American Bar Association
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The American Bar Association (ABA), founded August 21, 1878, is a voluntary bar association of lawyers and law students, which is not specific to any jurisdiction in the United States. The ABA's most important stated activities are the setting of academic standards for law schools, and the formulation of model ethical codes related to the legal profession. The ABA has 410,000 members. Its national headquarters are in Chicago, Illinois; it also maintains a significant branch office in Washington, D.C.
Logo of the American Bar Association
|Formation||August 21, 1878|
|Headquarters||321 North Clark,|
|Bob Carlson (since August 7, 2018)|
|Jack L. Rives, Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer|
The ABA was founded on August 21, 1878, in Saratoga Springs, New York, by 75 lawyers from 20 states and the District of Columbia. According to the ABA website,
The legal profession as we know it today barely existed at that time. Lawyers were generally sole practitioners who trained under a system of apprenticeship. There was no national code of ethics; there was no national organization to serve as a forum for discussion of the increasingly intricate issues involved in legal practice.
The purpose of the original organization, as set forth in its first constitution, was "the advancement of the science of jurisprudence, the promotion of the administration of justice and a uniformity of legislation throughout the country...."
In 1918 the first women were admitted to the ABA – Judge Mary Belle Grossman of Cleveland and Mary Florence Lathrop of Denver.
On May 1, 2019, the ABA launched a new membership plan with a simplified dues structure and significant new benefits to help members build their practices and strengthen their networks. New benefits include an expanded library of free continuing education webinars, career-building tools and curated content specific to each member’s practice areas. The association also introduced a new logo to replace their 40-year-old former logo.
Leadership and governanceEdit
The ABA adopts "policy" (organizational positions) on certain legislative and national issues, as voted on by its elected, 589-member House of Delegates. Its Board of Governors, with 44 members, has the authority to act for the ABA, consistent with previous action of the House of Delegates, when the House is not in session.
The ABA president, elected to a one-year term, is chief executive officer of the association, while the appointed, longer-serving executive director works as chief operating officer. The conclusion of the ABA Annual Meeting, in August, is when a new president takes office, as well as when the main sessions of the House of Delegates take place. The Annual Meeting also gives the general membership the opportunity to participate in educational programs and hear speakers address many issues.
Model ethical standards for lawyersEdit
One function of the ABA is its creation and maintenance of a code of ethical standards for lawyers. The Model Code of Professional Responsibility (1969) and/or the newer Model Rules of Professional Conduct (1983) have been adopted in 49 states, the District of Columbia and the United States Virgin Islands. The exception is the State Bar of California; however, a few sections of the California Rules of Professional Conduct were drawn from the ABA models.
Accreditation of U.S. law schools since 1923Edit
The United States Department of Education has designated the ABA as the official accrediting agency for law schools in the U.S. Since 1923, law schools which meet ABA standards are listed as "approved".
ABA accreditation is important not only because it affects the recognition of the law schools involved, but it also affects a graduate's ability to practice law in a particular state. Specifically, in most U.S. jurisdictions, graduation from an ABA-accredited law school is prerequisite towards being allowed to sit for that state's bar exam, and even for existing lawyers to be admitted to the bar of another state upon motion. Even states which recognize unaccredited schools within their borders will generally not recognize such schools from other jurisdictions for purposes of bar admission.
For law students attending ABA-accredited schools, memberships are available for free. Students attending non-ABA accredited law schools are permitted to join the ABA as associate members.
Accreditation process criticismsEdit
The ABA accreditation process has been widely criticized for failing to ensure that law schools are disclosing accurate post-graduate statistics which may mislead students regarding the post-graduate job market, especially in light of ever-growing student loan debt.   There are heated debates over requirements placed on law schools by the ABA. Many states and practitioners believe ABA requirements to be unnecessary, costly, outdated and lacking innovation. Some legal professionals and academics[who?] feel these requirements promote the rising cost of tuition. The collision of attorney layoffs in 2009, the glut of fresh non-top-tier law graduates without work, and the continued expansion of law schools raised questions on whether the ABA has been too lenient in its accreditation process.
A non-profit organization, Law School Transparency, called upon the ABA to provide meaningful statistics regarding the employment prospects and salary information of graduates of ABA accredited institutions. In 2011 and 2012, the ABA updated its accreditation process to include penalties and possible loss of accreditation for schools that misrepresented their graduates' employment data, as well as, greatly expanded the information required from accredited laws schools regarding student bar-passage rates and post-graduate employment. Despite the ongoing controversy surrounding law school accreditation standards and inability of law school graduates to effectively service their educational debt, the ABA continued to approve new law schools.
