ABA President-elect Bob Carlson spoke to a group of bar leaders about his priorities for his term. It is traditional for the incoming president to trumpet a new plan, perhaps for advocating for the Rule of Law, improving legal education, providing legal services to veterans and homeless youth or expanding access to justice.
These are all, of course, admirable initiatives. However, he said he wouldn’t suggest any new plans. Instead, he would work to advance many of those begun by his predecessors.
So, does this represent a lack of imagination or drive to make the most of the ABA presidency? Absolutely not. In fact, I thought it demonstrated courage to buck the trend.
I realized that the Law Student Division could take some lessons from Mr. Carlson’s example. While we have several new, innovative ideas in the works – like taking the bar early in exchange for public service and advocating for facilities for nursing mothers in law schools – we also have had huge successes in previous years. Thanks to the leadership of our predecessors we have worked to expand Universal Bar Exam jurisdictions and remove the ban on paid externships, to name just a couple.
These were important steps for the ABA to take on a national level – however, it can’t stop there. The fact that the Association lifted the ban on paid externships has not had a direct impact on a single student at my school. Though it felt like we crossed the finish line when the initiative passed, the job is far from done. We need to change our strategy and empower campus leaders across the country to take ABA policy, research, and advocacy directly to their own faculties and administrations. That is when law students will really feel the impact of ABA policy.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy. I’ve partnered with my school’s SBA to lobby for paid externships at our school only to realize that it will be a heavy lift. But, the resources provided by the ABA have been vitally important in telling the story of why students would benefit under the proposed policy.
This suggestion is not meant to highlight deficiencies within the Law Student Division. In fact, national leaders embodied this local level of focus when they testified in front of rulemaking bodies in various states. And it worked! Student leaders have testified from coast to coast in an effort to expand the Universal Bar Exam to more states.
Ultimately, a leadership team of seven students cannot make real change in law students’ daily lives by themselves. There are hundreds of Student Bar Association presidents, ABA representatives, liaisons, and many other capable and passionate leaders who can work hand-in-hand with national leadership to achieve these goals. It’s important that both national and campus leaders recognize the necessity of this partnership.
The Law Student Division has made important advances this year, but it’s time we remember the big goals that we have achieved in the past and realize that the job isn’t done. They’ve made a difference for law students in many places, but we need to work to expand those big policy wins to all law students across the country.