In this edition of Law Technology Now, Ralph Baxter hosts an in-depth conversation with President Judy Perry Martinez on the many ongoing projects at the American Bar Association. The ABA is committed to improving the practice of law through collaboration and innovation. Ralph and Judy discuss the many issues of concern at the ABA, including the efforts of the Commission on the Future of Legal Services, current recommendations for improving access to justice, projects at the ABA Center for Innovation, voter rights, law student debt, and more!
Judy Perry Martinez of Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn in New Orleans is president of the American Bar Association.
Special thanks to our sponsors, Headnote.
Law Technology Now
ABA Projects and Pursuits: A Conversation with President Judy Perry Martinez
Ralph Baxter: Welcome to Law Technology Now. This is Ralph Baxter and I’ll be your host on this episode. This is my second episode of the show.
Today, we’re at Stanford University at the Design School where we’ve just finished a unique workshop on regulatory reform and its implications for access to justice and otherwise for improving the way legal service is delivered.
Before we begin, I’d like to thank our sponsors. We’d like to thank Headnote, helping law firms get paid 70% faster with their compliant e-payments and accounts receivables automation platform. Learn how to get paid quicker and more efficiently at headnote.com.
Our guest today is one of the true leaders in American Law, Judy Perry Martinez; the President of the American Bar Association. Judy is a leader in the true sense of the word. She has vision, she inspires the confidence of others and she can inspire people to act.
I first met Judy in 2015 when she was leading the ABA study on the Future of Legal Services and I had the good fortune to observe her leadership over a year and a half of the two and a half year period of that study as she worked with people from very different points of view, all over the United States and navigated the complexities of the largest Association of lawyers in the world.
She was remarkable and I thought at the time that Judy was just the kind of person you’d want to lead your organization and this August, Judy was elected President of the ABA. Welcome to Law Technology Now, Judy.
Judy Perry Martinez: Thanks Ralph. I’m delighted to be here with you.
Ralph Baxter: So Judy as we begin, I know our listeners will find your career path, facets of your career path interesting. So I’d like to start with a basic. So how did it happen that you went to law school?
Judy Perry Martinez: Ralph I was actually in undergraduate Business School at the University of New Orleans and had never really thought about being a lawyer and I was in a business law class and the professor asked me to stay after class. I did and when I approached he said, you need to go to law school and I took him very seriously but more importantly, I thought about and have thought many times since then about the fact that instilling confidence in someone and what individual believes they can do and maybe make a difference in other’s lives can really make a difference for that person.
And he certainly made a difference in what I thought I should go out and do in this world.
Ralph Baxter: And so, at what point did it happen that you decided this was a good choice that you were glad you had become a lawyer?
Judy Perry Martinez: I really didn’t know any lawyers and my oldest brother had just started in law school about a year before that. And as a consequence, I really didn’t understand the role of lawyers not only in their everyday practices or job settings but more so what they could do in their communities.
And I recall being at Tulane Law School in my first year and I saw a poster when I walked down the hall one afternoon about a session that was going to be occurring after class and I went to that session and it was on the death penalty, and on post-conviction habeas relief, and it presented a group of very experienced practitioners who talked about their work.
And frankly, I sat there at that moment realizing that if you wanted to you could really do things with your law career to try to make a difference in people’s lives.
Ralph Baxter: That’s great. So in your career, you practiced law in private practice for some years after law school and then you joined Northrop Grumman where you were Assistant General Counsel and ultimately became Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer.
Could you share some of the takeaways of that experience with our audience?
Judy Perry Martinez: Well I think the foundation that I received from my law firm in New Orleans Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn where I started in 1982 straight out of law school and stayed for 21 years, brought me to the moment when I was entering the world of corporate litigation from the inside as an in-house counsel.
And so that experience as a commercial litigator was very valuable and then when I looked and pivoted to be the client and was working with law firms across the country and managing the litigation that they had on behalf of the company, what it told me is that that relationship is critically important to establish trust, to establish a relationship where there’s a lot of give and take in terms of dialogue.
