July 30, 2020

ABA Medal honoree William H. Neukom urges greater push for justice for all

ABA Medal recipient William Neukom called for the American Bar Association to go beyond its motto of “Defending Liberty and Pursuing Justice” and amend it to “Defending Liberty and Delivering Justice.”

“I think we’re in the business of delivering justice,” he said. “Pursuing justice is only the first step. Delivering on that goal is what really matters. Let’s promise and let’s deliver.”

Neukom received the ABA Medal during the association’s 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting. The award recognizes exceptionally distinguished service by a lawyer or lawyers to a cause of American jurisprudence. In her introduction, ABA President Judy Perry Martinez said Neukom has an “extraordinary record of service.”

An international champion for justice who has devoted his life and career to public service, access to justice and advancing the rule of law, Neukom is a former president of the ABA and the founder and chief executive officer of the World Justice Project, an organization devoted to promoting the rule of law throughout the world. He was also the lead lawyer for Microsoft Corporation for nearly 25 years and is a retired partner in the Seattle office of the international law firm K&L Gates.

“I am beholden to the American Bar Association for the opportunities it has presented to me to be a better lawyer and I think a better person, and the heroes it has brought into my work and to my life,” Neukom said during his remarks.

Neukom likened the ABA to a big tent with round tables that welcomes a melting pot of talent – Big Law lawyers, solo law practitioners, scholars, prosecutors, defense counsel, young and experienced lawyers and foreign and domestic lawyers. He also called the association a “quasi-public trust” that plays an essential part in the advancement of the rule of law around the globe as well as a “spotlight that illuminates areas of needs and opportunities, a beacon standing for certain values and disciplines and broadcasting them.”

He recounted the four goals of the ABA: serve members, improve the profession and justice system, eliminate bias in the justice system and the profession, and advance the rule of law. He called for the association to double down on its efforts, especially in bringing the rule of law to more communities worldwide. “The rule of law is the very foundation of communities, of justice, opportunity and peace.”

Neukom also emphasized the elimination of bias as a priority – not just in the profession but in the community at large. “Certainly, there’s no more important matter to be working on right now than the elimination of bias in light of what we’ve been learning about the cruelties of racism that unfortunately has been a part of this country for more than four centuries.”

While the ABA is the voice of the legal profession, Neukom said, the association “should be viewed as a venerable institution. As a venerable institution, there are times it should behave in an impatient fashion. This is a time to be an impatient, venerable institution.”