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A profession such as ours, so vital to the well-being of our democracy, requires a dynamic cooperative working for the best interest of those involved and the society it serves. This is the raison d’�tre of the American Bar Association. In a divided world of fractional alliances and boutique organizations, the ABA stands as the single representative of all legal practitioners, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, geography, practice-specialty or any other dissection of our personal and professional selves. The ABA is our shared national table for debate and discussion of the issues facing our profession. As incoming president, it is my responsibility to help define and oversee the ABA’s continuing leadership on the numerous legal issues of vital import to our profession. I will ensure that the ABA’s work on matters such as ethics, multijurisdictional practice, judicial independence, diversity, international rule of law, death penalty representation and immigration continue to receive the same thoughtfulness and diligence provided by my predecessors. As president, I will also direct the ABA to examine emerging issues that have a direct bearing on both our membership’s quality of life and on our ability to make justice accessible to all our citizens, regardless of wealth or social stature. Throughout time, our profession has ably renewed itself with the fresh faces and innovative minds of those graduating from our nation’s law schools. Our mentoring and support of the next generation of legal advocates ensures the health and sanctity of our profession long after our departure. But today’s law school graduates are facing new burdens and challenges that have created a public service squeeze requiring a coordinated response. A typical law school graduate today is faced with more than $90,000 in educational debt. Often, this debt must be amortized in monthly payments exceeding $1,000. This new financial dynamic has had a profound effect on the choices young graduates make about where and how they employ the knowledge and skills they worked so hard to acquire. A debt burden this high often puts the socially critical and experience-rich positions in government, legal service clinics or other low-paying but highly important jobs beyond reach — simply for economic reasons. This new dynamic has created a difficult environment for our new colleagues and has limited the amount of legal services available to our citizens. When huge numbers of law school graduates are economically locked out of public service jobs, the founding principle of access to justice evaporates in the revolving doors of understaffed legal service offices. There are several law school programs that provide debt relief. They include New York University, Georgetown University, the University of Michigan and Yale. The number of these programs, however, has not increased appreciably during the past five years, while debt burdens have more than doubled during that same period. There are numerous programs allowing loan forgiveness for physicians and teachers to work in under-privileged or remote areas. If we believe that fair and equal justice is fundamental to the health of our democracy, then we must ensure that loan-forgiveness programs are available to our newest professionals. I have appointed a presidential commission to examine this problem and its consequences. I have asked that the commission also recommend concrete solutions. The solutions may include scholarships for students choosing public service careers; expansion of the Federal Perkins Loan program; development of state and private loan repayment assistance programs; and expansion of fellowships for the placement of lawyers in public service. Whatever the specific recommendations, this new commission will make a positive impact in an area that needs immediate redress. BILLABLE HOURS Another development in our profession is the growing concern that the demands of increased billable hours are compromising the health and well-being of lawyers and, thereby, the communities in which we live. Hourly billing and ubiquitous time sheets have become our profession’s norm during the past 40 years. Before then, we relied on local and county bar schedules. It is time to review the tyranny of a billable-hour system that now controls our daily existence. We shall start our review by asking some fundamental questions: How has the billable-hour system affected the quality of life of lawyers in our country? How has it affected the client-law firm relationship? What impact does the billable-hour system have on the profession’s ability to provide pro bono service to the community? Is the billable hour the most effective measurement a law firm can use to determine an attorney’s value and job performance? These questions underscore the fundamental values that bind our profession: efficiency, value to the client, quality of life and fair measure of an attorney’s worth. If there are alternative billing methods that better honor these values, we need to be more open to their consideration. Our attention to this issue first came as a result of a reported crisis in the number of pro bono hours contributed by large law firms. Reports suggest the negative trend in volunteer representation is directly attributable to the escalation in law firm salaries and the concomitant demand for lawyers to bill more hours — clearly an unintended, but negative consequence of the corrosive effects of billable hours. Additionally, many practitioners complain that their worth is often judged solely in terms of the amount of hours billed and not in the quality of those hours or on other factors, such as pro bono contributions. I have appointed a commission to study the billable-hour issue and the effect of the increases in legal salaries and billable hours demanded of lawyers working in private law firms. The commission will gather information through a variety of means, including secondary research, hearings and focus groups. In addition, the commission will make recommendations to the ABA on ways to address the issues raised in the report. These projects and, in fact, all the work of the ABA is ultimately dependent on the leadership and commitment of lawyers across our great country. Each of us cannot successfully resolve these issues by ourselves. But joining an association with a national purpose, which has the will to make things happen, allows us to accomplish great things on behalf of our communities, our nation and ourselves. As Mohandas Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” Robert E. Hirshon, a shareholder at Portland, Maine’s Drummond Woodsum & MacMahon, practices commercial litigation and regulatory and legislative advocacy. He becomes the 125th president of the ABA.

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