But also importantly, the essential notion that lawyers who are on the outside doing work for corporate clients, no matter big or small, have to have a full understanding of the work and the business of the company that they’re representing. And similarly, when they do work for individuals I think understanding your client in the fullest way is so important to not only this ultimate success of your litigation but also to that relationship in building trust in individuals and how they perceive the justice system in general.
Ralph Baxter: Let’s turn now to the American Bar Association. So I want to start with some fundamentals, we’re the most fundamental of all, so this is a gigantic and complex organization, but in simple terms, direct terms, what is the purpose of the American Bar Association?
Judy Perry Martinez: Well the purpose of the American Bar Association is actually set forth in its four goals, it is to serve the profession, improve the profession, eliminate bias and increase diversity and advance the rule of law, and we do that through a multitude of programs and projects that are all supported by a professional staff of the American Bar Association as well as a corps of lawyers from across the country and beyond who lend their volunteer time, their talent and their energy to making sure that we progress toward all four of those goals.
Ralph Baxter: So who sets policy at the ABA?
Judy Perry Martinez: The policy of the American Bar Association is set by its House of Delegates which convenes twice a year. It is made up of over 600 lawyers from across the country who represent Bar Associations, local state and specialty bars, affiliated organizations as well as the sections and divisions and forums of the American Bar, and then we also have some delegates at large.
All of those lawyers come together and they work on resolutions and bring forth resolutions and reports to the House of Delegates which are debated and I will share with you Ralph that as I sit in the House of Delegates and have done so for almost 30 years. I often sit in awe at the high caliber of debate, the professionalism, in the way that lawyers of sometimes often opposing views take on the issues but yet show the most wonderful sense of respect for their colleagues in the House of Delegates.
Ralph Baxter: So and I think it’s very important for the audience to understand anyone who thinks about the ABA that that is how policy is set. It’s a large group of people as you’ve described them and their backgrounds and they set policy in those semiannual meetings.
Judy Perry Martinez: And when you think about it, because we have representatives in the House of Delegates from across the country, local and state and specialty bars, who really are representing through that policy the voice of the profession, the voice of the legal profession.
Ralph Baxter: Okay. So, then what is the role of the President of the American Bar Association?
Judy Perry Martinez: So the ABA president in his or her year of service is the spokesperson for the American Bar Association and we use each and every opportunity we can to visit law schools and often even undergraduate programs in pre-law. We go out and talk to Bar Associations of all types. We meet with leaders and people who we know are influencers in the law.
We have a very good relationship in terms of our established relationship with the court systems across the country, both the Federal Court System as well as the state, local, municipal and administrative systems across the state, Administrative Law Judge Systems across the state.
And frankly, what we do is even go beyond that realm and make sure that we are educating the public about the law, that we are helping them understand how they play a vital role in our Constitution and it’s a constitutional democracy and that we help them understand how they can be a part of our system of justice, whether it’s serving as a juror, being a litigant, maybe serving as a witness or in some other capacity in which they make the wheels of this justice system work.
Ralph Baxter: I think it’s vitally important that we all work to help everyone in our country understand how they play a role in our justice system and in our democracy. So, from your personal point of view after all these years of as a lawyer and being so active in the American Bar Association, do you have particular objectives for this coming year, what you would like to see the ABA achieve or yourself?
Judy Perry Martinez: Well I think if you talk to any current leader of the American Bar Association, you will get an answer that tells you that we are on a strategic path toward our goals and reaching each and every one of our goals and going beyond.
So, what I am doing this year is really taking the baton from the last President Bob Carlson who was from a three-person firm in Butte, Montana and I’ll be turning it over at the end of my bar year next August to Trish Refo from a very large regional firm in Phoenix, Arizona.
And what that tells you and it should tell the public as well as the profession, is that as we take on this drive to go toward our goals, it really is about making sure that everything we do is to progress those goals.
So as a consequence when I talk to you earlier about one of the goals of the Association being to advance the rule of law, this year we’re focused on voting rights, we’re focused on looking back at the 19th Amendment and because it is the 19th Amendment Centennial and helping people understand how critical it is that they exercise their right to vote, examining what the barriers and hurdles are to allowing individuals to go ahead and cast their vote and making sure that people understand that that is an important way in which they play a part in our democracy.
