Hilarie Bass
Hilarie Bass (David Handschuh/NYLJ)

The American Bar Association’s annual meeting came to a close after the passing of the gavel ceremony this week, symbolically signaling the start of a new year for the ABA with a new president.

Hilarie Bass, who was sworn in Aug. 15, said that she is “very excited at the opportunity to lead the effort to focus on things like access to justice, legal education and diversity in the profession.”

A New York-born and Miami-based attorney, Bass graduated from the University of Miami School of Law in 1981. She is a trial attorney and co-president of Greenberg Taurig.

She was instrumental in overturning Florida’s ban on adoption by gay couples and said her pro bono representation of the two foster children in that case has been the most memorable of her career.

Bass, 62, got involved with the ABA during her third year as a practicing lawyer at the insistence of one of the partners at Greenberg Taurig. Although “it was the last thing” she wanted to do at the time, she hasn’t looked back since.

Bass eventually went on to become chairwoman of the litigation section at the ABA. “The phenomenal experience” leading the largest section of the ABA sealed her decision to “take on the challenge of running for presidency.”

Bass said that, during the course of her one-year term, she plans to launch some new initiatives focusing on the future of legal education, particularly on trying to improve the bar passage rate. She said she also wants to ensure that the country’s undocumented students will have the chance to attend law school and take the bar.

Bass said she wants to figure out why senior women choose to leave the legal profession and whether “any changes can be made within law firms to stem the tide.” She said she is also keen on an initiative called “the ABA legal fact-check,” which will serve as the definitive source of information for the legal community.

Bass will also be launching a pro bono project that will pair law firms, bar associations and in-house counsel groups with over 350 homeless shelters across the country to provide direct legal services to homeless children.

Bass said she also wants to continue the initiatives the ABA has already launched, such as training programs to reduce inherent biases within the legal community and improve objectivity. She will also be focused on general public education regarding the criminal justice system in the U.S.

“If people don’t understand the system, it’s very hard for them to believe it’s fair,” she said.

Bass said the ABA has been doing tremendous work with regard to immigration policy, deportation and due process issues and she will work toward continuing these efforts. She added that she wants to work toward providing pro bono legal services to immigrants, and ensuring that courthouses remain safe spaces for undocumented immigrants.

Another issue Bass is concerned with is increasing ABA membership, she said. She wants the ABA to reach out to younger lawyers to help them understand the value of membership. Bass said she will not only be focused on “improving diversity of membership but also on the ability of diverse attorneys to be successful.”

“Our job will not be done until diverse lawyers feel that the legal profession is as hospitable to them as it is to members of the majority,” she added.

Bass said she believes she owes it to the 400,000 members of the ABA and lawyers across the country to spend every minute ensuring that the organization is doing everything it can to make the justice system better, more efficient and more accessible.

“For the next 365 days, my leadership at the American Bar Association is going to be priority one,” she said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”