Today we report live from the ABA Midyear Meetings in Miami.


Press Conference with ABA President Karen Mathis


At a Friday press conference, ABA President Karen Mathis discussed the expansion of her “Youth at Risk Commission” to focus on the children of America’s service men and women. She endorsed two recommendations that will be debated before the House of Delegates. Recommendation 108B urges legislation to help non-parental caregivers by allowing them to take earned leave time to care for the children of deployed personnel. The recommendation also calls on school officials to “let these children attend the school that best suits their needs, without tuition fees or other out-of-district restrictions.” A second recommendation urges free legal assistance for all lower-ranked military personnel.


Mathis also announced a new ABA-Girls Scouts partnership called “Take Charge! Violence Prevention, Conflict Resolution, and Law.” The program will help teenage girls respond to domestic and school violence situations.


Mathis also mentioned the ABA’s proposed Model Code of Judicial Conduct. She stated that the goal of these revisions is “to assure public trust in a fair, impartial judiciary and to help preserve courts as a coequal branch of government.”


In the Q&A portion of the press conference, Mathis addressed the following issues:


She emphasized that the recent changes the Department of Justice has offered to the Thompson Memo “do not go nearly far enough... We’re not satisfied. We believe that more needs to be done.” She stated, “We [at the ABA] applaud” Senator Specter’s proposed legislation to further protect the attorney-client privilege.

She briefly discussed the ABA’s new Cuban initiative, in which ABA members will meet with members of the Cuban bar in Mexico. She noted that this outreach is part of the ABA’s Goal VIII promoting the rule of law, and this meeting would be the first big opportunity to reach out to Cuba since the early 1990s.
When asked her views about a proposed recommendation supporting “the traditional right of private employers and property owners to exclude from the workplace and their property persons who are carrying firearms or other weapons,” she declined, citing that she was “not terribly familiar” with the issues involved. Mathis stated she was “looking forward to a robust debate” on the issue before the House of Delegates.


Young Lawyers Division


The ABA Young Lawyers Division Assembly will meet Saturday morning to discuss a resolution recommending a change to the Rules of Procedure for the ABA House of Delegates by heightening the margin for passage of ABA resolutions relating to “social policy.” If the resolution passes, the Young Lawyers Division will offer the recommendation before the House of Delegates at the ABA Annual Meeting in August.


The report accompanying Resolution 07-M-1YL suggests that “the ABA’s role as an advocate may be a cause of a decline in membership or membership market share.” The report urges a 60% “super majority” be attained before adopting a main motion.


Some revelations of the Young Lawyers Division report:

  • In the last fifteen years, the percentage of licensed lawyers who are members of the ABA has declined from 50% to 37%. (The total ABA membership numbers include law students.) In the last thirty years, the percentage of lawyers who are ABA members has declined twenty percentage points.

  • The 2006 ABA-conducted “Pulse of the Profession” report revealed that “many lawyers are leery of the ABA’s involvement in advocacy and policy.” Lawyers prefer that the ABA play “an educational role rather than an advocacy role.”

  • Furthermore, in this same “Pulse of the Profession” report, many lawyers contend that “the ABA is not that available or relevant to them, or is not truly representative of all lawyers.”

  • The “Pulse” report notes: “Lawyers also recognize and appreciate that the ABA represents lawyer with divergent views. In light of this, lawyers say that, rather than taking political stands on issues that divide the profession, the ABA should work to unite the profession by focusing on things that lawyers have in common. These include addressing many of the trends... such as work/life balance and access to justice.”

  • The Young Lawyers Division lists many of the “notable and controversial” positions adopted by the House of Delegates. These positions include: providing federal funding for abortions, supporting the adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment, supporting a pro-choice position on abortion, supporting the creation of a right to quality health care, and opposing federal legislation that would prohibit stem cell research.


For more on this debate, see tomorrow’s Barwatch.

Panel on Women in the Legal Profession

Several past recipients of the ABA’s Margaret Brent Awards for prestigious female lawyers participated in a town hall meeting on “Are We There Yet? The Unfinished Journey of Women in the Legal Profession.” The panelists debated the importance of mentors for female lawyers, with 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Rosemary Barkett opining that the importance of mentorship for women had been over-emphasized. NAACP Legal Defense Fund Counsel Emeritus Elaine Jones affirmed that “mentorship is critical,” although diversity was very important as well.


The panelists agreed that women had not reached “there” yet. Elaine Jones said not enough women were on that journey. Judge Barkett stressed the importance of voting to get women’s issues heard. Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno stated that people don’t think they can change things, and she believed that women could “achieve so much to make the world a better place through law.” Jones chimed in that there was “no way that we should have allowed Justice [Sandra Day] O’Connor’s successor not be a woman. That’s our issue.” The audience applauded.


The retention issue—many women, particularly women of color, leave the legal practice early in their careers—also provoked much debate. Some of the panelists discussed how more flexibility and opportunities could be found for women in legal positions at non-profits and in the government.