March 2011 Volume 7 Number 7

Chair's Column

By J. A. "Tony" Patterson and Gregory L. "Greg" Pemberton*

We welcome the opportunity to share with you some perspective about your American Bar Association. Both of us are past chairs of the Section, the Section Delegates to the ABA House of Delegates, and active in many other facets of the ABA. Understanding the ABA and all it is -- and does -- can be daunting, but we will try to describe it.

The ABA has two broad functions. First, it is a policy-forming organization. It represents member bar associations and the ABA's Sections, Divisions, and Forums in establishing policy and lobbying on matters of importance to lawyers and the rule of law. For example, the Federal Trade Commission's Red Flag Rules would have originally required law firms to implement practices to prevent identity theft, just like banks, credit card companies, and retail businesses. This would have created liability exposure for firms and caused a great financial burden. The ABA brought suit and obtained an injunction halting application of the Rules. It then negotiated an amendment to the law to exclude lawyers from the application of the Rules.

The ABA's Governmental Affairs Office was a key part of this effort. That office lobbies Congress and federal agencies on the basis of policies adopted by the ABA House of Delegates. The House is a body made up of more than 550 lawyers from state and local bar associations and from the ABA's Sections, Divisions, and Forums. It meets at the ABA Annual and Midyear meetings to consider and vote on policy resolutions like our Section's Resolution on access to affordable healthcare coverage for all. For the ABA Midyear meeting in Atlanta several weeks ago, Section representatives worked on, and the Section was a co-sponsor of, a Resolution that passed the House of Delegates supporting the development of clinical practice guidelines but opposing their use as per se or presumptive evidence of meeting or violating the standard of care in medical negligence litigation.

The other key function of the ABA is member service. The Sections, Divisions, and Forums are the heart of this function. We serve our members in practice development, like continuing education (conferences, books and periodicals) and participatory activities like our Interest Groups. Beyond this, we serve our members, non-members and the public at large via our web site ( and elsewhere. A wonderful example of a public service effort of the Section is our Breast Cancer Task Force.

Another aspect of this service is illustrated in the ABA's activities world-wide. The ABA is active in Rule of Law and human rights efforts across the globe. We have helped former Soviet states in Eastern Europe adopt constitutions and codes. We have advised and mentored judges and judicial systems more broadly. The ABA is actively involved in efforts to combat human trafficking.

Finally, service is also performed via the good works and funding by the ABA Endowment (ABE), the Fund for Justice and Education and other related charitable and educational activities. These service activities are broad and deep. Your involvement in the ABA can meet your professional and personal goals. You can "give back" as so many of us desire to do. You can assist our country and the citizens of the world as an advocate for the "Rule of Law." You can become the type of lawyer to which we all aspired as law students.

You may be asking yourself, "why should the Section be active in the Big ABA?" There are a number of reasons. First, the ABA is the largest voluntary group of lawyers in the world. The voice of the ABA is loud and important. Second, the economies of scale allow the Section to deliver education, publications and other services at affordable prices to our members. Third, the Section's involvement in Big ABA activities allows our members to influence and sometimes help set the direction of national healthcare policy. Lastly, our collective visibility within the ABA gives the Section a seat at the table when important matters come before the House of Delegates, Congress, and federal agencies.

If you want to learn more about the ABA or how you can get more involved -- through the Section or other activities -- let our wonderful Section Director, Wanda Workman, ( know and we will be in touch with you.

*This month's Chair's Column is written by guest columnists, J. A. "Tony" Patterson and Gregory L. "Greg" Pemberton. Tony and Greg are both Section Delegates to the ABA House of Delegates and both past Section Chairs.


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