We also continue to take on significant efforts to assure that the legal profession itself is focused on diversity and inclusion in meaningful ways. For instance, looking at how we have made advances but have to do so much more in the area of inclusion of people of color, women and what they need to do in order to achieve meaningful participation in the profession at all levels, but also looking at our colleagues with different abilities, with disabilities, to ensure that we are affording accommodations for them from the time they enter law school until they go into the legal field and as they go through their careers whether it’s in continuing legal education, if they want to go on the bench or to take on other roles that are non-traditional roles of practice in the practice of law.
Ralph Baxter: So I think this is — first of all, you can hear in your voice as you say these things, the sincerity with which you believe them and I’ve observed and everyone else has who knows you the intensity with which you pursue them, it’s also very interesting that the people who are elected to hold the position of President of the American Bar Association do come from such different settings, and they’re diverse in other ways as everyone knows, but in addition coming from Bozeman, Montana in a three-person firm to be President of the ABA as Bob did and then your background and Trish’s and so on, it illustrates how this really is the American Bar Association.
Well, let’s turn now to this commission on the future of legal services that you chair. As I said earlier this is — that’s when I first met you, in fact it was here at Stanford University in one of the convenings that you did in connection with that.
So can you talk a little bit about and I mean what we’ll come to and the reason I want to get into it is that I think it has such an impact on what has happened since. So if you could talk a little bit about how and why that Commission was created?
Judy Perry Martinez: So William Hubbard who was then President of the American Bar Association determined that we really had a look in study and analyze and assess and then give recommendations regarding what the future of legal services were. The sectors all around the legal sector were changing, technology was becoming something that was throughout and pervasive in all other sectors and we knew, in fact, that it had taken a foothold in the legal sector.
And as a consequence we wanted to make sure that lawyers understood how it could be harnessed in order that they could use it for the advantage of their clients whether big or small companies, individuals and also to help them drive services for those clients that were more efficient, more affordable and more accessible.
And so we undertook the study of major issues within the realm of the future of legal services. We went out and did public hearings. We wrote white papers. We had a special edition of a law review that was published on 15 different topics and in the end we rendered a report in August of 2016 called, ‘The Futures Report’, which set forth not only findings of fact about the state of legal needs, and the market of legal services in this country, but also importantly concrete recommendations on how greater access to justice could come about if in fact the recommendations were followed.
That is not a report, that is policy of the American Bar Association, but it is a report of the Commission and I would suggest to you that it has provided a road map for many of the state regulators as you know the American Bar Association is not a regulator of legal services, the 50 State Supreme Courts are the regulator.
But many of those courts and Bar Associations across the country have utilized that report in order to determine what are the issues that they should be exploring and looking at.
Ralph Baxter: So I’ve wrote a blog post about that report when it came out and I want to ask you a couple of further questions about it, but back when it came out in August of 2016, I wrote that — I wrote this, I believe the way the Commission dealt with the most important and controversial policy issues demonstrated uncommon leadership and is likely to be an effective catalyst for accelerating the pace of progress in realizing the full potential of the American Justice System.
The reason I wrote that it reflected leadership was something you just said, this wasn’t the policy of the American Bar Association, it was what the members of this committee did, Commission did in response to their findings of fact.
You recommended to the State Supreme Courts that they consider and as you say, the ABA is not a regulator, you don’t make the rules that govern the practice of law, but you recommended that they increase, that they consider increasing the range of people who are lawfully permitted to participate in delivering legal service and that they consider enabling outside investment in law firms. How controversial were those recommendations when you made them?
Judy Perry Martinez: They were controversial then and they are also controversial to this day. But the important thing that the — I think the report itself did when we suggested that State Supreme Courts and State Bar Associations explore different business models such as alternative business structures. When we urge that they experiment with different and other innovations, what it did was provide an opportunity for dialogue, and if there’s one thing that lawyers are very good at it is at assessing problems, sometimes intractable social problems as we have with the lack of access to justice and sitting back and trying to have a dialogue with people of opposing views in order to find common purpose, in order to find common solutions and sometimes looking for a path forward that will be the in the best interest of the public.