Since 2014, the ABA has required law schools to disclose more information about their applicants and graduates. Required information now includes such information as admissions data, tuition and fees, living costs, conditional scholarships, enrollment data, numbers of full‐time and part‐time faculty, class sizes for first‐year and upper‐class courses, employment outcomes and bar passage data. The 205 ABA-approved law schools reported that, 10 months after graduation, 28,029 graduates of the class of 2015, or 70 percent, were employed in long-term, full-time positions where bar passage is required or a J.D. is preferred.
In May 2019, the ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar changed the requirement for graduate bar passage rates. Previously, to remain accredited, schools had to have a 75% bar passage rate for students within 5 years of graduation, with various ways to meet this standard and no law schools having ever been found in violation of the rule. The new rule requires the 75% bar passage rate be achieved within 2 years with no exceptions. The change was passed by the Section despite failing a vote in the ABA House of Delegates twice. Proponents of the change say the increased standard will ensure students are better prepared for passing the bar and for legal practice in general with less students acquiring large student debt without reasonable job opportunities. Opponents claim this will adversely affect diversity in law schools, which will be forced to increase their admissions standards and required LSAT scores, which in turn will disproportionately affect minority applicants. Under the new plan, 14 schools will be at risk of losing their accreditation if their bar-passage rates do not improve within two years. Three law schools are currently in the process of closing, and another school is under probation.
Antitrust consent decree and contempt fineEdit
In 1995 the United States Department of Justice accused the ABA of violating Section 1 of the Sherman Act in its law school accreditation proceedings. The case was resolved with a consent decree. In 2006, the ABA acknowledged that it violated the consent decree and paid DOJ a $185,000 fine.
Continuing legal educationEdit
The American Bar Association Center for Continuing Legal Education (ABA-CLE) serves as the central CLE resource for the ABA. It is overseen by the ABA Standing Committee on Continuing Legal Education and works closely with experts from the ABA Sections and the profession at large. In addition to its own distribution, the ABA-CLE is also delivered via private, non-profit CLE organizations, such as Practising Law Institute and for-profit organizations, such as West LegalEdCenter.
The ABA urges all lawyers to provide at least 50 hours of free, pro bono services a year to people of limited means, as well as to charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations. The association conducts a survey of American lawyers every few years to determine the state of pro bono services. The most recent report was released in 2018.
The ABA also helps lawyers who take on lower-paid public service jobs. In 2016, the association sued the U.S. Department of Education over changes to the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which provides student loan relief to people who work for 10 years in public service and make 10 years of loan payments. On Feb. 22, 2019, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled that the Department of Education had improperly changed the terms of the PSLF program.
The Association publishes a monthly general magazine circulated to all members, the ABA Journal (since 1984, formerly American Bar Association Journal, 1915–1983), now also online.
- Sections, divisions and forums
ABA members may also join practice setting or subject-specific "sections," "divisions", or "forums," and each entity publishes a variety of newsletters and magazines for its members (such as Law Practice Magazine published by the Law Practice Division and GPSolo Magazine published by the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division). Some of these magazines, such as the Business Law Section's "Business Law Today," are available on-line to non-members. The first such journal was the Annual Bulletin of the Comparative Law Bureau, the first comparative law journal in the U.S. (1908–1914). The entities also hold their own meetings, such as the annual Solo Day.
Each entity typically has a publication program that includes (1) books, usually oriented toward practitioners; (2) scholarly journals, such as Administrative Law Review (published by the ABA Section of Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice and The American University Washington College of Law) and The International Lawyer (published by the ABA Section of International Law and SMU Dedman School of Law); (3) newsletters, such as The International Law News (published by the ABA Section of International Law); (4) e-publications, such as a monthly message from the section chair, or updates on substantive law developments; and (5) committee publications, such as a committee newsletter published by one of the substantive law committees.
