February 06, 2018

ABA president: “Power” of ABA vital to problem solving, rule of law

The biggest takeaway Hilarie Bass has received from her international and domestic travels as ABA president has been “the power of the American Bar Association and the American legal profession that it represents.”

ABA President Hilarie Bass speaks to the House of Delegates at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Vancouver.

“How we utilize that power is more critical than ever before as more individuals and institutions need our help and our leadership,” she told the House of Delegates on Feb. 5 at the Midyear Meeting in Vancouver.

“But that power is not to be taken for granted or misused,” Bass continued. “You, the leaders of this association, have the huge responsibility for nurturing the power of this association when called upon. Use it sparingly and definitively, in order to ensure that power will be available to protect and represent our profession for generations to come.”

One area where the ABA used its power this year, Bass said, was to urge Congress to move forward with immigration and criminal justice reform, to lobby for full funding of the State Department and the continuation of rule of law programs throughout the world and to lobby against the adoption of accrual accounting for the legal profession.

Bass pointed to ABA Legal Fact Check as an example of when “the leaders of the ABA will not stand by and say nothing when others challenge the legal principles on which our democracy is based.” The new website has posted entries on the facts behind such timely topics as the scope of executive pardons, the constitutional limits of free speech, foreign influence on U.S. elections and more.

Lauding the work of the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, she said, “none of our work is more important than the peer reviews we continue to perform on judicial nominees being considered for lifetime appointments by the Senate Judiciary Committee,” and noted their work in completing reviews of more than 60 judicial candidates since last January.

Other examples of the ABA “helping to change the paradigm” are in the work of two of Bass’ signature initiatives: Achieving Long-Term Careers for Women in Law, which will come before the HOD in August with specific recommendations, and Legal Needs of Homeless Youth. Of the latter, she said the ABA has long been recognized for providing leadership in the area of children. “There have only been two worldwide conferences on street youth, both of which were created, developed and implemented by the children and the law entities of the American Bar Association,” she said.

Turning to the work of the Commission on the Future of Legal Education, Bass asked, “Does it make sense for some states to be testing law grads in certain states on as many as 27 different topics? Does it make sense to wait for a student to go through three years of law school before testing them on what they learned in their first semester and for them to discover that they are not going to be able to pass the licensing exam? Does it make sense for no one to have ever validated whether a high score on the bar exam equates to having better skills as a lawyer?”

“No organization other than the ABA has the ability to drive the solutions and move for their adoption,” she said, adding that proposals will be presented at the Annual Meeting.

She also pointed out the “great work” of the Task Force on Building Trust in the Justice System, which has focused on addressing the criminalization of poverty in the United States.

While realizing the power of the ABA on rule of law issues at home and abroad, Bass said, “I have also been made keenly aware that our power can only be as strong as our organization itself.” She said the association needs to “evolve and adapt….Whether that means modifications to our dues structure, our sections’ structure or our administrative structure, we cannot stand idly by and expect that our association will continue to thrive and grow utilizing the same framework of operations that has been in place for decades.”

In closing, Bass said, “To anyone who doubts the power of the rule of law, to anyone who questions the respect with which American lawyers are viewed throughout the world, to anyone who wonders whether the work of the American Bar Association is critical to our democracy and to the rule of law across the globe,” she invited them to join her on her travels to visit judges, homeless shelters, disaster relief centers “or any one of the other 50 countries in which the American Bar Association works every day to further the rule of law.”