And what that report did was afford an opportunity for people to have a starting place in that dialogue and those dialogues have proceeded across the country in various states and we’re hearing about them now and what we’re doing is actively observing and listening as those states take on the challenge to have the important conversations about what is in the best interest of the people within their jurisdictions.
Ralph Baxter: And the report continues to make good reading, all of the findings that you made and then the recommendations and I think there’s no doubt that you did accelerate the pace of consideration of these modifications. We now have Arizona and Utah and California seriously considering changes that are in one way or another along the lines of what you suggested.
So, we were together today at a workshop here at the Design School at Stanford sponsored by the Center on the Legal Profession at the Stanford Law School with justices from State Supreme Courts, lawyers, other leaders of bar associations, people from legal technology, lawyers from all sorts of different settings and academics. How did you feel about that meeting that we had today?
Judy Perry Martinez: Well, it was palpable in the room Ralph, and I think you probably would agree with me, that everyone there is committed to access, greater access to justice, and everyone there knows that we have to in a means of continuous improvement always look at not only what our profession does, but what we can see and learn from others in terms of how do we get there to that goal of greater access to justice.
And that’s been a struggle in our country for so many years. And we have made some real strides with self-help centers, kiosk, navigators at courts, online dispute and other means by which we can have greater access to justice. And so this conversation today, this workshop was really about rolling up our sleeves and thinking about other means by which we may be able to achieve greater access.
And when I see institutional organizations, such as the Legal Services Corporation President and the President of the National Center for State Courts sitting in the room at the same table, and as you noted Justices of Supreme Courts and Trial Judges sitting in that room along with academics and lawyers and innovators, what I know was that there is an energy at the moment that I think will bring us to a greater realm of access.
Judy Perry Martinez: It’s not easy. Change is never easy and there will be failures. There will be failure points and we will have to learn from them. We would not be doing our job.
But the bottom line is that if we can and I believe we must as a profession open our minds up to what is possible in terms of greater access, what we will find is that we will be doing exactly what we took an oath to do. We will be serving the public. We will be giving them greater access to legal services and at the same time, I believe that good and positive things will come for lawyers in the long run.
Ralph Baxter: I agree with you 100% and I was encouraged by the nature of the conversation and all the ways that you just described including a recognition by everyone in the room that there is no silver bullet, that even if we make modifications to the rules that govern the delivery of legal service that and that is a constructive step and I believe it will be, we will need to continue to do other things to contribute to access to justice and whatever we do will make the delivery of legal service for everyone better.
It will make the careers of the people who serve clients better and I think that’s part of why we’re seeing such enthusiasm for change today.
One other outcome of the report was the creation of the Center for Innovation at the ABA. And I know that’s, that’s very important to you. Could you talk a little bit about what that Center has achieved and what it’s doing now?
Judy Perry Martinez: Well the Commission made up of about 45 people who dedicated those two and a half years of their lives to the work of the Commission. I think pretty quickly came to realize that we needed a place that was a safe space to be able to think and to be able to analyze ideas that would move the needle on access to justice and perhaps do even more.
And so what we did was go to the ABA Board of Governors to ask for support and seed funding so that in fact the Center for Innovation could be created. It is housed at the American Bar Association headquarters in Chicago and it has had multiple projects that have organically grown from its work and it continues to be a place where outside parties who are interested in making progress on access to justice come to get assistance, to hear from the really big thinkers about how we can change access for people who are in need.
And it is not only for and it is particularly for access for the poor and near poor, but also for moderate means and we also want to make sure that we’re thinking smartly for all lawyers no matter their practice settings.
So we are out and about at the Center educating lawyers about what they need to know about technology in order to have smarter practices if you will and be able to harness that capability of technology. We are doing our part to take on those experiments, to try technology and making sure that when we do so that we’re looking at what the outcomes are and whether it’s helping or not.
We are also trying to be a resource for those who want to do work on their own. For instance, having information and resources available so that others who want to research can come to us and get data and information that may be helpful to their independent work.
Ralph Baxter: I think it is very important to the overall prospects of modernization of the way legal service is delivered, that the ABA has such a center and it does the work that it does. I had the good fortune to attend the meeting of the Center at the annual meeting in San Francisco this summer and the energy in that room and the intellectual firepower of the people in it was very encouraging.
