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For the second time in a decade, a comprehensive review of the ABA’s governance structure came to a close with that structure essentially unchanged.

The ABA House of Delegates voted in August during the annual meeting to pretty much retain the same governance structure that has been in place since it was last reviewed in 1995. Under governance revisions adopted by the House in 1995–which also were fairly limited–the ABA Constitution was amended to require that the governance structure be reviewed every 10 years.

After a two year review, the ABA’s Commission on Governance submitted recommendations that focused primarily on opening the association leadership structure to a broader range of members. The commission also proposed adjustments to increase section membership in the 547 member House of Delegates, which sets ABA policy; the 37 member Board of Governors, which directs association operations; and the 67 member Nominating Committee, which selects candidates for president and other associationwide offices.

Efforts by the sections to gain more representation on those entities generally have been opposed by the state delegations, which traditionally have held the balance of power in the ABA governance structure.

“We think of the ABA as an open tent,” William H. Neukom of Seattle, chair of the Governance Commission, told the House. “This is a reasoned, good faith effort to advance the ABA, to make it more welcoming and open in creating more paths to leadership.”

The House voted down nearly all of the commission’s 20 recommendations, including proposals for term limits and a ban on members serving in more than one associationwide office. Some proposals actually won majorities of the votes, but they failed to muster the two thirds majorities needed under the ABA Constitution.

Trying Something New

But the aftermath of the 2005 debate on governance may differ significantly from 1995, say some of the key participants in the debate.

“We didn’t have the fractious, bloody fight that we had 10 years ago,” says Hervey P. Levin of Dallas, who chairs the governance committee of the Section Officers Conference.

Instead, Levin says, “there is a realization that business as usual isn’t in the best interest of the ABA.” The Chicago discussions produced “the intangible of people coming together and finding common cause” to think about fundamental changes in how the ABA operates.

In one development, ABA President Michael S. Greco of Boston has appointed an ad hoc committee of the Board of Governors on governmental practices. This group is expected to consider operational issues relating to such things as the association’s budgeting process.

Meanwhile, an informal task force made up of representatives from the Section Officers Conference, the Conference of State Delegates and the National Caucus of State Bar Associations also is forming.

“We want to see if we can remold our thinking and get away from ‘us vs. them,’ ” says Kermit E. Bye, a federal appeals judge in Fargo, N.D., who will represent the Conference of State Delegates on the task force.

The issues that the task force may discuss go beyond the recommendations of the Governance Commission, say Bye and Cheryl I. Niro of Chicago, chair elect of the state bar caucus, who also is a member of the task force.

“The first task of this informal group,” Niro says, “will be to identify issues that are appropriate for continuing discussion. Everyone has the best interests of the health and vibrancy of the association at heart.”

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