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Meet new ABA President Judy Perry Martinez

Judy Perry Martinez, of Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn in New Orleans, became president of the American Bar Association at the end of the ABA Annual Meeting on August 13.

ABA President Judy Perry Martinez addresses the ABA House of Delegates at the 2019 Annual Meeting.

ABA President Judy Perry Martinez addresses the ABA House of Delegates at the 2019 Annual Meeting.

Martinez, who also spent 12 years at Northrop Grumman Corporation as assistant general counsel of litigation and then vice president and chief compliance officer, after 21 years as a commercial litigator at Simon Peragine, has a long record of service at the ABA.

Over the past 35 years, she has held various leadership positions, including chair of the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, which evaluates all nominees to the federal bench. Earlier, Martinez served as the ABA’s lead representative to the United Nations and as a member of the ABA Board of Governors and its executive committee. She served as chair of the ABA Presidential Commission on the Future of Legal Services and its Commission on Domestic Violence and was a member of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, the ABA Task Force on Building Public Trust in the American Justice System and the Council of the ABA Center on Diversity.

In addition to her work with the ABA, Martinez served on the board of the Innocence Project-New Orleans, the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and as an officer of the World Justice Project. She also has served as a Distinguished Access to Justice Pro Bono Fellow for Southeast Louisiana Legal Services.

Martinez earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of New Orleans and her juris doctor, with honors, from Tulane Law School.

YourABA caught up with the new president to find out more.

What do you hope to accomplish this year?

As lawyers, we have an obligation to promote the rule of law – the vision, not fully realized for too many (and thus for none of us) – that our nation lives by a system of justly and equitably enforced laws. During this year of service, I will be working together with lawyers across the country to further this vision and fortify our nation’s promise of due process, equal rights and access to justice to all.

This includes on our southern border, where vast numbers of immigrants are in desperate need of pro bono legal representation.

For two consecutive Augusts, I have spent a week volunteering there as part of the ABA Commission on Immigration’s Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project in South Texas.

We interviewed asylum-seekers in detention facilities, observed the combined effects of Operation Streamline and Zero Tolerance in a federal courtroom, observed proceedings in immigration court and visited a children’s shelter and a refugee center.

It was a humbling experience and a reminder of the critical, basic rule-of-law work that lawyers in America and throughout free societies do and must continue to do.

Looking ahead, I will be working with others in the ABA to inspire lawyers to fulfill their duties to protect and promote our democracy and to help ensure that all people within our jurisdictions receive full due process.

And through that collaboration, I understand you will initiate a new project.

Yes, this fall, we will launch an interactive messaging campaign through social media to promote programs, resources and information on:

  • the meaning and importance of the rule of law
  • examples of the way the rule of law affects people in their daily lives and
  • the role of the rule of law in defending liberty and pursuing justice in America and around the world.

I invite our members – and all lawyers – to join the conversation and to use #ruleoflaw to broaden our engagement, fulfill the promise of the rule of law while building awareness of its importance, sparking individual and collective participation in our democracy and encouraging a rekindling of interest in civics education.

Whatever our politics, whatever our party and whatever our beliefs, lawyers have a responsibility to secure this promise to our nation.

What are your goals for widening the reach of the ABA?

We will expand and deepen our efforts to examine and address the lack of diversity in the legal profession – with a particular focus on race and why our profession lags behind other professions, most of which are not making meaningful progress either.

We will continue our important research and work on gender parity and sustainability of legal careers for women.

And, we are handing over proven tools and driving solutions that will make a difference for career services offices in law schools, law firms and corporate and legal aid employers, so that they can better serve law students and lawyers with disabilities.

Finally, we are going to give our best to make the legal profession a place where our LGBTQ+ colleagues want to be. This is the public’s profession and we owe the public and our clients the best talent and most competent individuals that we can find.

We think of ourselves as an inclusive profession, but we need to ask ourselves when was the last time each of us personally did something to make our profession more welcoming. We need to be honest brokers within our own profession about where we have fallen short in the past so we can see our way to a better future.

The ABA’s recent membership program improvements should help broaden the tent, I imagine.

Absolutely. On May 1, we began offering our members new benefits, more curated content based on member preferences, better communications and more reasonable dues.

Among the many exciting new benefits are:  

  • Access to online, on-demand professional development and continuing legal education through a new CLE Member Benefit Library at no additional charge. More than 400 titles will be available, and others will be added on a regular basis.
  • A new email platform to deliver curated content, targeted to meet the interests and needs of individual members, provide exclusive content for members and reduce the number of unwanted emails.
  • A fast and easy way to join.

You are highlighting the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment for Law Day. What drew you to that?

Yes, next year marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women’s right to vote. It launched the largest expansion of democracy in the history of our country. So, this historic centennial offers an unparalleled opportunity to commemorate a milestone of democracy and to explore its relevance to the issues of voting rights and equal rights today.

