William & Mary Law School’s Puller Veterans Benefits Clinic. Law school clinics are helping bar associations and other schools start new clinics. And the initiative produced CLE programs on veterans treatment courts and other issues involving veterans’ legal needs.
The ABA House of Delegates adopted policy urging lawmakers to collaborate with lawyers to remove legal barriers to veterans’ access to assistance. At the ABA’s annual grass-roots lobbying event in Washington, lawyers advocated for legislation authorizing improved access to justice for homeless veterans. And organizations throughout the country held about 150 pro bono events providing legal services for veterans as a part of this year’s Celebration of Pro Bono. Our fight for veterans will continue next year. I invite you to work with us. Learn more at ambar.org/veterans.
This year we also fought on behalf of solo and small firm lawyers who want to spend more time practicing law and less time handling administrative burdens. We created ABA Blueprint (abablueprint.com), a one-stop shop that provides an online suite of law practice management services, from billing assistance to technology solutions to virtual assistants, as well as expanded insurance offerings, all at steep discounts for ABA members.
After a successful Law Day celebration of the 14th Amendment, joined by 35 governors, the president and the chief justice, we advocated for the disabled to enjoy the rights extended by the amendment.
We spoke truth to power about due process as the immigration executive orders were issued, and when public defenders were so overworked they could not provide an adequate defense. In other words, we remained true to our values.
Having so many lawyers joining with us was uplifting and gratifying. I appreciated your input and advice. After our Annual Meeting in New York (and do not miss it, we have great things planned), our new president will be Hilarie Bass, who I know will continue advocating for access to justice and other important issues.
In the future I know I can count on you. Together, we will keep fighting for our profession, for the rule of law, for our judiciary and our justice system. It’s up to us—lawyers—to make that happen. It always has been. And it always will be. Thank you for the privilege of serving as your ABA President.
This article appeared in the August 2017 issue of the
This article appeared in the August 2017 issue of theABA Journal with the headline “Fighting the Good Fight: Standing up for our principles is all part of a year’s work.”