The American Bar Association is one of the world’s largest voluntary professional organizations, with nearly 400,000 members and more than 3,500 entities. It is committed to doing what only a national association of attorneys can do: serve members, improve the legal profession, eliminate bias and enhance diversity, and advance the rule of law throughout the United States and around the world.
On Lawyer 2 Lawyer, hosts J. Craig Williams and Bob Ambrogi join Linda Klein, president-elect of the American Bar Association, as she takes a look back at the past year as president-elect and looks ahead to her initiatives and mission under her presidency at the American Bar Association.
Linda Klein is president-elect of the American Bar Association. Linda, senior managing shareholder at Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz, assumed the role of president-elect of the American Bar Association in August 2015 at the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago. She is presently serving a one-year term as president-elect then will become ABA president in August 2016.
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Lawyer 2 Lawyer
The American Bar Association: A Look Ahead Under New President, Linda Klein
Linda Klein: Candidly, there can be no better time for lawyers to be together in the American Bar Association so that we can share ideas and work together toward strengthening the profession, and most importantly, access to justice for all.
Intro: Welcome to the award-winning podcast Lawyer 2 Lawyer with J. Craig Williams and Robert Ambrogi, bringing you the latest legal news and observations with the leading experts in the legal profession. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
J. Craig Williams: Hello and welcome to Lawyer 2 Lawyer on the Legal Talk Network. I am Craig Williams, coming to you from sunny Southern California. I write a legal blog called May It Please The Court.
Bob Ambrogi: And this is Bob Ambrogi, coming to you from outside of Boston, Massachusetts, where I write a blog called LawSites. I also host another Legal Talk Network show called Law Technology Now with Monica Bay.
And before we introduce today’s topic and guest, we would like to first thank our sponsor Clio. Clio is the world’s leading cloud-based legal practice management software. Thousands of lawyers and legal professionals trust Clio to help grow and simplify their practices. You can learn more at HYPERLINK “http://www.clio.com” clio.com.
J. Craig Williams: Well, Bob, the American Bar Association is one of the world’s largest voluntary professional organizations, with nearly 400,000 members and more than 3,500 entities. It is committed to doing what only a national association of attorneys can do, serve its members, improve the legal profession, eliminate bias and enhance diversity, and advance the rule of law throughout the United States and around the world.
Bob Ambrogi: And in just about two weeks many of those members are going to be descending on the City of San Francisco for the ABA’s annual meeting there and during that annual meeting a new President will be taking office. We are going to be talking to that new President today in today’s program.
Just a quick note, especially to those of you who are paying attention to me on social media this week, because I have been promising we are going to have both the outgoing President Paulette Brown and also the incoming President on the same show, but due to a last-minute conflict Paulette Brown is not going to be able to be with us today, and we hope to speak with her at a later date.
J. Craig Williams: Our guest today is Linda Klein, President-elect of the American Bar Association. Linda Klein, senior managing shareholder at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, assumed the role of President-elect of the American Bar Association in August 2015 at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in Chicago. She is presently serving a one-year term as President-elect and then will become the ABA President in August of this year.
Welcome to the show, Linda Klein.
Linda Klein: Thank you for having me.
Bob Ambrogi: Well, Linda, this is an extremely challenging time I think in a lot of ways for the legal profession. I think many lawyers feel as if their very livelihood is under attack from new emerging business models, emerging ideas about what constitutes the practice of law. We see law schools under attack. We even see the judiciary, the legal system under attack.
What do you plan to do during your term as President? What have you identified as your priorities as you come into this office?
Linda Klein: Candidly, there can be no better time for lawyers to be together in the American Bar Association so that we can share ideas and work together toward strengthening the profession, and most importantly, access to justice for all.
I have spent the year as President-elect going to various cities throughout the country, and I call it a listening tour and I have been in — and I won’t be able to name them all, but I have been everywhere; Reno and Denver and Owensboro, Kentucky and Evansville, Indiana and Burlington, Vermont and Fargo, North Dakota, and I could go on and on about the different cities I have been in. And when I go to these cites I try to meet with small groups of lawyers and candidly, I try to meet with as many lawyers as possible who are not members of the American Bar Association.
And in meeting with them I ask them what they need in their practices, and I get many of the same answers wherever I go. Lawyers are very much committed to access to justice. Lawyers are very much interested in a diverse profession. Lawyers are concerned about law school debt and the number of young lawyers who can’t find meaningful employment, but they also have some very important things that are important to them regarding running their practices.
And so, a part of what we are going to do this year is help lawyers in a very basic way, and I will be talking about that. But I also have some other initiatives that I am going to ask lawyers to be part of this year, and we are all going to work together on access to justice and helping lawyers help their clients, and I will be glad to tell you how.
Bob Ambrogi: Okay.
