November 01, 2011

Views from the Chair: Our Big Tent

Irma S. Russell

In the process of appointing members to lead the Section’s committees, task forces, and other roles of responsibility, I was struck anew by the breadth of focus and the diversity of our membership under the Section’s “big tent.” The wide range of subject matter in the Section—evidenced by over thirty-five substantive committees—is apparent. Our membership encompasses practitioners who represent individuals, partnerships, NGOs, and corporations. We include private lawyers and government lawyers at all levels, and academics and law students, and in-house corporate counsel. Even with such a range of areas and diverse practice groups, a “close-knit” feeling of community and common purpose permeates our work.

I want to take this opportunity to highlight a few Section activities that I am pleased reside under our big tent.

This year the Section has accepted a more comprehensive role within the ABA as it integrates the work of the former ABA Standing Committee on Environmental Law. Through its new Task Force on Policy and Coordination, the Section will work closely with former Standing Committee members and staff to foster and enhance a robust policy focus in our areas of environment, energy, and resources. Additionally, the Task Force will incorporate policy considerations and coordinate the work of other ABA sections in these areas. The Task Force will contribute to the Section’s policy work in originating policy recommendations for consideration by the ABA House of Delegates. For example, over the past year the Section initiated successful ABA resolutions on TSCA reform and on the role of America’s indigenous communities in U.S. climate negotiations.

Similarly, exciting new membership initiatives are designed to bring innovative ideas into our work. This year we will develop a social media plan to centralize our Section’s online information dissemination and reach additional communities and lawyers in new ways. I have created two new task forces designed to expand our outreach to law students, law faculty, and young lawyers. These task forces will continue our efforts to ensure we represent the full range of the environmental, energy, and resource legal community.

The Section’s Leadership Development Program (LDP) is in its second year. The LDP identifies Section members with leadership potential and interest and provides them with training and opportunities to participate, to encourage and prepare them to assume greater Section leadership roles.

The Section is committed to broadening its membership base to fully reflect the diversity of society. In support of that goal, the Section continues its Membership Diversity Enhancement Program, which facilitates the active engagement and integration of lawyers who traditionally have been under-represented. This program is available to lawyers meeting the admission criteria for the Young Lawyers Division, minority lawyers, solo practitioners, and government lawyers whose employers do not pay membership dues for the ABA or the Section.

Our Section’s successes are a direct result of our members’ input and participation. Members identify topics, authors, and speakers to further quality legal education through our publications and programming; to promote competence, ethical conduct, and professionalism through our ethics programs; and to advance pro bono and public service in the legal profession through our service projects. The Section works to enhance public understanding and respect for the rule of law and the global role of lawyers through its participation in the World Justice Forum, collaboration with international organizations such as the Canadian Bar Association, and focus on rule of law issues.

Our goals can be achieved only through openness and inclusiveness. I look forward to the challenges and opportunities we find under the Section’s big tent.

Trends, Vol. 43, No. 2, November/December 2011, Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources, American Bar Association.

Irma S. Russell

Irma S. Russell is dean and professor at the University of Montana School of Law.