President’s Message

Serving the Profession: The ABA fights for lawyers, legal rights and a better system of justice

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Photo of Hilarie Bass courtesy of the Office of the President

In meetings with lawyers around the country, a question I often hear is: “What does the ABA do for me?”

My answer every time: More than you realize. Here are some recent examples.

In early January, U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued a revised directive regarding searches of lawyers’ laptops and other electronic devices at borders that adopts several key ABA-requested reforms. The change came in response to the ABA’s meetings and negotiations with senior Department of Homeland Security officials to request revisions of the standards that we viewed as a potential threat to attorney-client privilege. While not all of our proposals were adopted, and more needs to be done, the new directive is a clear improvement over prior policy.

This is just one recent example of our hard work to protect the legal profession. ABA lobbyists continually work to limit regulations and laws that could impede the ability of lawyers to do our jobs or represent our clients. And, like our work on border searches of laptops, we are persistent in challenging rules that undermine the profession’s independence and the lawyer-client relationship.

The ABA was an active participant during the debate in Washington, D.C. regarding the tax package passed last December. Our efforts ensured that law firms would not be forced to use the unfair accrual accounting system—paying tax on phantom income that had yet to be received and might never be paid. At the same time, we ensured law firms were included in the lower tax rates that other professional services received.

The ABA also stands up for lawyers who have devoted themselves to public service. When the Department of Education reneged on its commitments to public service lawyers who had qualified for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and were meeting their obligations under the program for years, the ABA sued. The case is still pending in the courts, but the ABA is determined to do its utmost to assist the best and brightest young people who are working for the public good.

The ABA also works hard to uphold the values of our profession. We have recently spoken out to defend the independence of the judiciary when the judicial system and individual judges were disparaged. While criticism of judicial decisions is a constitutionally protected right of every American, we have stressed that judges should not be attacked or diminished by another branch of government just because they do not agree with a ruling.

Ensuring that the federal judiciary is staffed with highly qualified judges benefits everyone in the legal system. For 65 years, the ABA’s independent Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary has conducted a comprehensive and nonpartisan evaluation that rates the qualifications of every federal judicial nominee based on integrity, competence and temperament. By providing this important information to decision-makers, the ABA has helped make the judiciary stronger.

Our system of justice and the health of our profession also depend on an inclusive legal profession. But we know the law is often a challenging place for lawyers of color, disabled lawyers, LGBT lawyers and female lawyers. So, we continue our fight for a truly inclusive profession. In fact, diversity and inclusion is one of the ABA’s four core goals. In 2016, our House of Delegates urged businesses to direct more legal services to diverse attorneys. More than 70 major corporations have signed on to this pledge, including Walmart, Facebook, Microsoft and McDonald’s.

Our recent successes have also included the restoration of funding to the Legal Services Corporation after the current administration proposed the program’s elimination. We brought hundreds of lawyers to Washington to visit their representatives and advocate for the program, which provides legal representation to hundreds of thousands of low-income Americans. We also delivered 20,000 personalized messages on the value of LSC written by a cross-section of Americans. This award-winning grassroots campaign made a huge impact on the members of Congress who received them.

This is just a small sample of the ABA’s recent accomplishments. We have much more work ahead, and we will continually strive to represent our more than 400,000 members, our profession and our justice system. I hope you will join us on this mission.

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

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