President's Message

Sharpening Our Focus

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Bill Neukom.
Photo by Kevin Cruff

Nearly all of the American Bar Associ­ation’s substantive goals contribute to advancing the rule of law in some way. From improving the justice system, ex­panding access to justice and preserving judicial independence to assuring lawyers’ competence, ethics and professionalism, the association works on many fronts to strengthen the rule of law.

This year, we have sharpened our focus. By launching the World Justice Project we have made the rule of law the highest priority not only for American lawyers, but for members of various disciplines from around the world. Every­body in our communities is a stakeholder in the rule of law. Leaders of various disciplines cannot accomplish as much in capricious, lawless communities. Multiple disciplines working together can do far more for justice than lawyers and judges can alone.

By bringing people together—as we did in July at the World Justice Forum in Vienna, Austria (see “A Vienna Conver­gence”), where more than 500 people from 15 disciplines and 95 countries gathered to create regional, multidisciplinary programs to advance the rule of law—we have demonstrated the value of a multilateral, multidisciplinary approach.

At the forum, we unveiled the project’s Rule of Law Index, which has the potential to revolutionize the way governments and civil society around the world approach rule of law reform. This year we implemented a pilot test of the index in Argentina, Australia, Chile, Columbia, India, Nigeria, Spain, Sweden and the Uni­ted States, and the project plans to run the index in 100 countries within the next three years.


Dozens of other indices measure aspects of the rule of law—competitiveness or human rights, for example—but the Rule of Law Index is the first to assess comprehensively the extent to which countries adhere to the rule of law. The index examines, for example, whether a nation’s laws are fairly and efficiently enforced, whether they protect the security of people and property, and whether they provide an effective remedy for violations of fundamental rights.

The breadth and detail of the Rule of Law Index will allow leaders in government and civil society to make informed decisions about where and how to invest scarce resources to advance the rule of law in their communities.

Forum participants designed collaborative programs to strengthen aspects of the rule of law in their communities, and the project will provide seed money to launch the programs.

At the next World Justice Forum, participants will report on their programs, review fresh data about rule of law adher­ence in a larger group of coun­tries (as many as 50), and pro­pose programs for the next year. Some programs from the first round will be terminated, some will be extended and some new programs will be launched.

The project has harnessed the power of multidisciplinary collaboration and comprehensive data collection to advance the rule of law in more strategic and creative ways by means of concrete programs with measurable results.

We still have much work to do to realize the project’s full potential, but our first forum and index report show that our approach is sound. In the coming year, we will strengthen our relationships with organizations representing other disciplines by inviting them to participate in the governance of the project as an independent entity.

The ABA and the legal profession can be proud that we founded the project—and even prouder that, as a result, leaders from a variety of disciplines have made strengthening the rule of law a top priority.

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