15 ways the ABA made an impact in 2020

Jan. 4, 2021

The year 2020 was unprecedented and filled with adversity, including the COVID-19 pandemic, economic turmoil, racial reckoning and a high-stakes election. But the Year of Working Remotely didn’t stop the ABA from accomplishing great things.

Here are video highlights and a list of ways the association made an impact:

  1. The Commission on Immigration’s Washington, D.C.-based national hotlines continued to field calls from more than 200 detention facilities, and ABA legal services projects at the border in South Texas and Southern California — ProBAR and the Immigration Justice Project — served thousands of people this year. The ABA Children’s Immigration Law Academy in Houston enhanced its Pro Bono Matters for Children Facing Deportation platform, allowing lawyers to search and share available pro bono cases for unaccompanied children detained by the federal government or released to live with family members while in deportation proceedings.
  2. In response to the economic impact of COVID-19, the ABA advocated for eviction protection, helping to provide Legal Services Corporation with $50 million in emergency funding for legal aid and financial relief for those struggling to pay their student loan debt during the crisis. With association support, LSC has maintained or increased its funding every year in the last eight.
  3. The ABA established Practice Forward, a repository of practical tools and resources to advance the practice of law and judicial system amid long-term changes due to COVID-19. The effort is one of the outcomes of the ABA Coronavirus Task Force, which identifies legal needs arising from the pandemic, make recommendations to address those needs, and mobilize volunteers in the legal profession to assist people who need help.
  4. The ABA launched a collaboration with several dozen law schools to form a Legal Education Police Practices Consortium to contribute to the national effort to address legal issues in policing and public safety, including conduct, oversight and the evolving nature of law enforcement.

  5. In the first six months of the pandemic, the Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence provided more than 4,500 legal professionals nationwide with training and support to ensure survivors continued to receive life-saving legal representation, regardless of lockdowns or court closures — recognizing that while stay-at-home orders were meant to provide greater safety during the pandemic, not all homes are safe.
  6. The Center for Human Rights provided pro bono assistance to lawyers, journalists and activists facing retaliation for their work. In more than 65 countries, the center has assisted more than 1,000 advocates, helping to secure the release of wrongfully imprisoned lawyers and judges — including assisting with the release of a pregnant activist whose only crime was advocating for the rights of religious minorities.
  7. The Commission on Homelessness & Poverty worked with judges, lawyers and community-based service providers to launch a new Homeless Court in Flint, Michigan, in October. The new specialty court is among more than 50 around the country developed with ABA support. These courts remove legal barriers to housing and employment while connecting people with places to live, treatment and services. In December, the commission was recognized by the U.S. Interagency Commission on Homelessness for its comprehensive work in this area.
  8. The Center on Children and the Law helped bring about a federal policy change that will provide more than $100 million annually to support attorneys who represent children and parents in more than 400,000 active child welfare cases across the country.
  9. The Commission on Disability Rights and Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, in partnership with Syracuse University, published the findings of a first-of-its kind, nationwide study on biases and discrimination experienced by attorneys with disabilities and LGBTQ+ lawyers in the legal profession, and offered strategies for legal employers to mitigate these biases and eradicate discrimination.
  10. In this record-breaking year of natural disasters, the ABA Disaster Legal Services Program made finding ways to respond easier with a pro bono portal created with Paladin, a justice tech company specializing in pro bono software. This centralized, sortable database lists opportunities to serve those impacted by COVID-19 and other natural disasters. ABA lawyers provided vital legal assistance following the California wildfires, Hurricanes Laura and Delta in Louisiana and the derecho in Iowa, among other disasters.
  11. The Legal Opportunity Scholarship Fund provided 11 racially and ethnically diverse law students with $15,000 of financial aid to be used over their three years in law school. For 20 years, the scholarship has provided financial assistance to several hundred law students — with at least 95% receiving their J.D. and 42% practicing as public sector or legal aid attorneys. The fund is just one of many association efforts to advance diversity in the legal profession, which can be found at the Diversity and Inclusion Center.
  12. The Center for Pro Bono’s Free Legal Answers (FLA) continued to grow. With a total of 8,551 registered attorneys and 44 committed jurisdictions, client users have posted 131,979 civil legal questions to date, with many related to the pandemic. FLA also launched a new federal portal with additional content related to immigration and veterans.
  13. The Standing Committee on Election Law launched Poll Workers, Esq., a national effort to rally lawyers and law students to serve as poll workers during the November election. Lawyers and law students across the country were connected with the information to sign up, receive training and serve as poll workers.
  14. The Commission on Law and Aging culminated a successful four-year project advancing guardianship reform and promoting less restrictive options through interdisciplinary networks of guardianship stakeholders. Through the project, the commission funded seven state pilots whose efforts informed recommendations for next steps in federal policy.
  15. The Rule of Law Initiative continued its critical work in more than 50 countries, most recently launching a new project, “Human Rights and Access to Justice in Burkina Faso.” Funded by USAID, the project will be implemented by a consortium of organizations to work closely with the National Human Rights Commission and other Burkinabè partners to support the government in preventing human rights violations, holding perpetrators of violations accountable, increasing access to and awareness of options for redress for the population and building confidence in the justice system.

View other 2020 accomplishments by the ABA here