Annual Meeting

Lawyers have been flexible with change, but more can be done, ABA President Refo says

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Refo speech

ABA President Trish Refo addresses the House of Delegates at the ABA Hybrid Annual Meeting. Photo from the American Bar Association.

Considering everything that happened in the past year, the legal profession is much more nimble than it gives itself credit for, ABA President Patricia Lee Refo said Monday in a speech before the House of Delegates at the ABA Hybrid Annual Meeting. Some delegates convened in person, and some attended remotely.

“It’s a powerful reminder that when circumstances call on us to do so, we mustn’t be afraid to try new things, to experiment, to learn from experience and to refine where needed,” said Refo, a partner at Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix whose practice focuses on complex commercial litigation and internal investigations.

Speaking in person from the Hyatt Regency Chicago, where the House of Delegates meeting is being held, Refo added that more needs to be done.

“We all know that most civil legal needs in this country—the ‘people law’ needs—go unmet. So we must sort through what we have learned in this year and a half about the advantages, limitations, and pitfalls of remote proceedings and other technologies that hold the promise of expanding access to justice and lowering the cost of legal services. That is simply imperative,” Refo said.

She also thanked her family, law firm colleagues, ABA Executive Director Jack Rives and ABA staff for their work and flexibility over the past year. Lawyers were thanked too, some by name. That included Emily Benfer, a professor at Wake Forest School of Law, who received an ABA Presidential Citation for her work on behalf of the association to hold back evictions during the pandemic; and U.S. District Judge Esther Salas, who spoke on ABA Day about the importance of judicial security. Salas’ son was killed at their home in July 2020 by a disgruntled lawyer who had found the judge’s home address online.

Additionally, Refo called attention to the ABA’s work helping the profession, including the Practice Forward Initiative, which focuses on challenges and opportunities that emerged from the pandemic.

She also addressed the organization’s response to the Florida Supreme Court’s sua sponte order denying CLE credit for programs from providers, including the ABA, that promote equal opportunity in faculty selection.

“The ABA is the first to admit that when it comes to participation in our profession, membership in our association, and equitable treatment by our laws and justice system, our historical record from days long by was dismal and shameful. We must, and we will, keep examining how that legacy impacts our association, our profession and justice in America today,” Refo said.

Following her accounts of the changes, work and loss the past year has brought for the profession, Refo told the audience she is proud to be an ABA member.

“What we do here matters. What we do here makes a difference. And in this pivotal moment in our nation’s history, I am absolutely persuaded that the American Bar Association is needed now more than ever,” she said.

Follow along with the ABA Journal’s coverage of the 2021 ABA Hybrid Annual Meeting here.

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