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January 06, 2022

21 ways the ABA made an impact in 2021

The year 2021 saw its share of challenges, not least from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, an insurrection, economic turmoil and continued racial reckoning. Those threats, however, didn’t stop the ABA from achieving meaningful accomplishments. Here’s a sampling of the ways your ABA made an impact this year:

  1. We advocated for access to justice. 
    The ABA, through its Governmental Affairs Office, the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense, and ABA members, advocated for increased funding for LSC—throughout the year as well as during the April 2021 ABA Day event.  LSC received a $465 million appropriation for FY 2021, a 5.7% increase over the previous year, and while Congress is still deliberating over the final FY 2022 appropriations package, LSC appears to be poised to receive a substantial increase in its budget.  The House Appropriations Committee recommended $600 million for FY 2022, a whopping 29% increase over its FY 2021 budget.  In a demonstration of its commitment to LSC, Congress included $40 million in its stop-gap FY 2022 funding for LSC to provide legal assistance to low-income individuals who suffered losses due to natural disasters.
  2. We invested in the next generation of lawyers. 
    The Legal Opportunity Scholarship Fund provided 15 racially and ethnically diverse law students with $15,000 in financial aid. Through the Christine A. Brunswick Public Service Fellowship, the Section of Taxation supported recent law graduates helping misclassified employees in Boston; educated residents in Nebraska on the Earned Income Tax Credit; and advocated, educated and engaged domestic violence survivors in Richmond, Virginia, on tax issues surrounding financial abuse.
  3. We made pro bono easy for lawyers and accessible to people in crisis. 
    The Center for Pro Bono’s Free Legal Answers  continues to connect people in crisis with lawyers eager to assist. is an on-line virtual legal clinic through which income-eligible clients can post civil legal questions to be answered by pro bono attorneys from their jurisdiction. With a total of 10,113 registered attorneys and 45 committed jurisdictions, client users have posted 191,366 civil legal questions to date.  Many questions were related to the pandemic in 2021, with housing and employment related questions having a 75% and 128% increase, respectively, over the same pre-pandemic period.
  4. We advocated for student debt relief and protected Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
    The Student Debt Week of Action generated over 1,600 communications to Congress and the Administration urging student debt relief and reform of the PSLF program.  Five weeks later, the Education Department announced  plans to overhaul the loan forgiveness program to make it easier to use, including offering a waiver to allow potential enrollees to consolidate their loans into the correct Direct Loan program and receive credit for prior payments that had not qualified under the original rules.  On December 13, President Biden issued an Executive Order  that, among other things, instructs agencies to overhaul the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
  5. We engaged thousands of lawyers and equipped them to better serve their clients and communities.
    The Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice provided hundreds of free programs on important topics including the eviction crisis, voting rights, Native American issues, and critical race theory. The Section ended the year with a two-day summit designed to advance racial equity and social justice principles and result in concrete community-driven policy recommendations to achieve positive social, political, and legal reform.
  6. We championed changes to guardianship system.
    As the world watched the Britney Spears situation unfold, the Commission on Law and Aging continued its efforts to champion guardianship reform, serving as a principal organizer of the 4th decennial Guardianship Summit and leading the effort to create an Adult Guardianship Court Improvement Program to provide states with the necessary federal funding and support to improve their court processes and thus the lives of individuals with guardians through better outcomes, increasing the use of less restrictive options, and enhancing collaboration among courts, the legal system, and aging and disability networks.
  7. We improved systems and outcomes for children and their families.
    The Center on Children and the Law raised the bar for attorneys in the child welfare system by providing training and technical assistance to over 24,000 attorneys, judges, social workers, and other advocates across America and in its territories, supported thousands of grandparents and kin raising grandchildren through our collaborative resource, advised school districts, child welfare agencies and courts across the country on how to support school stability for youth in foster care during COVID-19, and issued 25 new publications that are being used nationally to inform child welfare legal practice.
  8. We continued our work to improve the administration of elections.
    The Standing Committee on Election Law engaged lawyers and communities to promote best practices through the ABA 2021 Election Administration Guidelines and Commentary, equipping stakeholders to hold elections that ensure public confidence and trust.
  9. We advanced the Rule of Law.
    The Rule of Law Initiative (ROLI) helped secure a life sentence for former Congolese rebel leader Chance Mihonya for crimes against humanity, war crimes and environmental crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo and secure reparations from the state for his victims. The entity also released a documentary that exposed the repression faced by journalists who covered the 2021 elections in Uganda. In addition, ROLI’s Barbados Combating Trafficking in Persons program was credited as a model for showing how an organization can use the issues of human trafficking to make inroads with a reluctant government. 
  10. We championed human rights around the globe.
