February 09, 2015

ABA leaders address the House of Delegates on root causes of injustice, ABA’s work

ABA President William C. Hubbard opened his speech to the House of Delegates with the story of his friend and law partner, Steve Morrison, who spent 10 years and a significant amount of pro bono time on an access to public education case, Abbeville v. State of South Carolina

ABA President William C. Hubbard

In his closing argument, Morrison “told an African parable about babies floating down a river,” Hubbard related. “In the story, a young fisherman scrambled to pull the babies out, shouting, ‘We have to get these babies out of the river.’ An older fisherman quickly walked away replying, ‘You help as many of the babies as you can. I'm going upriver to see who's throwing the babies into the river.’”

“I know that you, as leaders of the bar, share this commitment: The commitment to sustained dedication and effort to address the root causes of injustice and to promote sustainable solutions built on diversity of perspective,” said Hubbard, who addressed the House on Monday, Feb. 9, at the Midyear Meeting in Houston.

“Our long-standing efforts on diversity make us better lawyers and stewards of society,” he said. “More than ever, we need racial and ethnic diversity to help us identify the types of upriver strategies that will help us overcome our challenges.”

Hubbard pointed to the ABA’s “considerable expertise” on criminal justice, which is informed by the association’s diversity. Hubbard referred to the commission inspired by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy that the ABA established 12 years ago, whose findings shaped HOD policies on sentencing reform, imprisonment and racial disparities in the U.S. justice system.

“It is our sustained efforts, reinforced by our diversity, that have enabled the ABA to lead on these issues year after year,” Hubbard said. He announced that the ABA will further this work by a collaboration fostered with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Hubbard also called the thousands of unaccompanied minors that have come across our border in the last year a problem “as acute as babies in the river.”

“So we went to work,” he said. “In the best tradition of the ABA, we rolled up our sleeves at the start of the bar year and formed the Working Group on Unaccompanied Minor Immigrants….This diverse group is responding to the critical need for lawyers who can help to ensure a more fair and efficient court process—something that immigration judges are urging us in the strongest terms possible to provide.”

The president thanked the Section of Family Law and the Section of Business Law, each of which has contributed $25,000 to help recruit, train and mentor lawyers to help represent the minors.

Another focus of ABA energy and attention is on providing better opportunities for young lawyers, and Hubbard pointed to the ABA Task Force on Financing Legal Education. “Our sections and committees are reaching out with new opportunities and new strategies to help law students and young lawyers,” he said. “We must ensure that our profession attracts the best and the brightest.”

Hubbard told the group that “it is time to refocus our attention and bring fresh thinking to a longtime intractable problem: the civil justice gap.” He repeated the metaphor of an iceberg used by Jordan Furlong, who spoke at the Futures Conclave at the Section Officers Conference. An iceberg is 80 percent to 85 percent below the water, much like the 80 percent to 85 percent of Americans with unmet legal needs. “Not only must we rescue those flailing in that icy water, we also need foresight to identify and implement innovative upriver strategies,” Hubbard said.

“Despite our herculean efforts, and the good work of so many of you in this room, traditional ways of delivering legal services are not making the progress that must be made. We must close the justice gap or risk losing trust in our justice system. When that trust is broken, the rule of law is threatened,” Hubbard said.

The president highlighted the innovations that some are tapping into, such as virtual law offices and hybrid lawyer/Internet delivery platforms that lower overhead and improve efficiency. “The lawyers who seize these opportunities see what venture capitalists see,” Hubbard said. “These investors pumped $66 million into legal service technology companies in 2012. In 2013, that investment rose to $456 million. In 2014, that investment in legal start-ups rose to over a billion,” he said.

Hubbard thanked the efforts of the Commission on the Future of Legal Services and its partners, saying, “we are going to meet this challenge to develop new platforms to deliver legal services – platforms that meet the legal needs of the public, protect the public and provide fresh opportunities for lawyers.”

The ABA’s work on cybersecurity, serving the unmet legal needs of veterans and the rule of law initiative were also highlighted.

Hubbard’s remarks culminated with a look forward to the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta in June. He encouraged the delegates to join the celebration in London and Runnymede on June 11-15, and showed a video on the ABA’s “continuing commitment to preserving Magna Carta’s legacy.”

Adam Gropper

ABA President-Elect Nominee Linda A. Klein

Later, President-Elect Nominee Linda A. Klein gave remarks to the House. She lauded the courage and the direction in which President Hubbard is leading the ABA as well as the example of President-Elect Paulette Brown as a role model for young people choosing a legal career.

Watch video of President-Elect nominee Linda A. Klein

Saying she had been a member of the ABA since law school, Klein said, “As my practice and clients’ needs evolved, I always had the ABA along beside me.”

“Working together is what the ABA does best,” she said, citing the association’s work with state, local and minority bars, and citing the ABA’s work with the South Dakota bar to bring lawyers back to small towns in that state.

“It proves,” Klein said, “that in working together, when the ABA leads, great things happen.” She pointed to the association’s leadership in such areas as legal ethics, indigent defense, patent law, children’s rights and creating the Legal Services Corporation.

“Each time society has a problem it cannot solve, it turns to the legal system,” she said. “And the ABA, as it’s leader, convenes the best minds to find solutions.”