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The coming year at the ABA – 3 initiatives and 1 lawsuit

Hilarie Bass
Hilarie Bass addresses the ABA House of Delegates during the 2017 Annual Meeting in New York. (Photo: ABA News)

Greetings from New York City! It has been an exhilarating week at the ABA’s Annual Meeting – thought-provoking panels, CLE’s at law firms throughout the city and at the United Nations, and the House of Delegates took action on numerous important issues affecting our bar association, our courts and our nation.

It is an honor to start my presidency here in the Big Apple. In the coming year, we will face dozens of vital matters – some longstanding (the justice gap and spreading the rule of law worldwide) and some renewed (threats to judicial independence and national debates over immigration).

As president, I have several high priorities for the coming year. Here are three initiatives that will interest you as law students – and a pending court battle that could affect you directly.

Legal education: I do not have to tell you that there are serious challenges in American law schools today. Bar passage rates are falling and student debt is climbing. Some law schools are struggling and new lawyers face a tough job market. There must be a better way.

 Now, some of the best legal minds in the country will tackle the issue. I have appointed a 10-member Commission on the Future of Legal Education, featuring some of the nation’s smartest innovators and educators. It will be led by Patricia White, Dean of the University of Miami School of Law.

The ABA is in a unique position to serve as an honest broker, inviting everyone to come together under one big tent to examine these perplexing issues facing legal education today.  The Commission will endeavor to engage the many stakeholders in legal education – deans and faculty, bar examiners, chief justices and others. They will explore issues facing how we train and test law students, and propose creative ways to address them.

Follow our progress here. Soon, we will unveil a way for law students to become involved, too.

Women in the law: For the first time, there are more women than men enrolled in American law schools. That is a cause for celebration, proof that some historical barriers have finally disappeared.

But dig deeper and you will see some disturbing trends persist. Women are entering the profession in large numbers, but fewer stay. By age 50, only 27 percent of all lawyers are women, and only 17 percent of equity partners are women – a number that has not changed in the past decade.

What can we do to stop this alarming brain drain? On Nov. 8, we will sponsor an invitation-only National Summit on Achieving Long-Term Careers for Women in Law at Harvard Law School. It will feature national leaders in the profession, including general counsels, managing partners, judges and academics. We will also conduct a national survey to learn why women lawyers leave the profession and how we can reverse the trend. The results will be available in spring 2018.

Homeless youth: It is a sad fact that 100 million children around the world are homeless, including half a million here in the United States. Lawyers can do more to help.

This year, the ABA will pair 350 homeless shelters across the country with pro bono lawyers to help children rebuild their lives. The project will organize and train volunteer lawyers to provide legal assistance at shelters for one day or morning a month. In November, we will convene the second International Summit on the Legal Needs of Street Youth in Sao Paulo, Brazil. About 150 international experts, providers and government officials will come together to find solutions for street youth around the world.

We encourage your involvement. Please email hylnprobono@americanbar….. (That is short for the ABA’s Homeless Youth Legal Network Pro Bono.) We also invite you to apply for a John J. Curtin Jr. Fellowship. We will award three stipends of $2,500 to law students who spend the summer working for a bar association or legal service that prevents homelessness or helps homeless or indigent clients. Find more information here.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness: I’m proud to say I was at the U.S. Department of Education with the ABA delegation, fighting for PSLF before the lawsuit filed by the ABA to protect lawyers who have worked for public service entities in reliance on expected loan forgiveness. And now, as ABA president, I will make sure we continue to vigorously pursue our case. We want to force the Education Department to keep its promise to every young person who has dedicated his or her life to public service. And we will continue to advocate vigorously with Congress to maintain this vital program, which the White House has recommended for elimination.

That is just the start. In the next 12 months, we will address many more important issues. Please join us. Become active in the ABA. Follow your interest in a section or committee. And keep in touch. Write to me at abapresident@americanbar…. Let me know how we are doing. If it is important to you, it is important to the ABA.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Hilarie Bass Hilarie Bass is President of the American Bar Association and Co-President of the international law firm Greenberg Traurig. She is a prolific trial attorney, based in Miami, with a highly successful career of more than 30 years. She previously served as national chair of Greenberg Traurig’s litigation department and founded the firm’s Women's Initiative.