'To make a difference, we have to be different,' says incoming ABA President-elect Bill Bay
Bill Bay, the incoming president-elect of the American Bar Association, called upon members to break down silos within the organization and join together as they recommit to improving the legal profession.
“If we want to make a difference, we have to be different,” said Bay, a partner with Thompson Coburn in St. Louis. “We must put aside any differences we may have and remember our continuing mission.”
To do so, he outlined a plan in his speech before the ABA House of Delegates on Tuesday that includes changing the association’s fee structure; welcoming all lawyers; expanding service opportunities; unifying messaging; and developing leaders.
“If we do not agree to work together as one ABA, we will not find success,” he said.
Bay suggested the creation of a new price structure for members, eliminating additional fees for memberships to specific sections.
“There must be one price for access to everything the association offers,” he said. “It is irritating to new members who have paid one price to be a member and then cannot access the content they want without paying more dues to another entity within the association.”
Members need to be able to access all content based within the ABA website that they are interested in, he said.
“If we do not remove the barriers to members coming home to our association and being full participants, the rest of what we are doing isn’t going to matter,” Bay added.
Bill Bay entered the ABA House of Delegates meeting flanked by incoming ABA President Mary Smith (left) and outgoing ABA President Deborah Enix-Ross. (Photo by Mitch Higgins/ABA Media Relations)
Bay, a former chair of the House of Delegates, underscored the need to welcome all lawyers.
“The world is now a place where people with different views will not even sit in the same room,” he said. “We cannot be like that.”
He called for a unified approach to communication that emphasizes the value of the ABA and the impact on people and their lives.
“We have a great story to tell, and we must tell it,” Bay said.
New members should have immediate access to service opportunities, he said. New young lawyers and new members will be contacted about performing service.
Additionally, the ABA must focus on developing leaders within the organization specifically and in the legal profession generally.
“We lead with our voice and our actions,” said Bay, who initially joined the ABA as a member of the Young Lawyers Division in the 1980s. “Young lawyers are not part of our future. They are integral parts of our association now. And everything we do must reflect that. “
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Bay has previously emphasized the importance of focusing on young lawyers.
“We are faced with an imperative to focus on an evolving profession which demands so much more from us,” said Bay, who has served as chair of the Litigation Section.
He acknowledged that the changes he envisions will not be easy.
“There will not be 100% clarity. There will be risk,” he said. “We are going to make mistakes, learn from them quickly and evolve.
“But to be faithful to our mission, to the reason we exist, we must act quickly and decisively.”
Bay, who was elected to the position of incoming president-elect at the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting in Denver, will succeed incoming ABA President Mary Smith. He will serve as ABA president for the 2024-2025 term, which will begin at the close of the 2024 ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago.
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