President’s Message

Vision of Success: Future of the legal profession requires change the ABA can provide

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Hilarie Bass smiling

Photo of Hilarie Bass courtesy of the office of the president.

The future is upon us and never before has there been a more urgent need for the American Bar Association to lead the way toward change in the profession and a better understanding of the rule of law among our citizens.

As I begin my year as ABA president, my passion for our justice system and connecting individuals with legal services will drive my efforts to bring together a diverse group to tackle the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. We will focus on issues that go to the core of our profession: how we educate law students, how we serve our clients and how we provide access to justice.

One major focus of my term will be examining our legal education system. From analyzing declining bar passage rates to ensuring new lawyers are trained to provide legal services in a technological future, no organization is better equipped for this job than the ABA. We have brought together 10 of the most extraordinary legal innovators and educators to create a new Commission on the Future of Legal Education, which will be led by Patricia White, dean of the University of Miami School of Law. The commission will engage many of the stakeholders in legal education and recommend how to do a better job of educating and testing the competency of future lawyers.

We have the unique ability to bring together the disparate interests under the same tent. We will work collaboratively with bar examiners, law school deans, state bar associations and others to identify the steps needed to create meaningful change.

Another priority is addressing the alarming number of women who leave the legal profession later in their careers. For decades, the number of male and female law school graduates has been roughly equal, but research shows a precipitous drop-off among the most experienced female lawyers. While women comprise 41 percent of lawyers age 40 or older at firms, they make up only 27 percent of lawyers age 50 or older at those firms.

These statistics mean experienced women lawyers are leaving the profession in the prime of their careers, when they should be taking on senior leadership roles. To better understand why these women are leaving and how to reverse that trend, we will launch a groundbreaking initiative, entitled “Achieving Long-Term Careers for Women in the Law.” This project will kick off with a summit in November at Harvard Law School. During 2017 and 2018, we will also conduct multiple research projects with surveys and focus groups analyzing the career trajectories of women lawyers, attrition rates in various practice settings and more.

We will make recommendations for what law firms, corporations and others can do to enhance the prospects for women to reach the highest levels of practice, sustain long-term careers, and eliminate the gender gap that occurs at the senior levels of organizations.

At the same time, we want to focus another important initiative on educating all Americans about the law. With the many alternative sources of information available today, questions often arise about the factual basis for news and political claims. To address this important need, we have launched ABA Legal Fact Check. This service will provide reliable, nonpartisan information to the public and news media addressing a wide range of legal topics from the rule of law to the Constitution.

We have several other exciting initiatives in the works. Whatever new challenges we take on, we remain fervently committed to protecting the rule of law, enhancing access to justice by our citizenry and speaking out when the judiciary is attacked.

In the words of the philosopher Plato that are etched into the façade of the Department of Justice building in Washington, D.C.: “Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens.”

We will approach the challenges ahead with passion in our hearts and souls. I urge all of you to join me on this vital mission.

Follow President Bass on Twitter @ABAPresident or email [email protected].

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