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New ABA policies endorse expanding access to justice, voting

Feb. 24, 2020

The American Bar Association House of Delegates approved resolutions on Feb. 17 that both encourage states to test innovative approaches in their regulatory frameworks and would make it easier for teens to register to vote when they turn 18.

The ABA House of Delegates met Feb. 17 at the 2020 Midyear Meeting in Austin.

The ABA House of Delegates met Feb. 17 at the 2020 Midyear Meeting in Austin.

American Bar Association photo

Overall, the House adopted more than three dozen measures that included recommendations for governments to review deadly force policies, curb gun violence and lessen the burden for release after a conviction and before sentencing on criminal charges. The all-day session concluded the ABA Midyear Meeting in Austin, Texas, which began Feb. 13.

The new policy on regulatory innovation, known as Resolution 115, calls for state regulators and bar associations to continue to explore ideas that have the potential to improve the accessibility, affordability and quality of civil legal services. At least six states have proposed or adopted substantial regulatory changes that could loosen rules, and more are considering doing the same.

Adopted overwhelmingly by voice vote of the 596-member House, the policy does not embrace any single effort. Rather, it encourages states to continue innovative regulatory projects and “ensure that changes are effective in increasing access to legal services and are in the interest of clients and the public.”

To allay the concerns of opponents, drafters from the ABA Center for Innovation added last-minute language that says: “Nothing in this resolution should be construed as recommending any changes to any of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, including Rule 5.4, as they relate to nonlawyer ownership of law firms, the unauthorized practice of law or any other subject.” Rule 5.4 limits sharing of legal fees with nonlawyers and bars nonlawyer equity in law firms.

The House also adopted measures to make voting more accessible. One new policy urges governmental units to allow eligible youth between 16- and 18-years-old to preregister to vote and asks them to automatically add preregistered teens to the voter rolls when they reach the legal voting age. Two others seek to remove voting barriers for Native Americans and Alaska Natives and change residency requirements to make it easier for those without street addresses to use alternative forms of an address to register to vote.

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