Commission on Disability RightsEdit
The ABA's Commission on the Mentally Disabled was established in 1973 to respond to the advocacy needs of persons with mental disabilities. After the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the ABA broadened the Commission's mission to serve all persons with disabilities and changed its name to the Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law (CMPDL); it was most recently renamed the Commission on Disability Rights (CDR) (in 2011). The Commission carries out an array of projects and activities addressing disability-related public policy, disability law, and the professional needs of lawyers and law students with disabilities. Its mission is "to promote the ABA's commitment to justice and the rule of law for persons with mental, physical, and sensory disabilities and to promote their full and equal participation in the legal profession." The Commission consists of 15 members appointed by the ABA President-elect on an annual basis. It meets three times a year and is headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Commission on Homelessness & PovertyEdit
In 1991, the Commission on Homelessness & Poverty was established by the Board of Governors of the ABA. The Commission is charged with:
- Educating members of the bar and the public about legal and other problems of poor and homeless people and ways in which lawyers can assist in solving or ameliorating them;
- Training lawyers in areas needed to provide pro bono legal assistance to homeless people and those at risk of becoming homeless;
- Working with all ABA entities on issues arising in their jurisdiction that affect poor and homeless people; and
- Engaging in such further activities as may be necessary and proper for the fulfillment of these responsibilities, including working with federal, state, territorial and local executive branches and legislative bodies concerning matters relating to the poor and homeless.
These tasks are carried out by thirteen volunteer members appointed by the ABA President and a staff attorney.
Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender IdentityEdit
The ABA's Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity was established in 2007. According to its website, the Commission is "leading the ABA's commitment to diversity, inclusion and full and equal participation by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in the Association, the legal profession and society." 
Corrections Committee of the ABA Criminal Justice SectionEdit
The ABA's Criminal Justice Section, specifically the Corrections Committee, focuses on the United States Criminal Justice System and its surrounding laws, policies, and structure. Currently, the Corrections Committee "is pushing to provide greater assistance ... for those reentering society" from prison by pushing law schools and state bar associations to provide opportunities for law students to represent prisoners reentering society.
Commission on Women in the ProfessionEdit
The ABA's Commission on Women in the Profession was established in 1987. Hillary Clinton was its first chair. According to its website, the commission "forges a new and better profession that ensures that women have equal opportunities for professional growth and advancement commensurate with their male counterparts." In 2017, the commission released "A Current Glance at Women in the Law", providing research about the status of women in the American legal profession. Some key points of the ABA's 2017 study:
- There has been a 6 percent increase in women attorneys over the last decade, with women currently making up 36 percent of the legal profession.
- Law schools award 47.3 percent of J.D.s to women, which has been consistent for the past 10 years.
- In private practice law firms, women make up less than 22 percent of partners, a 4.2 percent increase over the last 10 years.
- In the last decade, there has been a significant growth rate of women in the role of general counsel in Fortune 500 companies, but still women only represent 24.8 percent of Fortune 500 general counsels.
Discrimination against LGBT peopleEdit
In 2011, the ABA's House of Delegates passed an anti-bullying resolution that included sexual orientation and gender identity among characteristics that should be protected, along with race, religion, national origin, sex, and disability.
At the 2013 annual meeting, the ABA's House of Delegates passed a resolution that made it harder for criminal defense lawyers to use the LGBT panic defense, which argues that a crime victim's sexual orientation should mitigate the defendant's guilt.
At the 2014 annual meeting, the ABA passed Resolution 114B, which stated that "lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people have a human right to be free from discrimination, threats, and violence based on their LGBT status," and called on the governments of countries where such discriminatory laws exist to repeal them.
In 1989 the ABA's House of Delegates adopted a resolution stating that "the American Bar Association and each of its entities should use gender-neutral language in all documents establishing policy and procedure."
Mandatory sentencing requirementsEdit
A hearing in 2009 heard testimony from the ABA which stated that "Sentencing by mandatory minimums is the antithesis of rational sentencing policy". In 2004 the association called for the repeal of mandatory minimum sentences, stating that "there is no need for mandatory minimum sentences in a guided sentencing system."
Presidential signing statementsEdit
In July 2006, an ABA task force under then President Michael S. Greco released a report that concluded that George W. Bush's use of "signing statements" violates the Constitution. These are documents attached by the President when signing bills, in which the President states that he or she will enforce the new law only to the extent that he or she feels the law conforms to the proper interpretation of the Constitution.
Same sex marriageEdit
At the 2010 annual meeting, the ABA passed Resolution 111 urging every state, territorial, and tribal government to eliminate legal barriers to civil marriage between two persons of the same sex who are otherwise eligible to marry.
Rating of judicial nomineesEdit
For decades, the ABA has participated in the federal judicial nomination process by vetting nominees and giving them a rating ranging from "not qualified" to "well qualified". According to a compendium of those ratings, the ABA's Committee on the Federal Judiciary began rating Supreme Court nominees in 1956, but: "At various points in its history, the committee altered its ratings categories, making comparisons across time difficult."
