January 28, 2019

ABA President Carlson defends judiciary, touts lawyer wellness

ABA President Bob Carlson gave a robust defense of the nation’s judiciary to House delegates on Jan. 28 when he said, “we can never stop defending our nation’s courts.”

Speaking during the ABA House of Delegates’ Midyear Meeting session, Carlson cited an example in November when the association publicly supported U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ response to an attack on the judiciary.

“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”

Carlson also shared the association’s most recent stand. Referring to the dangers risked by the longest government shutdown in history he said, “Failure to fund our federal courts and the institutions of justice is an attack on due process and the rule of law.”

Among other highlights, Carlson, a small-firm lawyer from Butte, Mont., reviewed the first six months of his term, which included a Celebration of Pro Bono marked by an October event at Georgetown University Law Center with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan. He emphasized the importance of service, noting that Kagan’s role model was her father, a sometimes solo practitioner who always found time for pro bono work.

“Everyone in this room has had a role model. Everyone in this room has been a role model – for service, for civility, for justice,” he said. “Just as we observe and emulate those who came before us, the next generation of lawyers is watching us; they’re looking for guidance and for our leadership.”

Carlson lauded the more than 1,400 pro bono events hosted by more than 700 bar associations and other organizations, from all 50 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada and Hong Kong.

The theme for Pro Bono Week was disaster legal services, and Carlson noted that in October, the North Carolina Supreme Court temporarily allowed out-of-state lawyers to provide pro bono legal services for low- to moderate-income Hurricane Florence victims. The online portal ABA Free Legal Answers was programmed to accommodate the court’s rule and provided easy access for lawyers anywhere to volunteer.

Saying “our voice for America’s legal profession is robust, it is undeniable and it is an indispensable part of our nation’s culture of justice,” he said.

Carlson highlighted those areas where the ABA’s leadership has resulted in recognition and more.

One of those was the association’s work on “the trauma of family separations,” which was recognized by J.K. Rowling’s Lumos Foundation, he said. “With the foundation’s support, the ABA’s pro bono immigration lawyers at the border can now team with social workers to give reuniting families the range of help that they need.”

And he cited a just-announced development, in which the American Bar Endowment is supporting the ABA’s efforts with a $150,000 grant to enable the hiring of a pro bono coordinator at the border.

Noting how “nations … look to the ABA for guidance on issues of law and justice,” Carlson said, “this authority was recently recognized by the Clooney Foundation for Justice, which is partnering with the ABA and Columbia Law School to monitor trials around the world that pose a high risk of human rights violations, including trials that could oppress vulnerable groups, silence speech or target political opponents.”

Of one of his top priorities, lawyer wellness, Carlson said, We are the nation’s leader in raising awareness of issues related to substance use and abuse, anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses in our profession and of encouraging and supporting our colleagues as they need and seek help.”

He asked the delegates to spread the word about the ABA Working Group to Advance Well-Being in the Legal Profession and to join the more than 70 legal employers who have signed the pledge to elevate this important issue.

After reviewing progress on ABA Blueprint and the online CLE marketplace that will be part of the new membership model, Carlson said, “I believe the steps we are taking to make the ABA more accessible, more relevant, more valuable and more cost-effective are courageous and bold, and they will convince more lawyers than ever that the ABA is the place to be in our profession, the clear choice for their professional advancement.”

“We will bend the moral arc toward justice,” he said in closing. “We will do so out of a position of strength, not out of fear. We will do so from a position of hope. We will resolve to continue to do this great work.

“The ABA will continue to champion the hope for due process and the rule of law.”

President-elect nominee speaks

Later, Patricia Lee Refo said she was “humbled” to accept her nomination as president-elect nominee

Refo, a litigator at Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix, paid tribute to her law partner, fellow HOD member and friend John Bouma, who died in an accident last week. “He was truly a giant in the law and in our civic life in Arizona,” she said. But she knew her House colleagues would agree that “we can literally hear him saying, ‘step forward, move on, there is work to do.’”

And, “indeed, there is,” she said.

Refo said she expected to keep working on the issues surrounding the new membership model, the changes to the legal profession and defense of the judiciary.

She cited a number of ABA historic “firsts,” including setting ethical standards, accrediting law schools, setting up the Legal Services Corporation, and prioritizing diversity and inclusion in law schools, judiciary and the profession.

“At our best,” she concluded, “our association and this house make history, and I look forward to continuing to do that with all of you.”