A Very Brief History of the ABA YLD
By Jay E. Ray
Jay E. Ray is a ABA YLD Delegate to the ABA House of Delegates, a Past Chair of the Division, and an Associate in the Dallas, Texas, office of Glast, Phillips & Murray, P.C.
The ABA Junior Bar Conference (JBC) was organized by 125 lawyers in August 1934 at the ABA’s Annual Meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The minutes of that first meeting show that a group of attorneys had discussed creating the JBC for over a year. Their deliberations included serious discussions regarding whether the JBC should be part of the ABA or should be a stand-alone organization. Membership in the JBC was limited to attorneys who were not older than thirty-five years of age at the time of the conclusion of the preceding Annual Meeting.
In the early years—actually the first four decades—the JBC operated on a shoestring budget. Its principal activities were to increase young lawyer membership in the ABA and to create local and state young lawyer organizations. The JBC also developed some public service projects, such as a traffic court program, and engaged in some legal education activities. In 1941, Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, Jr., chaired the Division and in 1945 The Young Lawyer began publication.
In 1958, the positions of Speaker and Clerk were created to oversee the Assembly. These positions subsequently became officer positions.
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy invited the JBC’s Executive Council to a meeting at the White House on the lawyer’s role in the civil rights struggles. The JBC also sponsored “bridge the gap” programs around the country.
In 1965, the organization changed its name to the Young Lawyers Conference, then to the Young Lawyers Section. The organization’s name was changed to its current name, the Young Lawyers Division, in 1977.
In 1971, the first young lawyer seat on the ABA Board of Governors was created, with the individual selected to serve in that position nominated by the YLS. Shortly thereafter, the organization began to obtain additional money to fund its operations. In 1974, it began publishing the quarterly Barrister magazine . In 1975 the Affiliate Outreach Project was created, which included regional conferences for affiliate leaders that later evolved into the ABA YLD’s Fall and Spring National Conferences. In addition, this newsletter, The Affiliate, began publication in 1975.
During the 1970s the ABA YLD began to adopt even larger public service projects such as the Vietnamese Refugee Project and a Prison Reform Project, whose end report was distributed to Chief Justice Warren Burger and effected change in the U.S. prison system. After the devastating disasters of Hurricane Camille and the Buffalo Creek Flood, and the statewide responses by the Mississippi and West Virginia young lawyers organizations, the ABA YLD began its important role as the principal coordinator of the nation’s legal assistance response during federally declared disasters. This role continues today under an expanded agreement with FEMA.
In addition, the ABA YLD became more diverse during this period. During the 1970s, the ABA YLD elected as officers its first person of color—Dennis Archer as Clerk and Speaker—and its first woman—Jane Barrett as Secretary, Chair-Elect, and Chair. This was followed in the 1980s by the election of five additional women and three additional persons of color as officers, including Walter White, the first person of color to serve as Chair of the ABA YLD.
In 1979, the ABA YLD amended its Bylaws to allow additional grounds for eligibility in the Division for individuals licensed to their first bar for three years or less no matter the individual’s age. In the mid-1990s the three-year requirement was changed to five years.
During the late 1970s and 1980s the ABA experienced a considerable influx of new attorneys that dramatically changed the dynamics of the ABA. For the first time, young lawyers made up over 50 percent of the ABA’s membership. This fact was used to push for additional seats of power for young lawyers, including a second seat on the Board of Governors and the first seat ever for a young lawyer on the ABA Nominating Committee, which in practice decides who will become ABA officers. The 1980s also saw an ever-increasing desire by the ABA YLD to change the ABA, including the development of resolutions by the ABA YLD to address controversial themes, including racial, political, and social issues. Through partnership with the ABA Individual Rights and Responsibilities Section and other groups, the ABA YLD was an instrumental leader in the expanding policy role of the ABA during the 1980s and 1990s. During this time, the ABA YLD also began devoting more resources to continuing legal education and member service.
The beginning of the twenty-first century has seen dramatic responses by the ABA YLD, via its program with FEMA, to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina. The ABA YLD coordinated a response to tens of thousands of calls received during this decade as part of the Disaster Legal Services program. The decade has also featured a renewed emphasis on membership retention and development of membership resources and tools, such as The 101 Legal Practice Series.