chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
February 06, 2023

Enix-Ross points to ABA impact at Midyear Meeting

ABA President Deborah Enix-Ross joked to the House of Delegates that people must have thought “good luck getting any work done” since the American Bar Association Midyear Meeting was being held during carnival season in New Orleans.

“Maybe they know something about New Orleans,” she said at her Feb. 6 address, but they obviously don’t know about the American Bar Association’s ability “to make our time together not only fun, but also productive and meaningful.”

“If you’ve seen the ABA’s recent Impact Report that catalogs our multitude of public service programs, you know that our impact is stronger than ever,” the lawyer with Debevoise & Plimpton in New York City said.

Saying that it can be difficult to figure out how to “come together to solve problems,” Enix-Ross said, “Let me suggest that at the ABA, we are doing so in numerous ways.”

One way is through her signature project, the Cornerstones of Democracy, which she said is “resonating.”

Enix-Ross spoke of “identifying allies with whom we don’t agree on everything but find common cause on the need for civics and civility,” and reported that the Board of Governors hosted the president of the Federalist Society, Gene Meyer, who “held up the relationship … between late Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who both were mindful to critique each other’s ideas without personal attacks.” (Enix-Ross has been invited to reciprocate by attending one of their meetings.)

“We must elevate the essentials of our profession — civics, civility and collaboration, the 3 C’s — for all to see and hear,” she said.

Calling attention to the ABA’s Poll Worker Esq. initiative and recounting her experience serving as a poll worker in New Jersey on Election Day, Enix-Ross said the process “reaffirmed for me the passion of Americans of all backgrounds to select their government representatives.”

Enix-Ross also spoke about the impact of the ABA Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project, known as ProBAR, on the Texas-Mexico border; ABA Free Legal Answers and the work of the Disaster Legal Services program.

“The ABA’s impact is also strong in the criminal justice sphere,” she continued. “ABA studies that document under-resourced state public defender systems present a sobering call to action as we mark the 60th anniversary next month of the Supreme Court’s landmark Gideon decision.”

Referring to recent events in Memphis, Enix-Ross said “we are reminded of too many incidents of brutality by law enforcement who are sworn to serve and protect, primarily against people of color,” and cited the promise of the ABA Legal Education Police Practices Consortium, which “is helping police departments develop policies that are free of bias, uphold the rule of law and protect the safety and security of all.”

Speaking about the association’s — and profession’s — work in diversity, equity and inclusion, the ABA’s second Black female president pointed to “another encouraging sign” — “nearly 37% of 1Ls are racial or ethnic minorities.”

The ABA can be proud that its “work has a tremendous impact on the legal profession, our legal and justice systems, our clients and the world,” she said.

President-Elect Nominee Bay urges ABA to embrace change

As co-chair of ABA Practice Forward, William R. Bay examined the practice of law during and after the pandemic, and said the “transformation of the practice of law has been eye-opening.”

Noting these “challenging days,” the president-elect nominee, who will lead the association beginning in August 2024, said, “The biggest challenge of all is the challenge of change itself.”

In addition to being the voice of the profession, the partner at Thompson Coburn in St. Louis said the ABA must also be the “home” of the profession, where every lawyer feels welcome, valued and “can find a place to serve.”

Bay compared the association’s need for change with how his family celebrated the recent holidays. “It was different,” and included the addition of a new grandchild. “We adopted new traditions and abandoned others.” Most of the changes worked, he said, but more important was that “everyone came home.”

He suggested the ABA take a similar approach to “simplify and transform to meet the needs of new generations of lawyers, who view the profession and our association differently than we do.”

Bay, who calls his home the Litigation Section, urged the ABA to “broaden leadership” and “shorten the track for meaningful involvement.”

“Change will not compromise who we are,” he said, “but it’s essential.”