August 15, 2017

Outgoing president passes gavel; New leadership outlines priorities for coming term

On Aug. 14 at the ABA Annual Meeting in New York City, Linda Klein passed the gavel to the new president, Hilarie Bass, at the House of Delegates meeting.

(from left) ABA Immediate Past-President Linda Klein and ABA President Hilarie Bass

Bass, co-president of Greenberg Traurig, recalled as a third-year associate being dragged to a Dade County Bar Association lunch. She didn’t want to go, but that lunch changed the trajectory of her career by eventually leading her to the ABA.

“In large part, it has been the ABA that has helped me to live up to the ideals of fighting injustice and creating social change – the very goals that inspired me to become a lawyer,” she said.

She learned about the power of the ABA on a Section of Litigation trip to Haiti after the earthquake, to teach that country’s lawyers “the basic advocacy skills they needed to help rebuild their justice system,” she said. Haitian lawyers arrived after long bus rides or by walking through the rubble of Port au Prince.

“I assure you, every lawyer on that trip understood the value of ABA membership,” Bass said.

Referring to the “current political climate,” Bass said, “today, we are clearly reminded of the extremely important role that lawyers serve in our democracy.”

The new ABA president spoke of her initiatives, starting with ABA Legal Fact Check.

“The concept is simple,” she said. “In an era of alternative news and fake facts, the ABA should be the definitive source of ‘real facts’ when it comes to the law.” So, whenever a politician or member of the media makes a statement about the law that is false or inaccurate, “ABA Legal Fact Check will, within a matter of hours, post the correct facts on the ABA website and distribute the message through press releases,” Bass said.

She said the experience of representing pro bono two children who wanted to be adopted by their gay foster parents, which led to Florida overturning their ban on gay adoption, was the impetus for her pro bono theme this year.

Bass aims to match lawyers at firms, bar associations and in-house counsel departments with more than 350 shelters that provide services for the more than 500,000 children who live on the streets.

“We will ensure that our volunteer lawyers have the information they need to address the basic legal issues of this population -- whether it is issues relating to entering school, obtaining legal identification or expunging a criminal infraction,” she said. “Extending a helping hand to these children will likely change the trajectory of their lives.”

Bass also discussed the newly formed Commission on the Future of Legal Education, chaired by University of Miami Law School Dean Trish White. That group will examine why bar examination scores have plummeted throughout the country and “also look into the role legal education can play in addressing the justice gap, as well as identifying skills that future lawyers will need to provide the most efficient service to their clients,” she said.

Research shows that women lawyers in their 40s and 50s, “who should be at the peak of their success,” are leaving the profession, Bass said. She will launch a “longitudinal study to better understand why women are leaving the practice of law in huge numbers,” for which more than $380,000 has been raised. The effort will begin with a summit at Harvard Law School in November, she said.

Saying she wished she “could provide a magic looking glass to the many young lawyers who don’t understand why someone would join a bar association,” Bass said she would show them how she was able to provide disaster relief through the Young Lawyers Division after Hurricane Andrew, answer consumers’ legal questions on radio talk shows to promote a consumer legal guide written by the Standing Committee on Public Education and explain her legal rights to a 14-year-old Honduran girl at the Texas border after her harrowing journey.

“If I had that looking glass, there would be no doubt that every one of those young lawyers would ‘get it,’ “ she said. “These are the experiences that I dreamed of when I decided to become a lawyer.”

Klein looks back on a year of accomplishments

Earlier, Linda A. Klein reviewed her year as president of the ABA and drew lessons from the events that occurred in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend.

“We come to New York to celebrate the rule of law,” she said, “and then we turn on our TV sets and what do we see? We see people filled with hate coming to the hometown of the author of the Declaration of Independence. People who don’t believe we are all created equal.”

 “The lawyers of America must lead in bringing people together and defend the values that unite us,” she said.

Klein said the ABA was “prepared and ready” and responded “quickly and decisively” to the challenges faced throughout the year, including

  • when the president “used the nation’s highest office to question the legitimacy of federal judges.”
  • when the ABA sued the U.S. Department of Education “for reneging on the promise of Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
  • when some states “when carrying out the death penalty, put the expiration date of a drug ahead of due process.”
  • “for public defenders with overwhelming caseloads in understaffed and underfunded offices.”
  • when the administration’s budget “zeroed-out federal funds for the Legal Services Corporation.”

Discussing the accomplishments of her initiatives, Klein started with the Veterans Legal Services Initiative, which created a free online legal checkup tool for veterans. “And with Jones Day’s generous support, we created VetLex, an online platform that helps veterans find pro bono legal assistance,” she said.

She lauded the 150 pro bono events held around the country to help veterans in need during the Celebration for Pro Bono.

Another initiative focused on policy changes “to ensure that every child receives the education needed to become an informed, productive citizen,” she said. “And that includes children in foster care and in the juvenile justice system.

Klein said in response to “the horrific spate of violence between police and citizens,” the ABA formed the Task Force on Building Public Trust in the American Justice System. It produced a report in February, and “since then, we developed a toolkit that helps bring bars and communities together, to reduce mistrust in the justice system,” she said.

The experience last year of being on a plane catapulted off the USS George Washington aircraft carrier provided Klein with a metaphor for her year.

“When I launched off that deck I kept telling myself not to worry because I was not up there alone, that there were 6,000 people on that aircraft carrier I could rely on, and that made all the difference,” she said. “And when I landed safely I got to thank some of them from the bottom of my heart.”

Klein thanked the ABA leadership, membership and staff for being with her during her term.

“This was our year. It was a defining moment for our profession and the ABA. It was a year when we stood up for the rule of law, for our fair and impartial judiciary, for access to justice for all, “ she said.

Carlson assumes president-elect position

In his Aug. 15 speech to the House of Delegates the new president-elect of the ABA, Bob Carlson, a lawyer with Corette Black Carlson & Michelson in Butte, Mont., attributed becoming active in the association to meeting former ABA President Wm. T. “Bill” Robinson III at a Western States Bar conference in the early 1990s.

“He was so engaging and full of enthusiasm about the ABA,” Carlson said.

“The ABA is really a family, a community of members with shared values,” he said. “We work together because we recognize the vital role the ABA plays to improve the profession and promote the rule of law.”

“Where else could you have a president one year from Miami, who is co-president of one of the world’s largest law firms, followed as president by someone from Montana who practices in a six-person firm?” Carlson asked.

Of the ABA’s mission, he said, “Justice must be available to everyone and justice must look like everyone.”

“Though we may need to change how we do things,” he concluded, “we won’t change who we are and we will not change what we stand for.”