August 09, 2016

Outgoing ABA president passes gavel; New leadership shares upcoming priorities

Promising to deliver to ABA members “what they need to better serve their clients,” President-elect Linda Klein outlined plans for her term after President Paulette Brown passed the gavel to her at the House of Delegates Aug. 8 at the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Hilarie Bass of Miami became the new President-elect.

Linda Klein (left) accepts the presidential gavel from Immediate Past President Paulette Brown during the ABA Annual Meeting (photo: ABA Journal)

Klein introduced her initiatives for the year, starting with the formation of the Veterans Legal Services Initiative. This committee, chaired by Navy TJAG and 3-star Vice Admiral Nan DeRenzi and HOD member Dwight Smith, will build a comprehensive online resource that will direct veterans to local resources and legal providers.

In addition, the group “will engage law schools and bar associations to promote legal-services incubators, particularly in rural areas, to bring services to veterans while providing valuable training for new and underemployed lawyers,” she said.

They will also “promote medical-legal partnerships that pair doctors with lawyers to solve clients’ underlying legal problems, and we’ll encourage legal check-ups for veterans, their families and caregivers,” Klein said.

Finally, the committee plans to restart an earlier ABA project that provided pro bono help for veterans whose benefits claims were caught in a backlog.

Klein said she plans to use the National Pro Bono Celebration in October to promote veterans-specific activities and this year will extend the celebration to Veterans Day, as well as mobilize state and local bars to sponsor pro bono events again in May around Memorial Day.

“Let’s create a legacy that will help millions of veterans who have so bravely served our nation,” Klein said.

The new president is also asking ABA to promote voting, “the foundation of our democracy,” she said.

Members of the HOD found a card at their seats that explains the importance of voting and lists resources. The cards can be personalized for members’ firms or bar association. Other resources can be found on

Another cornerstone of democracy is education, Klein said, and she is establishing an Education Commission to leverage the efforts of other ABA entities to promote the right to a high-quality education for those who don’t get one. These include “children from low-income families, children of color, children with disabilities, children whose primary language is not English, children in foster care and children from families that are homeless,” she said. 

“Every child needs and deserves a quality education,” Klein said.

The new ABA president spent last year on a “listening tour,” where she learned from lawyers across the country – members and nonmembers – about the types of support they need.

To address those needs, Klein introduced ABA Blueprint, “a web portal, a one-stop shop for members to get what they need while saving far more than they pay in dues.”

ABA Blueprint will have a package of technology, virtual receptionist, time and billing software, as well as a retirement plan, life insurance, technology and benefits help. The package of support is available now at

Klein ended her speech by thanking the HOD for the “privilege” of serving as ABA president and said, “I can’t wait to get started.”

Outgoing president Brown summarizes term

Earlier, saying her year had been “filled with joy, promise, inspiration and sometimes sadness,” outgoing ABA President Paulette Brown reported on the accomplishments of her eventful year at the helm of the association.

Brown said that at the end of her term she is “stronger, more enlightened and more determined to use my law degree to help others.”

She recalled that one year ago she told the House she wanted them to heed “Charles Hamilton Houston’s admonition to use our law degrees to be ‘social engineers’ for justice.” 

Brown said her initiatives accomplished what they set out to do, “plus much more.”

Starting with her Main Street ABA initiative, Brown said, “As an association, we ask our members to come to us. But I wanted to meet our members and lawyers around the country up close, so they could know personally that the ABA cares about them.”

As a result, she made approximately 320 visits in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and two territories, and traveled nearly 400,000 miles. 

She said the encounters affirmed her belief that lawyers share “a common desire to make a better place for everyone and to rise to the occasion and stand up for what is just and what is right.”

Main Street ABA included working to build a pipeline of opportunity to the profession. Brown visited more than 40 Boys & Girls Clubs, where she was often joined by local young lawyers and law students, many of whom formed ongoing relationships with the clubs.

Brown’s ABA Everyday initiative offered members a free benefit every day. She called it “a resounding success” and she thanked the 49 ABA entities that contributed content.

Part of the ABA Everyday initiative was the Young Lawyer Toolkit, which is “two user-friendly, web-based resource centers, regardless of practice area, to make our members better lawyers – as only we can do.”  The toolkit for lawyers with one-to-three years’ experience was released at the 2016 Midyear Meeting, and the one for lawyers with four-through-six years’ experience was released this week in San Francisco.

“Pro bono is at the heart of our association and our profession” Brown said as she spoke of her signature event during National Pro Bono Week: “And Justice for All: An ABA Day of Service.”

She reported that “tens of thousands of lawyers representing 544 organizations participated in nearly 900 registered events in 44 states, plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and six countries.” Brown herself volunteered at a senior law clinic helping the elderly with important legal tasks.

Brown called the accomplishments of the Diversity & Inclusion 360 Commission “both wide and deep,” and said their work was “ingenious, ambitious – and tremendously successful.”

The commission created “a searchable, online database of mentor and support programs across the country to help remove our young people from the school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionally traps so many children of color and, instead, put them on the path toward rewarding and successful lives.”

In addition, the group created “new tools to help leaders in the law – judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and public defenders – to recognize their implicit biases” in the form of three training videos that “examine implicit bias in all facets of our legal system and what to do about.”

Brown said the commission also “initiated a conversation with the judge advocate general corps that explores how the ABA and the JAG Corps can raise awareness about legal career opportunities in the military and share best practices for recruiting diverse students.”

Turning to events around the country and around the world, Brown reasserted the association’s support for human rights and access to justice.

She said that following the events in Dallas, Minnesota and Baton Rouge, she asked that a task force be formed “to make recommendations to address trust and confidence in the American legal system,” and said she was pleased that President-elect Klein “will move this effort forward during her year in office.” 

In spite of the tensions in the country, Brown said she remains optimistic, and quoted Justice Sandra Day O’Connor: “A nation’s success or failure in achieving democracy is judged in part by how well it responds to those at the bottom and the margins of the social order.  The very problems that democratic change brings -- social tension, heightened expectations, political unrest -- are also strengths.”

She concluded by saying she was not sad that her term is over: “ABA presidents do not come to stay. They come to serve and make a difference.”

President-elect Bass prioritizes access to justice, legal service delivery innovation

After she was elected President-elect of the ABA by the House of Delegates on Aug. 9, Hilarie Bass, co-president of Greenberg Traurig in Miami, said she wanted to improve access to justice and take innovative approaches to the delivery of legal services and law school education.

 “We must be able to openly admit that we can do better if we can discuss the impact race and gender have in all of our institutions including our justice system, our places of employment and our educational institutions,” she said.

Speaking of the impact of technology on all aspect of the economy, Bass said, “the law profession cannot and should not hesitate to adopt its use to assist in meeting the large unmet needs of legal consumers in this country.” 

She quoted from the recommendations of the Futures Commission’s final report, which said the ABA can inspire innovation in this area and provide leadership to practitioners who practice as they always have despite technological innovations.

The ABA can also inspire innovation in legal education, Bass said, which is failing to train lawyers for the future. Deans, bar examiners, the Supreme Court, the students themselves and their future employers all get blamed, but Bass said, “the American Bar Association is the only group in this country capable of bringing all of those disparate groups into the same room talking to each other about whether and how the system of legal education be redesigned.”

Bass said the ABA’s challenges are great, but that it must continue to provide value and remain relevant, and she is optimistic about the association’s ability to do that.  “The breadth and depth of the existing programs of this association, and the leadership … are unsurpassed by other voluntary organization that exists.”