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August 09, 2022

ABA leaders look ahead, announce goals

Past, present and future American Bar Association presidents addressed the ABA House of Delegates (HOD), which was held at the Hyatt Regency Chicago on Aug. 8-9 to conclude the 2022 Annual Meeting.

New president Deborah Enix-Ross to focus on the three C’s

“I believe lawyers are uniquely positioned and must lead the way in promoting civics, civility and collaboration — the cornerstones of our democracy — to restore confidence in our democratic institutions, in the judicial system and to protect the rule of law,” said Deborah Enix-Ross as she addressed the HOD on Aug. 8.

She became president of the ABA at the conclusion of the meeting on Aug. 9.

Sworn in by retired Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Enix-Ross noted that Breyer will serve as chair of the ABA Rule of Law Initiative board in the coming bar year. She pointed out that he insisted on being “a hands-on leader of this key ABA initiative,” which makes him “our fellow volunteer.”

The senior adviser to the International Dispute Resolution Group of Debevoise & Plimpton in New York City offered details on her marquis presidential effort: “The Three C’s.”

“Our differences are aggravated by incivility in public discourse and a general lack of understanding of civics,” Enix-Ross said.

“Lawyers can model the behavior we wish to see,” she added, and outlined plans for the ABA “to embrace this role,” including:

  • collaborative networks of state and local bar associations and civic organizations
  • policies to advocate for a more just society
  • conversation guides for state and local bar associations and civic, professional and government organizations to use in programs that will model civil discourse on contested issues
  • civics and civility programming at events throughout the 2022-23 bar year
  • civics and civility as the focus of Law Day in May 2023.

“Our careful consideration of all issues, rooted in the law and our deliberative approach, can turn down the heat and increase the light we need to bridge our differences,” Enix-Ross said.

A lifelong Methodist, the new president spoke of how its founder, John Wesley, coined the phrase “agree to disagree.”

“Agree to disagree is what lawyers do around negotiating tables every day,” she said. “It’s what we do in mediation, in arbitration and in courtrooms after the judge has heard both sides and issues a ruling.” Enix-Ross added that the phrase “is what we must always do in the big tent that encompasses the diversity of membership in the American Bar Association.”

Among her other plans:

  • The Task Force on Law, Society and the Judiciary “will recommend ways to educate the public about the judicial function and to reinforce the importance of protecting the integrity of the judicial branch.”
  • Building will continue on Reginald Turner’s “Each One Reach One” membership initiative “to ensure we all take responsibility for growing our association and sharing the benefits of our community with lawyers everywhere.”
  • The ABA Standing Committee on Election Law’s Poll Worker Esq. initiative will feature the mobilization of lawyers and law students “to help ensure free and fair elections by serving as poll workers.”

Enix-Ross concluded by quoting a maxim attributed to Wesley: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

Reginald Turner reviews a year of focusing on hope

Earlier in the day, outgoing President Reginald Turner reviewed his year of service, and said his belief has not wavered from his address to the HOD a year ago, that the sun is rising on the rule of law.

“This is not a rose-colored view or a product of denial,” he said. “It’s an expression of reasonable and realistic hope.”

Turner noted several hopeful signs for the association, starting with the ABA’s diversity pipeline programs — the Judicial Clerkship Program, the Judicial Intern Opportunity Program and the Legal Opportunity Scholarship — which “call to mind when a justice of the Michigan Supreme Court spoke to a group of us law students and encouraged us to be active in the bar. I later clerked for that justice, [past ABA president] Dennis Archer, and he has been my primary mentor ever since.”

He urged the delegates to “reflect on your own commitment to welcoming new, diverse generations of lawyers — smart, eager and dedicated individuals who see a career in law as a higher calling to achieve justice for all under the rule of law.”

Turner, a member of the law firm Clark Hill PLC, thanked those who rose to the challenge and helped the ABA reaffirm its commitment to diversity among the panelists and speakers at CLE programs. “We will no doubt continue to face challenges on diversity and inclusion, but our demonstrated persistence on overcoming whatever obstacles arise leave me deeply hopeful,” he said.

In addition, Turner thanked the Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. “Many Americans were deeply impressed by the committee’s informed, apolitical testimony on the unassailable professional qualifications of Ketanji Brown Jackson,” for the Supreme Court, he said.

Other bright spots the outgoing president saw were “the ABA’s engagement with our partners in Ukraine as we stand in solidarity in support of international law” and the association’s work to assist Afghan refugees.

Turner also pointed to the success of ABA Free Legal Answers, which in seven years has been adopted by most state bars and seen “nearly 250,000 civil legal questions from low-income people … and more than 10,000 volunteer lawyers have signed up to answer them.” That program, he said, was just part of the ABA’s unwavering support of legal aid and pro bono with events like ABA Day in Washington, the National Celebration of Pro Bono and the annual Equal Justice Conference.

The ABA responded to the troubling threats to judicial security as “a leading advocate for legislation that would limit disclosure of federal judges’ personal information, and we were pleased when Congress enacted legislation to protect Supreme Court justices and their families,” he said.

Turner concluded by saying, “Lawyers like you are the sunshine I see over the horizon. Lawyers like you feed my hope for our profession and legal system.

“You are what our profession’s commitment to the rule of law is all about.”

President-elect Mary L. Smith looks to lawyers to play ‘special role’

“It’s the people who keep democracy alive but we as lawyers have unique skills and a special role to play,” said President-elect Mary L. Smith when she addressed the HOD on Aug. 9.

Smith, vice chair and partner at the VENG Group and senior fellow at Freedman Consulting LLC, said: “As lawyers we must counter the notion that the threats to our democracy are political issues. Let me be clear: They are not. The rule of law, the integrity of our fundamental right to vote and protecting the independence of the judiciary will always be our special responsibility.”

Among the ways the ABA “lifts lawyers up,” Smith said, include:

  • The Young Lawyers Division’s efforts to support the health and well-being of new lawyers and reaching young lawyers “where they are” using new technology;
  • On ABA Day, when lawyers lobby for funding for Legal Services Corporation, and recently to ease student loan debt and improve judicial security.

Smith concluded by quoting her fellow Cherokee, Wilma Mankiller, the first woman chief of the nation, who said, “The secret of our success is that we never, ever give up.”