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Bob Carlson’s blueprint for his year as ABA president

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Bob Carlson

As a law student at the University of Montana, little did I know that I would someday follow in the footsteps of our law library’s namesake, William Jameson, who served as president of the ABA in the 1950s. But one thing led to another, all connected by my career-long and very rewarding involvement in my state bar and the American Bar Association.

As law students, your membership in the ABA advances our Association, which fights for your chosen profession and the public we serve. We cannot take our position in American law and society for granted. The simple fact is that the ABA is the only national representative of the American legal profession. Our voice is informed by our values as lawyers. Our voice is shaped by our experience as lawyers. And our strong voice is needed as so many other powerful voices scorn the values of due process, equal justice under law, and an independent judiciary.

All ABA presidents are sworn to follow the policies of our Association, adopted by our House of Delegates. We value due process and democratic input with the consensus of state and local bar associations from every state, plus specialty bar associations and the ABA’s full range of expertise from all our sections and divisions.

Yes, we are driven by ideology, but let’s be clear what our ideology is. Our ideology is to promote the essential role of an independent legal profession, and an independent judiciary, as protectors of equal justice under law in a free, democratic society.

As your president, my blueprint for leadership is the four goals of our Association

Goal One is to serve our members. And we start with law students, providing gold-standard benefits including study aids, career advice, and a wide range of world-class legal information and analysis available to lawyer members through ABA CLE, conferences, online communities and publications. Our online ABA Career Center has a powerful job board with career tips from some of the most experienced career advisors in the legal industry for job hunting and professional development.

Goal Two is to improve our profession through the highest quality legal education in the areas of competence, ethics, and professionalism, and through pro bono and public service. We will remain forward-thinking by building on our Future of Legal Education initiative and ABA Center for Innovation. We will build on our national leadership to encourage pro bono and legal aid for America’s most vulnerable communities, including veterans, homeless youth, and disaster survivors.

And we will continue to improve our profession in another critical area—mental health and wellness. This is not an abstract exercise for the ABA. Nothing is more important than our lives and the lives of those we care about. We have all been affected. We all know folks who have been touched by mental illness, by addiction, by depression, and by suicide. As the voice of America’s lawyers, we need to keep talking frankly, openly, honestly, and clearly about why law students and lawyers disproportionately face these problems. We also need to continue to work on ways to help lawyers lead healthy lives.

Goal Three is to eliminate bias and enhance diversity. America’s lawyers seek an inclusive society where everyone is at the table. We need to continue to lead the effort to regain the public’s trust in the judicial system and to make sure that our courts are open, accessible and fair to all. We need to ensure that the protection of the law is available to everyone. The entire justice system must look like the nation we live in. Justice must be available to everyone, and justice must look like everyone.

Goal Four is to advance the rule of law. We need to protect and ensure an independent, impartial and adequately funded judiciary. Failure to do so threatens the rule of law. Without the rule of law, there is no justice. Without justice, there is no freedom.

No one but the American Bar Association thoroughly and impartially evaluates federal judicial nominees solely for their professional qualifications. Our work is rightfully viewed as the gold standard by Democrats and Republicans alike. Our unique public service is critical to preserve faith in our federal courts.

Our voice for the profession advances the rule of law by promoting an independent profession. Our advocacy guards against efforts to undermine attorney-client privilege and those who seek government regulation of lawyers. We will remain vigilant in preserving our professional independence.

We also advance the rule of law by standing up for the most vulnerable, by leading the fight in Congress for legal aid funding and public-service loan forgiveness, and by our strong commitment to ensure that America’s constitutional protections are honored everywhere, including our borders.

We advance the rule of law with Law Day, America’s highest-profile civics education initiative thanks to the involvement of bar associations, courts, schools, and community groups. We’re excited about the theme for 2019: Free Speech Free Press, Free Society.

More than ever before, Americans need to hear the voice of lawyers to stand up for the rule of law, and America’s lawyers need a strong and effective national voice that only the ABA can provide. It is my honor to work with our law student and lawyer members who make the ABA the gold standard of our profession and the rule of law. Our work together makes our nation a more perfect union and beacon for liberty and justice everywhere.

Bob Carlson Bob Carlson, a shareholder with the Butte, Montana, law firm of Corette Black Carlson & Mickelson, P.C., is president of the American Bar Association. His civil trial and mediation practice primarily involves insurance defense, products liability and insurance coverage