What Does the American Bar Association Actually Do?

When you think of the American Bar Association, you imagine an institution that focuses on lawyer things. I’ve always assumed that the role of the ABA was to function at the top of our profession, and to hand down things like the Model Rules for the rest of the states to incorporate. I remember studying the Model Rules of Professional Conduct in law school, which were drafted by the ABA and then adopted in full or in part by most of the states. As a small time practitioner, that’s what I’ve always assumed their role in the legal world was – to set legal policy at the highest level, which then trickles down into state law, and eventually finds itself on my desk in the form of the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct or Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence.

I was up last night reading Twitter when something from the American Bar Association popped up in my feed:Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 10.39.29 AM.png

Wait, what? What does diversity and inclusion have to do with maintaining my professional skill set? Aren’t CLEs supposed to be about keeping up with applicable case law, ethical rules, and legal standards? Diversity and inclusion are fine things, but how are they even remotely applicable to CLE credits? To borrow a line from Scott Greenfield:

Judge: What’s your objection, counselor?

Lawyer: I dunno, Judge. I didn’t take evidence in law school. But it just, you know, feels wrong.

Judge: Denied.

Lawyer: But Ju-uu-ddge, I really feel that its wrong. Why aren’t you respecting my opinion? With all due respect, it’s because you’re an old, white, male cis-hetero-normative shitlord, your honor, and I am outraged at your hatred and demand you recuse yourself immediately.

I started to read their Twitter feed a bit closer. Apparently the ABA held an ABA Midyear meeting to discuss certain topics. Some other resolutions that the ABA passed:

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 10.38.55 AM.png

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 10.39.10 AM.png

More diversity and… Indian Law. (Ironically, most law schools don’t actually teach the law of the state you’re based in. For instance, I attended Temple Law and graduated without ever taking a course pertaining to Pennsylvania law.)

The only conceivably relevant amendment I could find was this one:

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 10.50.42 AM.png

Um, okay. That got me thinking. What does the ABA actually do?

I decided to check out their website mission statement:

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 10.40.53 AM.png

What struck me was the ABA’s almost complete focus on diversity, and complete lack of focus on topics like the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Rules of Civil Procedure, or the Rules of Evidence.

What’s even more striking is that the ABA’s mission statement does not once ever motion the most important part of practicing law – clients. You know, those members of the public who come to lawyers and pay us to try fix their problems. As lawyers, clients are the most important part of what we do.

Diversity and inclusion are fine and noble goals. However, it’s not going to bail a client out of jail at 3am on a Saturday, draft a competent will, or provide guidance for a lawyer in an ethical quandary. The ABA is supposed to be providing guidance to the states on issues of law that ultimately affect everyday practitioners, whose duty is to represent clients.

Why then has the ABA chosen to make diversity and inclusion its first and foremost goal?

What does the ABA actually do?

5 Responses to What Does the American Bar Association Actually Do?

  1. wishiknewdc says:

    All good points. I’ve been to a few ABA international conferences, which I enjoy because there are lawyers from all over the world who attend. But I’ve heard multiple times at the conference that the ABA leadership is concerned about the lack of young attorneys as members of the ABA generally. I think this article provides a good explanation for at least part of it, the younger attorney doesn’t see ABA as relevant.

  2. Tim says:

    The only time I ever belonged to the ABA was when a large firm paid for it. If large and medium firms would stop automatically paying for all lawyer employees to belong, the ABA would die in about six months. CLE is better handled at the state and local level where there are many vibrant and productive bar associations. The model rules organizations could be independent. Judicial evaluations are antiquated and ignored by the public and elected officials. Other than a few services like this, the ABA is about as useful as AARP.

  3. Chris Johnson says:

    The ABA is better known as the American Biglaw Association. I joined while in law school (dues weren’t much for students) and about a year afterwards. Then I quickly discovered what a waste of money paying the dues was. The ABA doesn’t do squat for any type of lawyer other than those at the mega-firms. You’re better off joining a local bar association or perhaps an organization for lawyers that is more specialized to your practice area, i.e. American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Commercial Law League of America, etc.

  4. Margie says:

    My son sits in jail because his lawyer did not process the paper work for him to be released from prison when he went to Philadelphia courts to surrender himself for house arrest. After repeated attempts and repeated messages to the lawyer he has not returned my calls.Where does one turn for help with this matter??

  5. Scott Smith says:

    They fix the prices of books, legal education, and legal aid through collusion, price leadership, and price discrimination, lol.

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