August 07, 2018

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

Hilarie Bass passed the gavel to  Bob Carlson as he became president of the American Bar Association on Aug. 7 at the Annual Meeting in Chicago. In his remarks he said he was “humbled” by the trust placed in him.

The attorney at Corette, Black, Carlson & Mickelson PC in Butte, Mont., said that today was not about him, but about the American Bar Association.\

“We cannot let pessimism or cynicism define us,” he said. “Our profession, and our nation, needs the ABA’s strong, national, collective voice as so many other voices – powerful voices – mock due process, ridicule equal justice under the law and scorn our independent judiciary.”

To “cynics who say we’re driven by ideology,” Carlson clarified, “Our ideology is the essential role of an independent judiciary. We are the protectors of equal justice under law in a free, democratic society. That is our ideology.”

The new president plans to raise awareness of member benefits, including ABA Blueprint, ABA Insurance and ABA Leverage. “ABA Blueprint will also expand the roster of vendors, enable user reviews and distribute how-to content from ABA entities to reach more lawyers and help them in their practices,” he said of the resource for solo and small-firm lawyers.

Carlson plans to building on the momentum of Hilarie Bass’ Future of Legal Education initiative and the ABA Center on Innovation, and “build on our national leadership to encourage pro bono and legal aid for veterans, homeless youth and other vulnerable communities.”

He will promote the association’s Disaster Legal Services as the theme of Celebrate Pro Bono in October and is particularly interested in continuing “to improve our profession in another critical area, the work of the ABA Task Force on Lawyer Well Being.

The new president and new president-elect Judy Perry Martinez plan a trip to Harlingen, Texas, later this month to see firsthand the work of the many volunteer lawyers representing separated families and other migrants.

Carlson concluded his speech by saying that some consider the ABA “passé.” He responded that anyone thinking that should ask a recipient of legal aid services, an active military member or a veteran, a victim of a natural disaster, the lawyers and judges around the world benefiting from the ABA Rule of Law Initiative, or an unaccompanied minor at the border. They could tell those skeptics what “America’s lawyers do through this association.”

Bass looks back on a year of accomplishments

In her farewell speech to the House of Delegates, President Hilarie Bass said her pride in all the good work the American Bar Association does reached a new level recently during the on-going immigration crisis involving the separation of families.

“I have never felt prouder as I watched the hundreds of ABA colleagues from throughout this country who stepped up to fight injustice and make a difference in the lives of families in need,” she said.

Specifically, Bass cited the hundreds of lawyers who participated in a recent ABA webinar about providing pro bono assistance for separated children and their parents; the website quickly put together by the ABA Fund for Justice and Education about how to volunteer, donate or assist in advocating for change in current immigration policies; ABA ProBAR, which has been training volunteers how to represent migrant families each week since the crisis began; the law firms that have been sending pro bono lawyers to Texas to help with “credible fear hearings”; and the ABA entities that have been organizing volunteers to help as lawyers, guardians and social workers.

Those volunteers “look to our organization as the beacon for providing justice,” she said.

Noting the spike in donations to FJE and offers from foundations and other organizations to work with the ABA on multi-disciplinary approaches to reunify families, Bass said, “The desire to fight injustice once again remains at the heart of what the ABA stands for.”

Bass turned to the accomplishments of her initiatives, starting with the Legal Needs of Homeless Youth. Domestically, the ABA worked to pair law firms, in-house counsel groups and bar associations with homeless youth shelters to provide pro bono legal assistance.

“In just the past few weeks, we launched a pilot program where at Apple and at Google, in-house lawyers can sit at their desks and Skype with their clients in homeless shelters in their cities to provide the legal assistance they need,” she said. “They’ll have our toolkit on their desk and they’ll have the phone number of an expert available to answer questions. This concept of providing Skype-based legal assistance could be a game changer for our pro bono work.”

Of her Achieving Long-term Careers for Women in Law initiative, Bass discussed some of the results of the year-long studies undertaken, including “not surprisingly, that the number-one thing women most disliked about the practice of law was their perception that they were being discriminated against based on their gender.”

She said women reported “remarkably different work experiences from men at the same level of practice,” such as more than 60 percent of women felt they were perceived to be less committed to their careers than the men they worked with.

Bass said the initiative would be coming back to the House of Delegates next year “with a list of specific recommendations that law firms and companies can implement to once and for all ensure that our legal profession is as hospitable to women lawyers as it is to men.”

She reported that the Commission on the Future of Legal Education “is launching empirical studies this year and will be recommending specific actions relating to the bar exams that will reflect a more modern understanding and balancing of the knowledge, skills, judgment and values required from our graduates.”

The commission will also work with the ABA Center for Innovation to complete “a set of aspirational principles to which law schools and employers can voluntarily subscribe, bar examiners will be able to collaborate on assessment priorities and students can use to better understand what they should expect from their legal education and licensure process in the 21st century,” she said.

On the issue of lawyer wellness, Bass said that the Working Group to Advance Attorney Well-Being developed a toolkit and a Model Impairment Policy for Legal Employers, which “is focused on ensuring early identification of impairment and proper intervention to prevent, mitigate and treat this problem,” she said.

Bass also hailed the work of the Young Lawyers Division’s Disaster Legal Services. This year, they responded to major disasters in Houston, Florida, California, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, among others. During a recent trip to Puerto Rico, she and President-elect Bob Carlson “were constantly thanked for the incredible work of our own YLD. Their work has earned the respect and recognition of everyone from FEMA and local LSC providers to the disaster volunteers and victims throughout the country.

Bass also noted improvements within the association, including the new mobile-enabled website, which will be rolling out soon, and the recently implemented realignment and reorganization. She urged the delegates to vote to accept the new membership model, which will lower dues in all categories, bring membership categories down to just five and curate content to fit each member.

She concluded by saying, “The American Bar Association has never been more important in the United States and in the world. We must continue to stand up for the rule of law, to speak out in support for the independence of the judiciary and to ensure that our profession lives up to its ideals.”

Martinez assumes role as president-elect

Judy Perry Martinez stressed the importance of innovation and the strength of the association as she became president-elect of the American Bar Association on Tuesday at the Annual Meeting in Chicago.

Martinez, of Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn in New Orleans, said she learned about the essential right to counsel when her firm represented a Louisiana death row inmate for nine years, an experience she said “changed me as a lawyer, as a citizen and as a human being.”

She noted that she and the inmate grew up minutes from each other in St. Bernard Parish, yet were worlds apart.” She grew up middle class while he spent most of his childhood in a juvenile detention facility and they experienced “vast differences in opportunities, expectations, second chances, support and hope.”

Martinez’ legal team was not able to stop his execution, and the experience “changed me as a lawyer, as a citizen and as a human being.”

Speaking of the ABA, she said it “must be purposeful and deliberate in our ongoing assessment of the association’s state of affairs.”

The special advisor to the ABA Center for Innovation stressed that it is the association’s duty to be “forward thinking.”

“Lawyers need our help, and when we find that technology, reform or innovation can improve the delivery of legal services, we must not resist by simply saying ‘that is not the way we have always done it.’ That response is no longer acceptable,” Martinez said.

She called for redoubling efforts toward inclusion and diversity in the profession, and for lawyers to reach out to those like the inmate she represented.

“We must give our best to those whom we the lawyers have taken an oath to protect and serve.”

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