Open Letter to the American Bar Association

Most lawyers work on Main Street, not Wall Street. Yet all lawyers are impacted by the American Bar Association’s social and political efforts. In my opinion, the single most important power given to the President of the United States is the appointment of Supreme Court justices. It is unfortunate that this process is so tainted today by political ideology and so very fortunate that the ABA is there as an independent third party to challenge the process. That may be its most important function.

However, as the Executive Director of the ABA, Henry F. White, Jr., at the ABA’s Solo Caucus in Los Angeles’ Mid-Year meeting, February 10th, said, “At the end of the day, it’s all about money, despite the goodness.”  He, and his fellow panelists, M. Joe Crosthwait, Jr. (moderator), Karen J. Mathis (ABA immediate past president), and H. Thomas Wells, Jr. (ABA president-elect), were preaching to the choir.

One issue discussed was why more lawyers are not members of and involved with the ABA. One reason suggested was the high cost of entry. It’s not so much that the ABA is so expensive to join, but that this is the last dues to be paid. State dues (especially for integrated bar associations) and local dues (where most networking and education occur) are paid first; there’s little left over to pay the ABA. Paying for “social good” is seen by many as a luxury, not a necessity, when seeking to survive on Main Street.  If social good is not reason enough to join, what other value to the members is provided to the member? Networking and developing friendship, yes. However, it takes years to develop these friendships. You have to be committed to the ABA before you can develop them.

Is there an economic benefit? In this era, the economics of practice, especially by small firm practitioners, will be key to continued growth of the ABA. This is where the discussion faltered. Most economic benefits suggested by the panelists are illusory, in my experience. Most benefits proffered by the ABA can be bettered by membership elsewhere, or even by the individual. One would think differently in a 400,000 powerful organization. But, not so. Most lawyers do not receive help in the areas of their greatest need, income fluctuations and practice assistance. Perhaps collaboration by the ABA with local bar associations can better enable the ABA to address these issues. I’m sure the leadership is considering various ideas.

On top of this, we live in a time where Karen Mathis’ “Second Season” initiative efforts will be so important. In the next ten years, she said, 400,000 lawyers will retire. Many of them will continue to practice law, on a reduced basis or as sole and small firm practitioners. Getting ready for this onslaught will be important. What happens to lawyers will merely reflect what happens to “Baby Boomers” in general; how we prepare for the generational issues will be key to our happiness, if not our very survival.

There is much to be done by the Bar (at all levels). And the Bar needs to find ways to involve all its lawyers.

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