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Vol. 33, No. 6

ABA President-elect Carolyn B. Lamm shares plans, seeks connection

by Marilyn Cavicchia

“You never know quite what the issues are that you’re going to face as a bar president.” ABA President-elect Carolyn B. Lamm shared this bit of wisdom with attendees at the ABA Bar Leadership Institute this March in Chicago.

Lamm, an international trade and litigation lawyer and a past president of the District of Columbia Bar, will become ABA president at the association’s Annual Meeting in Chicago in August.

As an example of how current events can dictate that a president’s term take shape very differently from what he or she imagined, Lamm noted that during her term, the ABA will respond comprehensively to the economic crisis and its implications for the profession, the public, and bar associations. Lamm said she will likely establish a task force to study the impact of the economy on the profession, and she highlighted the ABA’s online “recession portal,” which pulls together career coaching, job search, and other resources for lawyers facing job loss and economic stress. The portal went live shortly after BLI and can be found at

Another economic challenge, Lamm noted, is that U.S. lawyers are competing with foreign lawyers more than ever before, thanks in part to technological advances. Lamm would like the ABA to explore not only the economic implications of sending legal work overseas or enabling foreign lawyers to work here, but also the regulatory and ethical questions involved. Lamm plans to establish a commission on ethics to look into such matters, and expects that this effort will go beyond her term and will be continued by president-elect designee Stephen N. Zack.

Another major effort—one that’s already under way—will be to take an in-depth look at what the ABA offers and how it can become more relevant and attractive to potential members. This past September, the association pulled together 12 different task forces from different membership segments—in terms of years in practice, size of practice, etc.—to ask them what they thought was most important and appealing about the ABA.

This has yielded some interesting results, Lamm noted; for example, some members say legislative advocacy is most important, while others, such as those in small- to midsized firms, prioritize continuing legal education and other products that are more tangible. The ABA’s pricing structure and Web site will be closely evaluated as well, Lamm said, to ensure that membership is a good value for the money and that this message is communicated effectively.

Lamm also stressed the need for the ABA to connect with state, local, and special-focus bars. This is important when it comes to legislative efforts, such as the recent victory in securing FDIC coverage for all IOLTA funds, Lamm said, but it’s also important to build that connection in other ways.

“We need to be where our members are and offer you and them as much value as we can,” she said, which is why she plans to collaborate with bar leaders across the country. ABA leaders met earlier this year with leaders of the national bars for lawyers of color to discuss joint memberships, she said, adding that she also aims to have at least one joint program up and running with each state bar and as many local ones as possible.

“You really need a lot of good friends to get things done,” Lamm said, noting that all bars have a vital interest in growing their membership and serving the profession well.