The Washington Office of the ABA, which houses the association’s Governmental Affairs Office, is less than a block from K Street Northwest – a street that has become synonymous with Washington lobbyists. GAO’s registered lobbyists and staff spend most of our time focusing our advocacy on the U.S. Congress and federal agencies, though we make occasional forays into state-level advocacy on issues ranging from unfair fees and fines imposed on low-income individuals to unanimous juries to legal aid funding.
The ABA also advocates beyond our nation’s borders. Our efforts to improve laws and regulations aimed at opening jurisdictions to U.S. law firms, strengthening the rule of law, and improving the quality of laws through education, law reform, and advocacy work often escape notice, but they are important components of the ABA’s voice globally. Here is but a sampling of those efforts.
The ABA has for decades been tirelessly working to support the ability of U.S. law firms to establish offices overseas and to associate freely with foreign lawyers and law firms. We not only regularly communicate with the Office of the United States Trade Representative and Department of Commerce on legal services-related issues in ongoing trade negotiations, but ABA leaders routinely engage directly with relevant bar leaders and government officials in foreign countries to press for enhanced market access. Countries where we have vigorously pressed our case include India, South Korea, Russia, Hong Kong, China, and the United Kingdom.
Sections often bring their members’ expertise to bear on recommending improvements to foreign laws and regulations. For example, the Antitrust and International Law Sections frequently send joint blanket authority comments to foreign antitrust regulators around the world, offering detailed constructive commentary and recommendations on draft guidelines, agreements, and regulations. Recipients of these recent section communications include the Canadian Competition Bureau, China’s State Administration for Market Regulation, and the Chilean Fiscalia Nacional Economica.
The ABA’s Rule of Law Initiative participates in education and advocacy efforts in many of the countries where it works, with a goal of assisting in the adoption of laws ranging from establishing bar associations to penalizing human trafficking. In Mali, ABA ROLI has been working for almost a decade to combat hereditary slavery, joining with local partners to develop an advocacy strategy to fight for anti-slavery legislation.
A less direct and traditional form of advancing the rule of law abroad is practiced by the Center on Human Rights, which sends trial observers to monitor and report on legal proceedings. After the Center documented significant irregularities in the proceedings for selecting high court judges in Guatemala, that country’s Constitutional Court ordered the selection process to start over from the beginning. In Equatorial Guinea, the UN Human Rights Committee relied in part on the Center's trial observation report in ordering greater adherence to fair trial standards. And over the last six months, trial observations by the Center have contributed to the release of wrongfully detained individuals, including journalists and activists, in Algeria, Guatemala, India, and El Salvador.
Yes, the ABA is still the American Bar Association. And most of our advocacy is focused on the home front. But GAO works with a variety of ABA entities that actively pursue improving laws and regulations and legal processes around the world, for the ABA’s goal of advancing the rule of law knows no boundaries.