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A year of taking action – Linda Klein reflects

Linda Klein
ABA President Linda Klein addresses the Law Student Division during the 2016 ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

Law students can be proud of the work we’ve done at the ABA this past year. The ABA was front and center when the rule of law was challenged – here in the U.S. and internationally.

We stood up for the independence of our American judges when they came under attack. And we stood up for judicial independence in Poland, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan when those judges were attacked.

My term as ABA president started last August with a promise to our nation’s military veterans – a promise we kept. So many veterans have problems that lawyers and law students can solve. Our men and women in uniform risk their lives to defend our country. Without them, there would be no rule of law.

And so, at my request, we created the Veterans Legal Service Initiative and we dedicated the year to serving people who served their country. We pushed for more pro bono services – and succeeded with services like Legal Checkup for Veterans, the first online free legal checkup to help veterans determine if they need a lawyer, and, an online platform developed with a grant from the Jones Day law firm to connect veterans with pro bono lawyers. We pushed for more legal clinics at VA medical centers across the country – and succeeded again.

We pushed to make sure law schools offer training in the things that help veterans. The law school at William & Mary has developed an online certificate in military veterans’ health, policy and advocacy. It will serve as a prototype for others throughout the country.

And we continued to serve ABA members, the most important component of our organization.

For law students, our $25 premium membership includes discounts – like exclusive savings on bar review courses – that more than make up for the cost of joining.

We also offered a new service, especially for solo practitioners and lawyers in small firms who are just starting out, to help them run their businesses more efficiently so they could focus on what they love — practicing law. ABA Blueprint is a one-stop shop for law practice management tools. ABA members receive substantial discounts that can more than offset the cost of membership.

Throughout the year, unexpected events arose that called for the ABA’s involvement, and we responded.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness: In 2016, the U.S. Department of Education broke a formal promise to some young professionals who had accepted lower-paid public-service jobs under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. These professionals had agreed to work 10 years in public service and make 10 years of monthly student loan repayments in exchange for having the remainder of their debts forgiven.

But nine years into the 10-year program, the Education Department reneged. Some lawyers were told they no longer qualified, and all their years of work and loan payments didn’t count. It is profoundly unfair. We sued the department in December to force it to live up to its promises. A hearing is scheduled for October.

Meanwhile, the ABA is working with several national groups to save PSLF after the White House proposed eliminating it. You can help by writing to your representatives in Congress. Learn more here.

Immigration: When the White House issued new executive orders on immigration, we leaped into action. We issued statements about our concerns, which were picked up by national media. We worked with other legal groups to launch the ImmigrationJustice.US portal, a rapid response website to coordinate volunteer lawyers helping immigrants after President Trump’s executive orders. And we filed amicus briefs in the Fourth Circuit and the Ninth Circuit, challenging the president’s temporary travel ban.

We believe that every person in the United States – native-born or newly arrived – is entitled to legal representation and due process. That is the promise of our American rule of law.

That’s also why we oppose the Protection of Children Act of 2017, which would strip legal protections from unaccompanied immigrant children who face expedited deportation hearings.

Legal Services Corporation: This spring, the White House proposed cutting all federal funds to the Legal Services Corporation. LSC funds more than 800 legal aid office across the country, supporting victims of natural disasters, survivors of domestic abuse, seniors caught in scams, veterans seeking benefits and rural communities that have no lawyers.

As of this writing, the fate of LSC funding is still unknown and requires our constant advocacy.

The ABA has played a leading national role in fighting for the LSC. We brought 400 lawyers from across the country to Washington to meet with their representatives in April. We spoke out in major media interviews and columns. We created an online campaign – – and delivered 20,000 individual messages to Congress.

We will continue to fight until Congress adequately funds legal aid services for all Americans – in 2018 and beyond. I urge you to visit and register your support for legal aid.

It’s been a busy year, but a good year for defending liberty and pursuing justice. Thank you for your membership. We look forward to your involvement with us for many years to come. #ABAstands4 a more just nation and a more just world. Join us!

Linda Klein Linda A. Klein is president of the American Bar Association and senior managing shareholder at Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz in Atlanta. She is former president of the State Bar of Georgia.