I’ll summarize here some of the major initiatives advanced at the annual meeting in August in San Francisco:
• The ABA House of Delegates concurred with the ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions in allowing law students to get credit for externships. It was one of several initiatives to address the growing problem of student debt.
• The House of Delegates approved a resolution requiring federal agencies to provide online access to material incorporated by reference into federal regulations.
The resolution was surprisingly controversial and contested, given its potential impact on certain pending litigation.
• The ABA urged local and state governments to abolish so-called “offender funded” systems of supervised probation provided by private, for-profit companies, which have evolved in some instances into modern-day debtor prisons.
• In an effort to address implicit bias by jurors, the ABA added language to existing policy to protect against discrimination in jury qualification.
• Over strong initial opposition, the House of Delegates modified Model Rule 8.4 to address harassment and discriminatory conduct based on race, religion, sex, disability, LGBTQ status and other factors when such conduct is related to the practice of law.
A transition at the helm
Association President Paulette Brown concluded her term, which was marked by several major initiatives, including the implementation of a Diversity & Inclusion 360 Commission that created a searchable, online database of mentor and support programs across the country to help rescue youths from the so-called “school to prison pipeline” that has a disproportionate impact on children of color.
The commission also introduced ongoing training and initiatives to examine implicit bias and its impact on the legal system.
Linda Klein was sworn in as the new president and announced a variety of her initiatives, including:
• An Education Commission to work with other stakeholders to promote the right to high-quality education for children of all demographics.
• A Veterans Legal Services Initiative to provide practical legal resources for veterans, promote legal service incubators to bring services to veterans and create medical-legal partnerships pairing lawyers and doctors to collaborate in problem-solving for veterans and their families.
• The creation of a web portal dubbed “the ABA Blueprint” that provides members with a one-stop shop to obtain a variety of practical business resources, including technology, virtual receptionist, time and billing software, retirement planning and insurance.
And Florida’s own Hilarie Bass, with the Greenberg Traurig law firm in Miami, was elected ABA president-elect. Bass indicated she will prioritize improving access to justice and innovating the delivery of legal services and legal education.
Michael Freed is a past president of The Jacksonville Bar Association and the Federal Bar Association Jacksonville chapter. He is Jacksonville’s delegate to the ABA House of Delegates and serves on the executive council of the National Conference of Bar Presidents and is chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Freed is a Florida Bar board certified business litigator and a shareholder with Gunster.
The American Bar Association continues to fight for our profession, improving the provision of legal services and providing education on the rule of law and the role of the judiciary.