This year’s ABA Day in Washington drew 350 lawyers from 49 states and the District of Columbia April 8-10 to meet with members of Congress to discuss issues of importance to the legal profession.
The event, now in its 17th year, is an annual tradition coordinated by the Governmental Affairs Office and cosponsored by the National Conference of Bar Presidents, the National Association of Bar Executives, the ABA Section Officers Conference and the ABA Young Lawyers Division. This year’s meetings focused on the need for increased funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and the association’s opposition to a tax proposal that the ABA maintains would impose substantial new financial burdens on many law firms.
Attendees urged members of Congress to fund LSC at the Obama administration’s request of a minimum of $430 million for fiscal year 2015. They argued that more Americans than ever – 63.5 million – qualify for civil legal aid and include veterans, domestic violence victims, those coping with natural disasters, and families involved in child custody disputes. Last year, strong lobbying efforts by the ABA and state and local bar associations resulted in a $365 million appropriation – a $25 million increase in spite of current federal budget constraints (see article, page 3).
ABA Day participants also asked their representatives and senators to remove mandatory accrual accounting provisions from draft tax reform legislation being considered in both the House and Senate. The provisions would affect law firms and other types of personal services businesses with annual gross receipts of more than $10 million by requiring them to use the accrual method of accounting rather than the traditional cash receipts and disbursement method.
“ABA Day allows lawyers to create lasting relationships with congressional delegations and key staff members, and helps the ABA public policy team better represent our profession,” according to Linda A. Klein, chair of the ABA Day Planning Committee. “Members of Congress rate constituent visits among the most important things they do, and past experience shows us that when a constituent lawyer travels to Washington just to talk about issues of importance to our justice system, these special efforts work,” she emphasized.
The ABA honored the following members of Congress during a reception and dinner at the Institute of Peace: Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), for his work on combatting sex trafficking and on reducing the high rate of recidivism within the prison population; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), for leading the charge to repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy on sexual orientation, her support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and her cosponsorship of the Paycheck Fairness Act; Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), for his leadership in opposing the mandatory accrual accounting legislation, his support for increased LSC and federal court funding, and his work as a champion for LGBT equality; and Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), for his leading role in opposing accrual accounting provisions and his consistent support for the LSC and full FDIC protection for Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts.
At a Capitol Hill reception, the association presented grassroots awards to the Bench and Bar of South Dakota, former Criminal Justice Section Chair Stephen Saltzburg, and retired Army Col. Mark Sullivan, a family lawyer from North Carolina who has chaired the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel.
South Dakota Chief Justice David Gilbertson accepted the Bench and Bar of South Dakota award for tireless efforts to defend and protect impartial courts and to advance access to justice for those living in rural communities. Also receiving an award was Tom Barnett, the executive director of the State Bar of South Dakota, as the mastermind of the strategy that defeated the “JAIL 4 Judges” ballot initiative that threatened judicial immunity.
Saltzburg was recognized for many ABA contributions, including his chairmanship of the ABA Justice Kennedy Commission, which made numerous recommendations for improving the nation’s criminal justice system.
Sullivan, who was instrumental in preventing Congress from enacting legislation to federalize child custody cases involving the military, serves as an invaluable resource for lawyers and lawmakers on military family law matters.
As the meetings wrapped up, ABA President James R. Silkenat urged the group to continue their work on the issues when they return home. “ABA Day has always been about more than just one day,” he said. “We come here annually, but we do not stop caring about LSC or other issues important to the legal profession after today.”