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ABA House adopts range of new policies at virtual Midyear

Feb. 23, 2021

The American Bar Association House of Delegates approved 31 wide-ranging measures at its Feb. 22 session, including a resolution that urges the federal government to implement programs to assist law graduates and law students experiencing financial hardship due to their student loans.

The ABA House of Delegates, seen here at a past meeting, met virtually to debate policy resolutions concerning a variety of key legal issues.

The ABA House of Delegates, seen here at a past meeting, met virtually to debate policy resolutions concerning a variety of key legal issues.

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The one-day meeting of the 597-member ABA policymaking body, known as the HOD, concluded the virtual ABA 2021 Midyear Meeting, which began Feb. 17. The policy proposals, which were typically approved by overwhelming margins, enable the ABA to lobby legislators and file amicus briefs in these policy areas.

The new student loan policy (Resolution 106C) recommends extending repayment terms, allowing either refinancing or transferring of obligations to federal programs from commercial programs, and authorizing suspension or forgiveness of student loans in certain situations. A companion resolution sponsored by the Young Lawyers Division that urged Congress to amend the U.S. bankruptcy code to ease restrictions on how student loans can be discharged was withdrawn because of objections from other ABA entities.

Studies have shown recent law graduates carry an average of about $145,000 in student debt. A survey released last summer by the National Association for Law Placement found that 49% of the responding law schools stated employers had rescinded employment offers and many other offers were pushed into 2021 because of the impact of COVID-19 on the legal profession.

The pandemic inspired two other new policies to help lawyers and law students better manage their well-being and family life.

One measure (Resolution 300A) sponsored by the ABA Coordinating Group on Practice Forward, which was established a year ago in the wake of the then emerging pandemic, encourages stakeholders in the legal profession to increase the availability of resources that advance well-being. A second new policy (Resolution 300B) encourages government and other entities to provide adequate funding to ensure access to fair, affordable and high-quality child care and family care as well as other resources for school-age children.

The House also approved a change (Resolution 11-1) in its Rules of Procedure to add the requirement that future resolutions must advance one or more of the ABA four goals. Unified state bar associations, among others, had raised concerns about past HOD resolutions for being unrelated to the practice of law.

Only proposals adopted by the House constitute association policy.

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