Laurel Bellows will become the next President of the American Bar Association when the gavel passes at the House of Delegates meeting during the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago on August 7, 2012. The Affiliate had the opportunity to interview Ms. Bellows and ask her about her background, getting involved with the ABA, and some of her plans for her term as President.
The Affiliate : How did you become involved in the ABA?
Laurel Bellows : My roots run deep in the local bar. I served as President of the Chicago Bar Association in 1991–1992. As President, I was fortunate to become actively involved with the National Conference of Bar Presidents. This eye-opening experience set the stage for my journey into national bar leadership and introduced me to the world of the ABA.
The Affiliate : After your time with the National Conference of Bar Presidents, what led you to become more involved with the ABA?
Bellows : When I became a member of the ABA’s Commission on Women in the Profession, I became a believer in what the ABA stands for and can accomplish. Working hand in hand with these powerful and dedicated women lawyers on substantive issues, I felt empowered and incentivized to effectuate real change.
The Affiliate : How did you become involved with the Commission on Women?
Bellows : As a panelist discussing gender equality initiatives in large firms, I met and served with the Director of the Commission on Women, who also was on the panel. She introduced me to the current Chair, Cory Amron, with whom I had an immediate, strong connection. Cory reached out to the ABA President and requested my appointment to the Commission as Chair.
The Affiliate : How did your path in the ABA progress beyond your involvement with the Commission on Women?
Bellows : After my service as Chair of the Commission on Women, I became its Special Advisor. I also became active in the Litigation Section, the Labor and Employment Law Section, and the GP Solo and Small Firm Section, now Division—all of which are my smaller homes within the ABA. In my involvement with these entities, I became even more committed and dedicated to continuing the work of the ABA on causes of great importance.
I was also nominated for a Woman at Large seat on the Board of Governors—the ABA’s governing body. My service on the Board was the beginning of my deep dive into the path as a leader of the ABA.
The Affiliate : What made you decide to run for President of the ABA?
Bellows : My service with the Board of Governors offered me a path to leadership in the ABA. After serving on the Board, I realized that the American Bar Association presented a unique national platform for making substantive change in the areas of importance to me: individual rights, equality issues, and access to justice.
Initially, the idea of becoming President of the ABA was not front and center in my mind. I simply wanted to be more active and play an effective policy role in the ABA.
I began to consider a run for Chair of the House of Delegates. In 2006, I achieved my goal, becoming elected to the second highest office in the ABA as Chair of the House—the Association’s policy making body. Serving as Chair opened yet another door in the ABA to President, which is truly an exciting and amazing opportunity I am looking forward to.
The Affiliate : During your time with the ABA, you have done a lot of work on gender equality issues. What continuing efforts would you like the members of the ABA YLD to be involved with during your term as President?
Bellows : To assure continued movement toward a workplace environment that adopts gender equality as a guiding principle, we hope to engage in conversations and town hall meetings with attorneys, men and women, who may not recognize the barriers to equality that persist. We need to identify solutions that work for younger lawyers, rather than just having attorneys like me who seem to preach that barriers exist. The world looks and feels like a world that is equal, but really is not, because women are not moving forward.
The Affiliate : One of the big topics that the ABA will continue to address is the fight to preserve our justice system. Can you tell me a little bit about your future plans on that front?
Bellows : The ABA is actively engaged in the fight to preserve our justice system—the third co-equal branch of our democracy. This is not a quick-fix or a short-term victory. It is a continuing campaign. We will carry on significant efforts to engage states, bar leaders, state legislatures, lawyers, judges, and citizens, to understand the imperative of preserving our justice system and allocating sufficient resources to assure that our court system is available to all.
The Affiliate : One of the new concerns that you would like to address during your presidency is the existence of modern day slavery in the United States with the trafficking of women and children. Can you tell me what steps you already have underway?
Bellows : Our initiative to address modern day slavery has multiple prongs each focusing on a specific aspect of the problem. We are already engaged in drafting a uniform state law that criminalizes the trafficking of U.S. citizens and those trafficked into the United States far beyond the transporting of woman and children for sex across state lines. This [uniform law] criminalizes trafficking women and children both for labor and for sex.
The Affiliate : Are you planning to work with any particular sections of the ABA on the issue of human trafficking?
Bellows : We are building an extraordinary ABA coalition. We will be working with the Business Law Section to develop the best practices for business conduct standards necessary to assist corporations to clean their supply chains so they are not unintentionally using forced labor to provide goods and services, similar to efforts to eradicate corruption and child labor.
Addressing this problem is very difficult for corporations because identifying slaves is challenging. To assist in their efforts to combat this crisis, we will work with the corporations to develop realistic best practices.
I am also excited about our work with the Section of Litigation and the Criminal Justice Section on training first responders, the Human Rights Center on the uniform state law, the Immigration Standing Committee on the pro bono initiative, and our Entertainment and Sports Law Forum on the national awareness campaign. In addition, we will work with the Standing Committee on Domestic and Sexual Violence, Children at Risk, and hopefully, the ABA YLD!
The Affiliate : How can young lawyers get involved in helping you with the issue of trafficking?
Bellows : We would love to have young lawyer involvement in the significant pro bono initiative we will be starting, as well as with the training and the national awareness campaign. The goals would be to identify victims as well as to achieve asylum and provide a defense where needed. We need to develop a holistic approach and duplicate some of the best programs that already exist as we are getting our efforts started.
The Affiliate : Are there any groups outside of the ABA that you plan to work with to help achieve your goals?
Bellows : We are going to train first responders to identify victims and treat them as victims rather than defendants. First responders are the police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and health care professionals. We hope to work with large corporations who will be training their employees to recognize victims and report them.
One of the real issues here is that these are victims of modern day slavery. They do not have the ability or the will to come forward. They fear for their lives every minute. They do not have the freedom to walk into a police station and ask for help.
It will be difficult to identify what is going to be needed to solve the problems here because the need is so great and the victims have a hard time coming forward because they depend on their captors.
The Affiliate : Is there any one part of the human trafficking effort that you are particularly enthusiastic to get underway?
Bellows : One of our most exciting initiatives is a national awareness campaign. The details have yet to be determined, but we know that we will be working with Homeland Security, the Polaris Project, and others, who are already very active in this area. They are very anxious for us to join in a huge national awareness campaign to identify victims and the need for services. There may be about 100,000 U.S. citizens in slavery in our country right now, in addition to those who have been trafficked from Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Asia. Hubs [for trafficking] are located in Atlanta, Georgia, and Seattle, Washington. Very few people actually understand that this is happening in our country or that trafficking is one of the most profitable and fastest growing organized crimes in the world.