Judy Perry Martinez: It’s one of the most exciting things going on at the American Bar Association right now that I believe is of and will be as the word gets out of great interest to young lawyers and law students who are entering the profession, because frankly it is a subject that they’re interested in, not only the subject of technology and innovation that can help them be more competent and better lawyers, but also access to justice. They care about access to justice.
Ralph Baxter: Right. And they care about how we do things. The newest generation of lawyers as they arrive to practice law wherever they do, whatever setting, they ask, why on earth do you do it the way you do it, and they’re full of ideas about how to modernize, how to make it better.
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Ralph Baxter: And we are back. I’m here with Judy Perry Martinez and we’re talking about the activities of the American Bar Association. Let’s turn now to a number of subjects in which the ABA is involved in making recommendations or assessments which are of great interest to the public, not only the lawyers but to the public at large.
So let’s start with judicial nominees. The ABA rates all nominees to Federal judgeships in the United States, a function that is now headed up by William Hubbard who you mentioned earlier who had been president of the ABA. It would be good if you’d explain how that works.
Judy Perry Martinez: Since the Eisenhower administration, the American Bar Association without interruption has had in place a committee of volunteer lawyers from across the country, who take on the job with regard to every nominee to the federal bench at the district court, Court of Appeals and even the Supreme Court of the United States. They render an investigation and evaluation of the nominee and then a rating.
And the investigation and evaluation of the nominee is a peer evaluation where there are interviews conducted of sitting judges as well as of colleagues in practice and that results in a rating of either well-qualified, qualified or not qualified.
Ralph Baxter: All right, and once they make that recommendation the role of the ABA is finished?
Judy Perry Martinez: Yes the ABA turns over the rating to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Ralph Baxter: All right. Next subject is law schools. The ABA accredits law schools and in the United States today people are quite concerned for good reason that the cost of legal education has gone up so much and that if you don’t have access to financial support in some way, many people of limited means themselves may not be able to go to law school. What is the ABA doing if anything to address this issue?
Judy Perry Martinez: Well the American Bar Association is the accrediting body of law schools in the country and currently there are right over 200, 203 ABA accredited law schools. And that job is critically important and it’s a role that is at the core of the work of the American Bar Association to drive competency within the profession and that competency of course, starts in the law school process.
And so what we know is very important is that as we work to assure diversity and inclusion in the profession that we want to also make sure that law school in its education within law schools is affordable. And so we work on varying levels to make it possible for students who want to go to law school and be a part of our profession to do so.
For instance, we offer through our Law Student Division membership discounts for the bar review course. We make sure we work with law schools and trying to be innovative about how they can go about serving law students. We want to make sure that law students have the resources they need to address issues of mental health and wellness just like lawyers are looking for those resources now.
And particularly so, in the case of one good program of the American Bar Association which utilizes legislation that Congress passed several years ago, we advocate for public loan forgiveness, public service loan forgiveness, which is when an individual, a lawyer, a teacher, a firefighter another type of first responder dedicates years of service within his or her profession and pays off a significant portion of their debt from in our case law school.
They are giving public service loan forgiveness, and we advocate for that extension of that program in Congress as well as make sure that those who are eligible for it have a chance in order to get the benefits of that program.
Ralph Baxter: All right. Let’s talk about two more issues quickly. These two I think are not as well known to the public.
The first is the Fact Checking function that the ABA has created. Would you tell our listeners about this?
Judy Perry Martinez: About two years ago, when Hilarie Bass was President of the American Bar Association, but with a lot of work from professional staff at the association and volunteers, we came up with the idea that we could help the media if we took issues that were in the public domain, issues that were important to the American public as they listened to cable and network news and read stories in the paper, about what is going on in our country with regard to legal issues in our democracy, that we could help out the public by serving up information about the legal aspects of those issues that everyone is talking about.
And so the notion of ABA Legal Fact Check was created and we have served up about 45 different pieces of subject matter that we believe are of interest to the media and the public, and in a very simple and straightforward way, we set forth what the legal issue is, we set forth what the relevant constitutional or other statutory law is and what the jurisprudence or case law is about the issue.
