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Wrapping it Up

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A seemingly technical recommendation that the ABA House of Del­egates urge the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to ease rules that restrict from practicing before it lawyers who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents apparently struck a sensitive nerve.

The recommendation by the Sec­tion of International Law triggered sharp debate in the House during its sessions at the 2007 ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco. In the only action that required a head count of the House, delegates voted 238-149 to reject the section’s proposal.

In a report supporting its recommendation, the section maintained that the proposed change in PTO admissions rules for lawyers would affect only about 100 practitioners per year. Essentially, the section’s measure urged the office to lift restrictions to practice that now apply primarily to aliens who are in the United States with only temporary entry visas.

In an environment where national barriers to practicing law are breaking down, the section’s argument that changing the rules for foreign prac­titioners seeking to appear before the PTO will pressure other countries to do the same drew sharp rebukes from opponents.

“This resolution has broader ram­ifications than anything you’ve heard today,” said Scott F. Partridge of Houston, a delegate representing the Section of Science and Tech­nology Law.

The underlying strategy for changing the PTO rules “is a unilateral giveaway rather than rec­ognition of a quid pro quo,” he said. “We’re kidding ourselves if we think a unilateral approach is going to work here.”


H. Thomas Wells Jr. can start warming up now. Wells, a partner at Maynard Cooper & Gale in Birm­ingham, Ala., was officially selected by the House of Delegates to become the association’s president-elect. He will automat­ically become ABA president in August 2008 at the close of the annual meet­ing in New York City. Wells will serve a one-year term.

Wells will be the second member of his firm to head up the ABA. Another partner, N. Lee Cooper, served as president in 1996-97.

In his remarks to the House of Dele­gates in San Francisco, Wells indicated that he will emphasize continuity in his policy initiatives. Those efforts will include building on the work of immediate-past President Karen J. Mathis of Denver and current President William H. Neukom of Seattle to advance the rule of law around the world.

“The rule of law is central to what lawyers do,” said Wells. But the rule of law also affects every individual, business and other entity interested in justice and economic opportunity, he said.

Wells said access to justice, and the professional independence of the bar and the judiciary, also will be among his priorities. He said he will encourage the bar at all levels to address these issues.

The legal profession must “value principle over partisanship,” said Wells. “It’s easy to make a dollar. What’s difficult is to make a dif­ference.”


Despite the inevitable policy digressions that events seem to impose on ABA presidents, Mathis consistently kept the legal needs of youth at risk at the forefront during her one-year term that ended at the close of the annual meeting in San Francisco.

As she left office, Mathis scored a few final triumphs on behalf of her young constituency.

The House adopted policies to improve services to young people charged with status offenses and to a key segment of the foster home population in the United States.

In one vote, the House endorsed efforts to divert status offenders—minors charged with conduct that is unlawful solely on the basis of their age—from traditional criminal justice treatment. Instead, the measure calls for development of status offender programs that focus on entire families.

The House also endorsed increased services to respond to the needs of children as they “age out” of foster care systems by reaching the age of 18. In addition, the House called for children’s services systems to be more responsive to the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgen­der and what the proposal termed “questioning” youth.

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