The committee consists of two members from the ninth judicial circuit, one member from each of the other federal judicial circuits and the chair of the committee. The ABA's Board of Governors, House of Delegates and officers are not involved with the work of the committee, and it is completely insulated from the rest of the ABA's activities, including its policies. Although the committee rates prospective nominees, it does not propose, recommend or endorse candidates for nomination to the federal judiciary, as that would compromise its independent evaluative function.
The committee focuses solely on integrity, professional competence and judicial temperament; does not consider a prospective nominee's philosophy, political affiliation or ideology; and works in strictly enforced confidentiality, typically evaluating around 60 nominees per year. Nominees are rated as "well qualified", "qualified" or "not qualified". If the president selects a prospective nominee, the committee chair notifies the White House, the Department of Justice, the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the nominee of the committee's rating.
There are several procedural differences between the committee's investigations of Supreme Court nominees and those of lower courts, notably that investigations of Supreme Court nominees are conducted after the president has submitted a nomination. Also, there is added scrutiny with Supreme Court nominees, such as teams of law professors examining the legal writings of the prospective justice.
The process has been alleged by some (including the Federalist Society) to have a liberal bias. For example, the ABA gave Ronald Reagan's judicial nominees Richard Posner and Frank H. Easterbrook low "qualified/not qualified" ratings; later, the ABA gave Bill Clinton judicial nominees with similar resumes "well qualified" ratings. Meanwhile, Judges Posner and Easterbrook have gone on to become the two most highly cited judges in the federal appellate judiciary.
In 2001, the George W. Bush administration announced that it would cease cooperating with the ABA in advance of judicial nominations. The ABA continues to rate nominees. In 2005, the ABA gave John Roberts, George W. Bush's nomination for Chief Justice of the United States, a unanimous "well qualified" rating. It also gave a unanimous "well qualified" rating to appellate court nominee Miguel Estrada, who never took his seat because his nomination was filibustered. However, it gave only a "qualified/not-qualified" rating to nominee Janice Rogers Brown. In 2006, the ABA gave a unanimous "well qualified" rating to Judge Samuel Alito, Bush's appointee for Sandra Day O'Connor's Associate Justice position.
However, conservative Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., conservative Justice Samuel Alito, liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, liberal Justice Elena Kagan, and conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch all received the same "well qualified" rating.
Since the advent of twenty-first century, the ABA has increased the diversity of its membership and leadership. Dennis Archer, who served as ABA president from 2003 to 2004, was the first African-American to hold the position, while Paulette Brown, 2015–2016, was the association's first president who is a woman of color. Steve Zack, whose term was in 2010 and 2011, was the first Cuban American to hold the American Bar Association's presidency.
In 2016, for the first time, the ABA had an all-female roster of officers, including two African-Americans and one Native American: Linda A. Klein (president), Hilarie Bass (president-elect), Deborah Enix-Ross (chair of the House of Delegates), Mary L. Smith (secretary), Michelle A. Behnke (treasurer) and Paulette Brown (immediate past president).
In recent years, the ABA has also drawn some criticism, mainly from the conservative side of the political spectrum, for taking positions on controversial public policy topics such as abortion, gun control, and same-sex marriage. The ABA's official position in favor of abortion rights led to the formation of a (much smaller) alternative organization for lawyers, the National Lawyers Association. The Federalist Society sponsors a twice-a-year publication called "ABA Watch" that reports on the political activities of the ABA (although as of September 2017[update] the Federalist Society's website did not show issues of "ABA Watch" more recent than 2014.)
Recent ABA presidentsEdit
- 2003–2004: Dennis W. Archer (first African-American male president)
- 2004–2005: Robert J. Grey, Jr.
- 2005–2006: Michael S. Greco (first foreign-born president)
- 2006–2007: Karen J. Mathis
- 2007–2008: William H. Neukom
- 2008–2009: H. Thomas Wells, Jr.
- 2009–2010: Carolyn B. Lamm
- 2010-2011: Stephen N. Zack (first Hispanic American president)
- 2011–2012: Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III
- 2012–2013: Laurel G. Bellows
- 2013–2014: James R. Silkenat
- 2014–2015 William C. Hubbard
- 2015–2016 Paulette Brown (first African-American female president)
- 2016–2017 Linda Klein
- 2017–2018 Hilarie Bass
- 2018–2019 Bob Carlson
Each year in August, the ABA holds an annual meeting in different cities that consists of speeches, CLE classes, gatherings, and the ABA EXPO. At the meeting, the recipient of the association's highest honor, the American Bar Association Medal, is announced.
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