To the Editor,
As the largest and most prominent organization of lawyers in the United States and the world, the American Bar Association relies on the tremendous volunteer efforts and support of our more than 400,000 members to advance the rule of law on a variety of fronts.
We promote the legal profession by providing our members with services, programs, information and a worldwide network to help them in their practices and better represent their clients.
We advance the rule of law in countless other areas through our 3,500 volunteer sections, committees, and other groups. While there are too many to list here, they include developing model ethics rules, fostering pro bono service, lobbying for legal aid funding and criminal justice reform, accrediting law schools, evaluating prospective federal judicial nominees, increasing diversity and inclusion, setting standards for public defense and death penalty representation and working with developing democracies to build legal institutions.
And when we have concluded that it can constructively help, ABA leadership advocates with government testimony, statements, op-eds, letters, and other communications to promote justice and stand up when the rule of law is under threat.
Unfortunately, this was lost in The American Lawyer’s December article, “Will Big Law Defend the Rule of Law?” Based on quotes from a few large-firm lawyers who are not ABA members, a major premise of the article is that the ABA must speak out more on controversies involving President-elect Donald Trump.
As the article notes, the ABA has spoken out directly on Trump-related issues. Our statements are well received as our long-standing record and international reputation make the ABA a leading bulwark for the rule of law. We will continue to embrace this role as circumstances warrant and when we can contribute most effectively.
However, the ABA should constantly examine whether it can do more for lawyers, the core values of the legal profession and the rule of law.
We are a nonpartisan organization that seeks consensus wherever possible. Unlike the individual lawyers quoted in the article who are free to tweet and speak as they wish, the ABA represents more than 400,000 members, from all practice areas and settings, who have differing beliefs and interpretations of events. Moreover, our richness of programs and advocacy that enjoy a well-earned reputation for balance and nonpartisanship cannot be jeopardized by an ill-timed or unwisely considered statement whose only good would be to make some of us feel good.
Lawyers who are involved in the ABA know that in countless instances, we have not shied away from supporting the rule of law and the Constitution, regardless of political consequences. When a resolution is put forth, the ABA House of Delegates will consider it and then vote whether to make it policy. Our delegates comprise more than 500 bar leaders from across the country, from firms large and small and all practice settings, including the judiciary and other government agencies. Our members work together to develop policies so they benefit from the most thorough consideration.
All members are welcome to help set ABA policy by offering resolutions and engaging in debate. That’s why we encourage all lawyers to be ABA members. Indeed, more than 100 large law firms, legal departments, and other organizations have enrolled all their lawyers as members, bringing valuable expertise and perspective to our Association.
The reason I became a lawyer—and a member of the ABA—was to give back to my community and country, and support and defend the Constitution of the United States. I have dedicated my life to the legal profession. And as ABA president, I am determined to do everything in my power to help our Association improve the profession and advance the rule of law. Our members do this not from the sidelines, but in the arena, working collaboratively every day with our diverse membership to make the ABA the world’s leading authoritative voice for liberty and justice.