Speaking as One
On Aug. 21, 1878, a small group of lawyers meeting in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., dreamed the profession could come together and speak with one voice, so they established the American Bar Association. For more than a century, lawyers have found a shelter and grown stronger because of the ABA.
This year, we have worked hard to help lawyers and underserved clients weather the tough economy. We have launched a comprehensive review of professional ethics to account for dramatic changes in the practice of law due to technology and globalization. We have redoubled our governmental advocacy for our independent profession and access to justice. We have promoted diversity so we can better serve our clients and support justice. And we have expanded our membership efforts so we can be a stronger national voice and resource for the profession.
The ABA Commission on the Impact of the Economic Crisis on the Profession and Legal Needs has focused on timely and important issues. Among them is the need to provide relief for law students and recent law school graduates burdened with high educational debt and struggling with unemployment or underemployment. The ABA is supporting legislative proposals that would raise the cap on federal Stafford loans, incorporate bar study loans into the definition of an educational loan, and permit retroactive borrowing from the federal government to pay back private student loans.
The commission has also addressed unmet legal needs exacerbated by the economic crisis. Its many initiatives include the Fund for Justice and Education Project Fellows Program, which provides volunteer assistance from recent law school graduates on ABA public service projects. Visit abanet.org/economicrecovery to learn about all of the association’s recession recovery resources for lawyers.
Another effort the ABA began this year is an assessment of the way lawyers are governed as we lead the profession into the future. The impact of globalization and technology compelled my creation of the Commission on Ethics 20/20, which is reviewing the Model Rules of Professional Conduct in this light. The commission is publicizing its efforts throughout the bar, and it regularly solicits comments and posts material at abanet.org/ethics2020. I encourage you to follow and provide input to this important three-year project.
Our thorough system of ethics regulation and enforcement allows our profession to be free from government oversight, which in turn enables us to zealously and independently represent our clients. The ABA has fought diligently this year against federal proposals to regulate lawyers. We prevailed at the district court level “ against the Federal Trade Commission’s “red flags” identity-theft rule, whose application to lawyers was unreasonable. And we worked with Congress to ensure that the proposed consumer financial protection agency does not regulate legal counsel to clients. The ABA’s advocacy on these and many other crucial issues relies on the commitment of our members and staff who shape our ethics and govern mental affairs activities.
As our profession must remain independent, it must also reflect society’s diversity. To expand on the ABA’s ongoing efforts, the Presidential Commission on Diversity has published its comprehensive Next Steps report, with practical ideas to advance diversity for people of color, women, people with disabilities, and people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. To download the report, visit abanet.org/diversity.
While our work in these and many other areas demonstrates the ABA’s value, we must recruit more members to expand our association and enhance the breadth of our voice of the profession. The ABA’s Standing Committee on Membership has worked with a task force to implement the recommendations of 12 legal market segment studies to increase the relevance and value for members and potential members, and it has overseen efforts to revamp our marketing. The Standing Committee on Strategic Communications, led by Bob Clifford and Ed Adams, is overseeing the reorganization and redesign of our website to make information more relevant, easy to find and simple to use. And the House of Delegates adopted significant reductions in dues for solo practitioners, government lawyers, legal services lawyers and judges, which will result in more members from these underrepresented segments of the profession.
As we look forward to Steve Zack’s presidential year beginning Aug. 10, we are delighted to welcome talented new leadership to our professional staff, including executive director Jack Rives, director of communications Alicia Torres and chief financial officer Kathryn Shaw. It has been my pleasure and privilege to serve, and I thank our fabulous staff, volunteers and each of you who have supported our efforts to revitalize the ABA.