Report from Chicago: Inside the ABA Annual Meeting
by Troy R. Rackham
The House of Delegates, which is the policy-making body of the American Bar Association, met on Aug. 6 and 7 in Chicago. I represent the Denver Bar Association as a delegate. The House of Delegates enacted a number of policies affecting the practice of law generally and some policies that may have specific impact here in Colorado.
Summary of Resolutions Approved by the House of Delegates
The House of Delegates considered a large number of resolutions addressing a variety of topics affecting the legal profession, including resolutions relating to access to justice, administrative law, animal rights, armed forces law, civil rights, criminal law, criminal procedure, immigration, international law, and ethics and professional responsibility. This article will provide a summary of the resolutions passed, in particular including the resolutions relating to ethics and professional responsibility. To view a full review of the meeting, please visit bit.ly/ R1rwKb.
Ethics and Professional Responsibility: Changes to the Model Rules
The 2012 Annual Meeting was the first meeting of the House of Delegates to consider the first series of resolutions proposed by the Ethics 20/20 Commission. Those resolutions proposed changes to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct relating to lawyers’ use of technology in marketing, modernization of the confidentiality and competency rules, and rules relating to outsourcing of legal work. In my estimation, the resolutions stemming from the Ethics 20/20 Commission were the most important for the bar generally because they are the most likely to have a broader impact beyond a particular section or interest group.
Before getting to those important resolutions, however, the house detoured to consideration of Resolution 10A, which was proposed by the Illinois State Bar Association and sought to reaffirm that the sharing of legal fees with nonlawyers, and the ownership or control of the practice of law by non-lawyers, are concepts that are inconsistent with the core values of the legal profession and the law governing lawyers.
Resolution 10A was largely an attempt to preempt what many delegates feared would be coming: a resolution or resolutions that would propose amendments to the model rules allowing for non-lawyer ownership of law firms. Resolution 10A was vigorously debated, but turned out to be much ado about nothing, because the Ethics 20/20 Commission has not proposed resolutions allowing for non-lawyer ownership of law firms. Consideration of the resolution was postponed indefinitely.
After this detour, the house got to work on seriously considering six resolutions proposed by the Ethics 20/20 Commission and various sections, all of which related to ethics and professional responsibility issues. Those resolutions were:
The changes to the model rules, and how they may impact Colorado lawyers, have been discussed in a CLE program here in Denver. To access the replay, please visit bit.ly/Q81O3G. Further, if you are personally interested in discussing the changes, I invite you contact me.
Other Resolutions Adopted by the House
The House of Delegates considered a variety of other resolutions, in addition to those from the Ethics 20/20 Commission:
Finally, the House of Delegates had a vigorous and informative debate on Resolution 101, which was proposed by the Section of Litigation. Resolution 101 proposed adoption of model Guidelines for Retention of Experts by Lawyers. The proponents argued that it was important to have standardization of the terms and nature of expert retention. The opponents argued that the guidelines were unnecessary and contained provisions that would have been problematic, such as the provision that an expert can attain “competence.” Ultimately, the house voted against the adoption of the proposed guidelines.
Statement by Outgoing ABA President Bill Robinson
The ABA’s annual meeting always is an interesting event for a variety of reasons, but in particular, because of the change in leadership. William (Bill) T. Robinson turned his gavel over to the new ABA President Laurel Bellows. Before he did so, however, Robinson spoke to the house about the ABA’s work during his tenure as president and the important work that remains. Robinson noted that the ABA strengthened its diversity efforts this year within the association and in the legal profession. He continued his repeated calls for expanding court funding and national advocacy for court funding. He emphasized that still more needs to be done regarding this courtfunding crisis, as many states continue to decrease funding for their state courts and have had to close or limit access to courts and court-related services. Indeed, the court-funding crisis is becoming severe—with more and more state courts closing or limiting services and more and more participants in the legal process becoming frustrated by the inability of the system to resolve their disputes in a timely and appropriate way.
Award of the ABA Medal
Undoubtedly, the highlight of the ABA Annual Meeting for me, and for many of the delegates, was the presentation of the ABA Medal to Morris S. Dees, Jr.
Dees created the Southern Poverty Law Center, obtained reversal of the death sentences in the Triboro Three case, and has used civil lawsuits to secure judgments against racists and hate groups. The ABA honored Dees for his courage, leadership, and service.
In Dees’ speech to the House he described his life as a trial lawyer and illustrated the highly personal lessons he has experienced over the course of his career. His speech was thoughtful and inspiring.
In addition to the passing of the gavel to Bellows, who is from Chicago, other new leaders began their terms. James R. Silkenat of New York will serve as the ABA’s president-elect and Robert M. Carlson of Montana will serve as the chair of the House of Delegates.
The next meeting of the House of Delegates will be at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Dallas in February. I welcome any feedback from any members of the DBA regarding any of the issues that have been considered, or will be considered, by the ABA House of Delegates. D
Troy R. Rackham is the DBA’s delegate to the ABA House of Delegates. He is of counsel at Fennemore Craig. Members interested in discussing issues of the ABA and the House of Delegates may contact him at email@example.com.