Annual Meeting

Lawyers and music lovers converge on Chicago for ABA Annual Meeting and Lollapalooza

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Boat going under Wabash Bridge in Chicago

Image of a sightseeing boat traveling on the Chicago River from jessicakirsh /

Updated: Two events will dominate the downtown Chicago landscape over the next several days—and they couldn’t be more different in size, demographics and purpose.

On Friday, the Lollapalooza music festival will take over Grant Park for the weekend, featuring some 130 heavy metal, alternative rock and hip-hop groups—and even a few old-timers like Paul McCartney and Metallica. Lollapalooza has become a musical and economic behemoth every summer in Chicago. In 2013, the festival drew 300,000 attendees over three days and helped pump an estimated $120 million into the local economy, making it competitive with the largest business and trade conventions that are hosted by the city.

But on Thursday, the ABA will beat Lollapalooza to the punch when it officially opens its own festival—otherwise known as the ABA Annual Meeting—about a mile north of Grant Park at the Hyatt Regency Chicago and a cluster of other hotels along Michigan Avenue on both sides of the Chicago River. (Some entities started holding business meetings on Tuesday, and others are being held today.)

The annual meeting can’t compare with an event like Lollapalooza in terms of attendance—as of late July, more than 5,000 lawyers and other attendees (not counting guests) had registered for the meeting—but Chicago and other cities that host the ABA’s largest annual gathering always welcome the relatively deep pockets of the legal profession. And even more important for the profession itself, the issues that will be addressed during the meeting, which ends on Tuesday, are vital to the future of the justice system in the United States and around the world.

At the top of that list is the continuing challenge of racial and ethnic bias, particularly in the wake of recent controversial police shootings of black people being brought into custody. Other programs will look at how diversity issues affect the courts and the business community. Paulette Brown, who will begin her one-year term as the first black woman to serve as ABA president at the close of the annual meeting on Tuesday, is making diversity and inclusion one of her priorities. In June, the Board of Governors approved Brown’s request to create the Commission on Diversity and Inclusion 360. Brown is a partner at Locke Lord in Morristown, New Jersey.

Other topics that will be addressed at programs during the meeting include detention of families facing immigration, incarceration policies in the United States, same-sex marriage, changing relations between the United States and Cuba, and the evolving legacy of the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts.

The ABA’s policymaking House of Delegates will take on a full slate of measures when it meets on Monday and Tuesday. Among them will be recommendations that the association support measures to reduce gender-based violence on college campuses; that the association recognize freedom from domestic violence, dating and sexual violence, stalking and other forms of gender-based violence as a fundamental human right; and that the association urge government entities to provide funding to develop, implement and maintain effective cybersecurity programs for the courts. The House also will consider a series of recommendations by the Task Force on the Financing of Legal Education to help law schools and students cope with some of the most important financial challenges facing legal education, including the rising cost of tuition and the burden of student loans.

And the annual meeting will, of course, feature its own lineup of legal superstars. On Saturday, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch will address the General Assembly. The assembly also will feature the presentation of the ABA Medal, the association’s highest award, to Roberta Cooper Ramo, a partner at Modrall Sperling in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who served as the ABA’s first female president in 1995-96. A long list of other notable speakers at the meeting includes retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens; U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois; Mari Carmen Aponte, U.S. ambassador to El Salvador; Tracey Meares, a professor at Yale Law School and a member of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing; Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; former U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole; and Garry McCarthy, superintendent of the Chicago Police Department.

In Chicago, the streamlined format that was introduced at the 2014 ABA Annual Meeting in Boston will be continued and further tweaked. The main events of the meeting will be held over three days so attendees will be able to come together for a mix of CLE programs and social activities without having to navigate their way through a maze of conflicting events. That portion of the meeting will start at 5 p.m. on Friday with a preview reception at the ABA Expo. On Saturday, 10 ABA showcase programs will be held in the morning, with another five scheduled for the afternoon. The General Assembly will start at 4 p.m., followed by the President’s Reception at the Art Institute of Chicago, perilously close to ground zero for Lollapalooza. On Sunday, five more CLE programs will be held in the morning. The ABA also introduced a new pricing structure that ranges from an All Access CLE Pass priced at $495 for members to the standard registration fee of $50 for members to attend business meetings, the ABA Expo and the General Assembly. The theme of this year’s meeting is “Greatness in Every Direction.”

A new feature being introduced in Chicago is the Hybrid Meetings Initiative for CLE All Access registrants, in which selected showcase programs will combine live, in-person presentations with a virtual audience. The hybrid programs also will be available online for 30 days for post-meeting viewing, which will qualify for CLE credit.

Annual meeting attendees can expect to enjoy one of the liveliest weekends of Chicago’s summer, and they shouldn’t be surprised to blend with music fans from Lollapalooza on the downtown streets and in restaurants, hotel lobbies and clubs. But it will be easy to tell the two groups apart—the lawyers will be the ones in business wear with name badges.

See what people are saying about the events on social media, and follow along with our full coverage of the 2015 ABA Annual Meeting.

Updated on July 30 to correct the name of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

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