    The Center for Human Rights helped to secure the reinstatement of human rights lawyers to practice law in Azerbaijan, the release of a journalist held in pretrial detention for almost three years in Cameroon, the release on bail of a government critic in India, and the commutation of the death sentence for three juvenile religious minority activists in Saudi Arabia.
  11. We took action to assist Afghans.
    The Afghanistan Response Project facilitated getting more than 5,000 Afghans on the U.S. Department of State database for exiting Afghanistan; developed a “know your rights” video script for refugees; connected with state bar associations to identify local pro bono assistance; and is deploying pro bono legal specialists to third countries to assist Afghan families as they transit.
  12. We served military personnel and veterans.
    Through the Military Pro Bono Project, volunteer attorneys provided more than 2,500 pro bono hours — worth about $1 million — to help servicemembers with family law cases, creditor and consumer issues, landlord-tenant disputes and other civil legal cases. In addition, the Military and Veterans Legal Center awarded $100,000 in grants to Texas-based organizations to provide legal services to veterans.
  13. We educated stakeholders on the importance of clemency and secured pro bono counsel for death-sentenced prisoners.
    The Death Penalty Representation Project, through its Capital Clemency Resource Initiative Clearinghouse, trained stakeholders across the country on topics such as the importance of clemency as the “fail-safe” in the justice system and how complex procedural rules often prevent courts from considering important claims of innocence or wrongful imposition of the death penalty. The project secured pro bono counsel for more than 12 death-sentenced prisoners in state and federal death penalty cases.
  14. We shined a light on the abusive practices in the “Troubled Teen Industry.”
    The Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity created a series of webinars on the Troubled Teen Industry — a network of private youth programs, therapeutic boarding schools, residential treatment centers, religious academies, wilderness programs and drug rehabilitation centers routinely facing allegations of child abuse, neglect, dangerous treatment practices and negligence resulting in death.
  15. We equipped lawyers to keep people safe—even during a pandemic.
    The Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence adjusted to the changing needs of lawyers and survivors they represent by updating training and resources — including Virtual Hearing Tip Sheets for their clients in seven languages. The commission also assisted the White House in developing the first-ever U.S. National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence.
  16. We contributed to the national effort to address legal issues in policing and public safety.
    Through the Legal Education Police Practices Consortium, the ABA worked with 57 participating law schools to launch a research fellows program to collect data from local police departments on policies and procedures and hosted four programs on police reform efforts to promote a multidisciplinary approach to our understanding of these issues.
  17. We took the court to the streets and replaced fines and fees with housing and services.
    In collaboration with the Judicial Council of California, the Commission on Homelessness and Poverty is leading the statewide expansion of the homeless court model in all 58 California counties — not only doubling the number of homeless courts, but also enhancing existing programs to include services for families and young homeless defendants ages 18-25.  
  18. We continued our efforts at the border to assist unaccompanied children, families and adults seeking asylum.
    The Commission on Immigration’s Detention and Legal Orientation Program Information Line took 4,375 calls from immigrants and refugees detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in more than 200 facilities across the country, and provided information  to 1,735 individuals in detention to assist with their cases. South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR) provided Know Your Rights presentations to 23,375 children; individual legal orientation to 325 adults; and opened cases for 390 unaccompanied children and 187 adults. Children’s Immigration Law Academy trained more than 2,000 lawyers through 32 in-house trainings and provided technical assistance in response to 386 inquiries.
  19. We engaged, educated, and mobilized lawyers nationwide on DEI.
    The Diversity and Inclusion Center hosted its inaugural Equity Summit providing more than 1,100 attorneys with programming on best practices on the key diversity, equity and inclusion challenges and solutions in the legal profession. Also, more than 200 law firms and organizations signed on to use toolkits such as Black Lawyers in America Toolkit and This Talk Isn’t Cheap: Women of Color and White Women Attorneys Find Common Ground Toolkit.
  20. We increased diversity in the educational pipeline.
    The Council for Diversity in the Educational Pipeline hosted “Re-imagining Legal Education: Innovations in Pipeline Programs,” a 10-part webinar series that provided stakeholders from K-12, undergraduate to law school and law school with programming on key issues impacting the educational pipeline to the profession. 
  21. We protected the environment.
    In collaboration with a number of entities, the Section of Environment, Energy and Resources launched a new pro bono initiative that connects lawyers with a range of opportunities, including drafting or peer reviewing decarbonization-related model legislation for the Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization Project and providing legal advice or conducting research for community-based projects with Thriving Earth Exchange.

Your ABA membership made an impact.

Every member strengthens the ABA’s powerful, collective efforts to not only champion a just and inclusive society—but to deliver tangible change to systems, communities, and the lives of our most vulnerable neighbors. Your membership supports critical work led by ABA members and staff who are dedicated to advancing the Rule of Law and removing legal barriers in the way only lawyers can. Thank you for your support in 2021, and thank you for your continued support in 2022!

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