The centennial allows us to talk about the importance of voting and what it means for individuals to exercise their right to vote.

What’s on tap to mark the milestone?

I have the honor of appointing Judge M. Margaret McKeown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to chair the ABA Commission on the 19th Amendment.

Under her leadership, the commission will coordinate the efforts of ABA entities and its collaboration with outside groups to plan commemoration activities celebrating 100 years of women’s constitutional right to vote, educating the public about the 19th Amendment and the battle for women’s suffrage and promoting laws that ensure women’s full and equal exercise of their right to vote and to participate in our democracy.

At the ABA Annual Meeting last month, we held a CLE on the 19th Amendment and its lessons for the 21st century, and launched the Standing Committee on the Law Library of Congress’ new traveling exhibit, “100 Years After the 19th Amendment: Their Legacy, and Our Future.”

You can find out more about our many exciting plans and your opportunities to participate at

As abolitionist and women’s suffrage leader Lucy Stone said, “Now all we need is to continue to speak the truth fearlessly, and we shall add to our number those who will turn the scale to the side of equal and full justice in all things.”

The centennial of the 19th Amendment as well as Law Day on May 1 offer opportunities for us as lawyer-leaders to turn the scale once again.

You chose legal assistance for survivors of domestic and sexual violence as your theme for the Celebration of Pro Bono in October. Why?

I had the privilege of serving a three-year term as chair of the ABA Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence, and I saw firsthand the importance of pro bono legal services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Legal assistance can literally mean the difference between life and death.

We will mobilize lawyers throughout the country to provide services for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors during the National Celebration of Pro Bono (Oct. 20-26), as part of our long commitment to furthering access to justice and pro bono legal assistance.

I understand there are some exciting new plans in the works.

As part of Pro Bono Week, we will promote the POWER Act (Pro Bono Work to Empower and Represent Act), which empowers the chief judge of each judicial district to host at least one public event annually to promote free legal services to empower survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.

Research shows that the availability of civil legal services in a community greatly reduces the likelihood of, and fallout from, domestic violence. Through Pro Bono Week, we are encouraging local organizations to conduct outreach and raise awareness through CLEs to train attorneys to volunteer in this area or to host a clinic at a local domestic violence shelter.

To help with those efforts, the CDSV and the Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service have produced a toolkit at that provides:

  • Information on domestic, dating, sexual and stalking violence
  • How to identify statutorily required training partners
  • Resources for planning a POWER initiative training event.

The ABA is a steadfast supporter of pro bono service, and we have found that when lawyers get the opportunity to serve through pro bono work, it makes them better lawyers, better people and better citizens. Lawyers around the country have long been stalwart supporters of Pro Bono Week, and we look forward to working with them during this year’s celebration as they help others in desperate need of their assistance.

You served as chair of the ABA Presidential Commission on the Future of Legal Services in 2014-15. How will that inform your presidency?

Revolutionizing technology, changing methods of delivering legal services and the public’s changing expectations are major challenges and opportunites we face as a profession. We can either sit and watch those changes unfold, or we can harness them and make a difference in the services we can provide to our clients and the public.

We need to analyze how we can better serve the public and become more innovative both in our thinking and through new technologies, regulations that are more synchronous with and adaptable to the world around us, and smarter ways of doing business. States continue to explore the concept of a continuum of legal services as endorsed by the Conference of Chief Justices in July 2015 and its goal to create greater access to justice and we see those as important conversations. 

In addition, through our work in the ABA Center for Innovation, our Law Practice Division, our Cybersecurity Task Force and ABA TECHSHOW, we are exploring artificial intelligence and how we can harness its power so that its application in the legal sector makes sense for our clients. We collect data that is critical to policy development, discuss the potential of online court systems and create cutting-edge materials on cybersecurity, on law practice management and on practice-specific issues informed by our national perspective. 

I hear that the ABA is already applying this kind of innovation to its work on behalf of immigrants.

Yes, we are also employing technology in our work on our southern border to increase legal assistance available to migrants.

In July, we launched an online platform called Pro Bono Matters for Children Facing Deportation, which connects volunteer lawyers across the country with unaccompanied minors being held at the border.

The website is being operated by the ABA Children’s Immigration Law Academy, with assistance from ProBAR, among others.

Since asylum-seekers who have legal representation are five times more likely to win their cases, this is the sort of hack that connects a pressing need with a desire to make a difference to expand access to justice. 

We are in a defining moment in the legal profession as we embrace and leverage the technological revolution for the benefit of our clients and the public.

And as that revolution continues to unfold and provides an opportunity for the ABA and its members to lead, we also are staying focused on our critical role in promoting the rule of law, defending the independence of the judiciary and supporting the integrity of our democratic institutions.

We are looking forward to working with all our members to continue to advance the rule of law.

We have an obligation to speak out on the importance of this foundational principle at the core of our democracy and to educate the public on its importance.

Now is a critical time.

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