ABA Midyear Meeting

Warm Welcome: ABA leaders tout accomplishments and encourage outreach

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Deborah Enix-Ross

Deborah Enix Ross. (Photo by Kathy Anderson/ABA Journal)

Referencing the “three Cs” that have become a hallmark of her presidency, ABA President Deborah Enix-Ross’ speech to the House of Delegates focused on how members’ work has helped people.

“The legal profession’s values of civics, civility and collaboration must be heard loud and clear in our communities,” said Enix-Ross, senior advisor to the International Dispute Resolution Group at Debevoise & Plimpton.

The House gathered Feb. 6 at the 2023 ABA Midyear Meeting in New Orleans. In January, the association released its first-ever ABA Impact Report, which details how it has helped members use the legal system to advance the profession’s voice for justice in the past year.

Examples Enix-Ross cited in her speech included the ABA’s Poll Worker Esq. initiative, the Cornerstones of Democracy Commission and the ABA South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project, known as ProBAR.

Enix-Ross’ work as ABA president has included collaboration with other bar groups, and she applauded efforts to work together as the country continues to experience “combative polarization.”

She said the work she has seen being done by those groups as well as ABA members energizes her.

“I believe Americans can come together to solve problems, but it’s not always clear how we can do that. So let me suggest that at the ABA, we are doing that in numerous ways,” Enix-Ross said.

“I am greatly encouraged by your bar associations, the ABA Diversity Center and our numerous sections, divisions and forums that work to ensure that our profession is open to all, and that our bar associations are welcoming to all,” said Enix-Ross, who is the second Black woman to serve as an ABA president.

Enix-Ross recognized the work of Jack Rives, executive director of the ABA, who stepped down in March. He was appointed to the position in 2010.

“Saddened as we are to see him go, I am also honored to send him off with a thank-you that words cannot fully express. Jack, we really are grateful for your service,” she said.

Rives thanked the leaders of the association for the trust and confidence they placed in him for almost 13 years.

“This is my 26th and final opportunity to address the members of the House of Delegates,” Rives said. “I’m occasionally asked if it’s hard to leave, if it’s going to be difficult for me to move on. And the answer is yes. Yes, it will be difficult to move on, and that’s because of the people in this room.”

A new nominee

As part of its midyear meeting deliberations, the ABA Nominating Committee selected William R. Bay as the new president-elect nominee. If confirmed by the House at the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting in Denver, Bay’s term as president of the association would follow that of the current president-elect, Mary Smith. She will receive the gavel from Enix-Ross and begin her one-year term as ABA president after the close of the annual meeting in August. Bay would succeed Smith as president at the close of the 2024 annual meeting.

In his acceptance speech, Bay urged the House to recognize that change in the profession is both necessary and a challenge, illustrating the principle with a story about his recent family holidays.

Bay gathered in St. Louis, where he lives, with his wife, adult children, grandchildren and in-laws. It was different than the holidays that he and his wife celebrated when their children were young, Bay noted, because with a new mix of loved ones, customs have changed.

“We are building new traditions that reflect our family’s reality today and will carry us into the future. Let me suggest the same approach as we face the future in our ABA family,” said Bay, a partner at Thompson Coburn and a recent chair of the House of Delegates.

Throughout his time with the ABA, the business litigator has been active with the Young Lawyers Division, the Division for Bar Services and the Litigation Section. Additionally, he co-chaired the ABA Coordinating Group on Practice Forward. Its focus included member concerns regarding the pandemic as well as changes in the profession.

Bay stressed the importance of the ABA being the voice of the profession. According to him, that means the ABA has to be an organization in which members with different political beliefs feel welcome, and everyone has opportunities to provide input on tools and standards for topics including ethics and the rule of law.

“If our organization is to be the home where every member of the profession feels welcome and valued, we are going to have to change,” Bay said. “It means we must simplify and transform to meet the needs of new generations of lawyers who view the profession and our association differently than we do.”

Important work lies ahead, he said.

“But together, we can do this. Let’s welcome everyone home.”

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