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American Bar Association
The American Bar Association (ABA) is a nationwide organization to which qualified attorneys voluntarily belong. With over 400,000 members the ABA is the largest voluntary professional organization in the world.
The American Bar Association was founded in 1878 to improve Legal Education, to set requirements to be satisfied to gain admittance to the bar, and to facilitate the exchange of ideas and information among its members. Over the years, the ABA has been largely responsible for the further development of American jurisprudence, the establishment of formal education requirements for persons seeking to become attorneys, the formulation of ethical principles that govern the practice of law, and the creation of the American Law Institute (ALI) and the Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, which advance the fair administration of justice through encouraging uniformity of statutes and judicial decisions whenever practicable. In recent years, the ABA has been prominently involved in the recommendation and selection of candidates for the federal judiciary, the accreditation of law schools, and the refinement of rules of legal and judicial ethics.
The ABA continues to put great emphasis on promoting diversity within its membership and has initiated several programs designed to bring more women and racial and ethnic minorities into the profession.
The ABA provides various forums through which attorneys continue their legal education during their careers. Its national institutes are held frequently in areas of law that have become topical or have undergone sweeping reform. In conjunction with the ALI, the ABA holds seminars in order to continue the professional education of interested members.
Within the ABA, members may participate in the activities of numerous sections, which range in size from about 3,600 members to more than 60,000 and are organized according to specialized areas of law. Various committees exist that deal with such topics as judicial selection, Professional Responsibility and discipline, lawyer referral services, and the unauthorized practice of law. Other committees are concerned with topical areas, such as prepaid legal services, malpractice, legal problems of the elderly, and public-interest law.
The ABA is involved in the political process through its seven-person Governmental Affairs Office (GAO), a lobbying effort that serves as the "eyes, ears and voice" of the organized bar at the seat of the national government in Washington, D.C. The GAO staff is housed with about 170 other ABA staffers in the ABA's District of Columbia office. (The ABA's main offices are in Chicago, with more than 500 staff members.) The lobbying group in Washington, D.C., headed by the ABA's associate executive director, testifies on Capitol Hill more often than any other trade association. The ABA's lobbyists offer detailed information and analysis on various technical issues, such as tax or antitrust legislation. Moreover, on issues such as abortion, which many ABA members and leaders consider as having an effect on the legal system, the ABA offers its voice along with those of other interested groups.
Equal access for all to the justice system has become an increasingly important theme in the ABA's mission. The association has sought for a number of years to increase and improve free legal services to needy persons by practicing lawyers. These lawyers donate some of their work pro bono publico ("for the good of the public"). In 1981, the ABA created the Private Bar Involvement Project, now called the Pro Bono Project, which acts as a national clearing-house of information and resources for various pro bono programs around the United States. When it began, there were 66 organized projects nationwide; by 1995, there were more than 950.
The ABA actively supports several major legislative priorities on topics that have been in the forefront of American political and governmental affairs. The ABA has called for a moratorium on the death penalty until certain procedures and policies are put into effect that mandate fair and impartial administration of capital punishment. Since the September 11th attacks in 2001, the ABA has stepped up its opposition to laws requiring extra verification of citizenship for immigrants. Additionally, the ABA has urged that U.S. citizens and legal residents detained as "enemy combatants" be afforded due process rights and that military tribunals authorized to conduct trials of suspected terrorists be used in limited circumstances. Finally, the ABA has announced its opposition to the incommunicado detention of nationals held in undisclosed locations by immigration officials or the Homeland Security Department.
The ABA holds annual conventions and midyear meetings to discuss designated legal topics and ABA matters. It publishes the monthly American Bar Association Journal, an annual directory, and various journals and newsletters reporting the work of its sections and committees. The ABA also supports the activities of affiliated organizations—such as the American Bar Foundation, which sponsors research activities in law.
The ABA also provides a social outlet for its members through which members meet to freely exchange ideas and experiences that add to the human dimension in the practice of law.
The ABA has eleven goals:
- Promote improvement in the U.S. system of justice;
- Promote meaningful access to legal representation and the U.S. system of justice for all persons regardless of their economic or social condition;
- Provide ongoing leadership in improving the law to serve the changing needs of society;
- Increase public understanding of and respect for the law, the legal process, and the role of the legal profession;
- Achieve the highest standards of professionalism, competence, and ethical conduct;
- Serve as the national representative of the legal profession;
- Provide benefits, programs, and services that promote professional growth and enhance the quality of life of the members;
- Advance the rule of law in the world;
- Promote full and equal participation in the legal profession by members of minorities and women;
- Preserve and enhance the ideals of the legal profession as a common calling and its dedication to public service;
- Preserve the independence of the legal profession and the judiciary as fundamental to a free society.
American Bar Association Website. Available online at <http://www.abanet.org> (accessed May 29, 2003).
American Bar Foundation Oral History Program. Available online at <http://www.abf-sociolegal.org/oralhistory> (accessed May 30, 2003).
Hobson, Wayne K. 1986. The American Legal Profession and the Organizational Society, 1890–1930. New York: Garland.