We take no sides on the issue. We just ferret out the facts to make sure — the legal facts to make sure that people are aware of them.
Ralph Baxter: So what are a couple of recent examples?
Judy Perry Martinez: We did one recently on the Electoral College. We’ve done them recently on impeachment and we have as I said a host of 45 different subject matter that are about timely subjects that the individuals in the public are reading about and hearing about, we want them to have a resource to go to when they have questions at their dinner table, in the classroom or when they’re having conversations in coffee shops and community centers in their own hometowns.
Ralph Baxter: Yeah. I think this is a great public service and it’s an example of how the ABA can deliver public service beyond just the community of lawyers.
And then finally, the ABA is focused on access to justice in ways you’ve already talked about and many others, but one of them that I’d like you to talk about to our audience is the Free Legal Answers Program that you’ve established.
Judy Perry Martinez: ABA Free Legal Answers is another wonderful example of a lawyer who has an idea and then makes a difference. And that was a lawyer who came up with the notion that we should be able to make it easier for lawyers to render pro bono legal services. Lawyers have busy careers, they have families, obligations at home, and yet many of them do an awful lot of pro bono work every week in every month and every year in this country.
But we wanted to make it even easier for them to help individuals who may have a specific question but not need to hire a lawyer full time or maybe they had an issue that they have a small case and can’t afford a lawyer.
So what we did was create ABA Free Legal Answers. It is now in many states across the country through State Bar Associations and an individual posts a question or a problem, a legal problem that they may have and then a lawyer can go on to that platform and look at various legal problems, decide which one or more that he or she, the lawyer, may have expertise in or have experience in and they take the matter and they address it for the client and help them out.
Ralph Baxter: That’s terrific I think. Okay, last question, last area of questions. I know that convening people to talk about important issues is very important to you, to the ABA and to you personally. Can you share with the audience some of the convening that you have done recently at the ABA?
Judy Perry Martinez: The convening power of the American Bar Association is something we rely on consistently because we know that bringing people together for an American Bar Association event is a real possibility — has a real possibility of driving solutions to significant problems that people in our society face.
And one of the ones that we had recently was at American University Washington School of Law where we brought together law students, career service offices from law schools, academics and those in administration of law schools as well as law firm employers, who talked about what more we can do to educate not only law schools but law firm employers and other employers about what accommodations can be given to law students, both while they’re in school and as well as when they go out into the world seeking jobs, once they pass the Bar Association and while taking the bar.
Another one that we’re planning in the coming days is a convening in Washington DC on gun violence, and we’re bringing together professionals from across different sectors to make sure that we’re looking smartly at gun violence both urban gun violence as well as the mass shootings that we’ve tragically had in our country in the last several years, to make sure that we’re not missing something in terms of solutions that are out there, what more can be done when smart and dedicated people put their heads together to solve the problem of gun violence in our country.
So it’s really about the American Bar Association using its convening power to bring professionals together, members of the public, who can speak to these issues in an informed way with the hope that we can make a difference for the lives of everyday Americans.
Ralph Baxter: Well thank you, Judy. Before we end is there anything else that I haven’t asked you about that you’d like to talk about to the audience here of Law Technology Now?
Judy Perry Martinez: I think the one thing I’ll close with Ralph is that each and every day lawyers are in your communities making a difference, and they make a difference not only because of their intellect and their ethics in their competencies, but also because they are committed and they care. And there are examples after examples of lawyers who want to contribute and lawyers who do contribute and getting to know those lawyers in your community is something that I think benefits the communities in terms of leadership and leadership capacity.
And one of the places that any individual can go to, to find those leaders is in their local state and specialty bars or the American Bar Association.
Ralph Baxter: Well thank you, Judy, and I can say based on my experience with you, that part of what you contribute and have for years in your activities at the ABA and now as President is you inspire the members of the American Bar Association to rise to their responsibilities, to serve the communities in which they practice, and I thank you for that.
Judy Perry Martinez: Thank you Ralph.
Ralph Baxter: Well, thank you all for listening to Law Technology Now. If you like what you’ve heard, please rate us on Apple or Spotify, wherever you access your podcast.
And until next time, this is Ralph Baxter for Law Technology Now.
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