J. Craig Williams: Well, please go ahead and give us a rundown of the specifics of how you are going to attack such a large agenda.
Linda Klein: Well, let’s start with something that I have learned a lot about this year, and that is the need for veterans to have access to legal services. There are more than 22 million military veterans in the United States and they face a web of legal challenges. Many of them involve family law, a lot of them have chronic illness problems, many problems with debt accumulated, starting from when they were in active duty service.
One of the things that shocked me the most was to learn that there are nearly 50,000 homeless veterans in the United States, and then I learned that the fastest growing homeless population in the United States is women veterans.
I learned that 1.4 million veterans live below the poverty line and another 1.4 million live just above it. So that means that about 13% of our nation’s heroes live below or near the poverty line. And as I learned all about that, I decided that we can do better and that we must do better as a profession.
When I think about these men and women who took an oath saying that they would die for our country in defense of our liberty, we as lawyers are going to need to answer our own oath, our own calls as a profession and help these veterans. These are people who fought for our rights as citizens, and those rights rest on something that’s very near and dear to our profession and that is the protection of a just rule of law throughout the world.
J. Craig Williams: But Linda, could I just ask, what can you do about that given — I mean, we all know that funding for legal services across the board has been dramatically reduced over the last decade. I know that up here in Massachusetts where I am funding for veterans’ legal services is scarce. So how do you propose to tackle that issue?
Linda Klein: And that’s where the American Bar Association can really come in and help so very much. The ABA already does some outstanding work that helps active duty military and veterans, and we are going to launch a legal services initiative for veterans this year.
We brought together a group of ABA member leaders who are going to use the best expertise that they have as well as our extensive nationwide relationships, and we are going to build many things that are going to help veterans. I would like to tell you about the two leaders of the initiative; Navy TJAG, Three Star, retired Rear Admiral Nan DeRenzi, the first woman Navy TJAG, and I believe the first Three Star woman in the Navy that was the JAG Officer.
Dwight Smith, who is a former Chair of the General Practice Section, the member of the House of Delegates who has been involved in very extensive leadership activity through the ABA. And those are going to be the Co-Chairs of the Commission.
Retired Major General Butch Tate, who is currently the Chair of what we call the LAMP Committee, the ABA acronym that stands for Legal Assistance to Military Personnel and he has helped us very much in creating this initiative and he is going to continue to work with us on the veterans initiative.
We are going to bring together law schools and bar associations promoting legal services incubator. We are going to bring services to the veterans, and at the same time provide valuable training for new and underemployed lawyers.
I learned about the importance of medical-legal partnerships, where lawyers can be part of the team at VA medical facilities and I have learned that when lawyers are on the team they can often help solve the underlying problem that brings the veteran to the facility, such as homelessness and without the exposure on the street the veteran has a place to live, often they don’t need to come to the medical facility as often.
We are looking at ways to promote legal checkups for veterans. We have learned that of homeless veterans 5 out of the 10 top issues that men who are homeless veterans have are legal, but yet, many veterans do not know that their problem is a legal one. And so, with legal checkups we can make sure that veterans have the assistance that they need.
Our plan also include an effort to extend a very successful pilot project that the ABA had in conjunction with the Department of Veterans Affairs, it was called the Veterans’ Claims Assistance Network, it was called VCAN, some of you may have heard of it, and many lawyers that are listening may well have volunteered in that program. And this is a way to bring pro bono help for veterans whose benefit claims were caught in the massive backlog you heard about in the media.
It showed a new path forward as a joint venture between the ABA and the VA for resolving these claims and it reduced the backlog considerably.
We had one case where a Vietnam veteran who had several service-connected disabilities was trying to obtain his benefits, and a volunteer ABA member got his claim file reorganized, expedited the appeal and the veteran got a $1,000 month increase in his disability compensation and a lump sum payment of $18,000, and that makes a huge difference for so many of our veterans.
J. Craig Williams: Linda, if there was a — if a veteran was listening to your podcast and all of the plans, where would that veteran want to go look for what you are going to be putting in place over the next year? How should that veteran stay in touch with you?
Linda Klein: I am glad you asked that. We have a separate website for what we are doing with veterans right now and that will continue to have information as we develop the committee’s resources. And instead of HYPERLINK “http://www.americanbar.org” americanbar.org, which is the ABA’s website, HYPERLINK “http://www.ambar.org/veterans” ambar.org/veterans will bring you to the page for the coordinating committee on veterans’ benefits and services, and that will continue to populate that.
And I also would like lawyers that are listening to go to that website. This year we have a traditional Pro Bono Week, usually at the end of October, like every year, but this year for Veterans Day we are hoping that lawyers will participate in veteran specific activities in conjunction with our annual national celebration of pro bono at the end of October, and we are extending it for bar associations and other groups that would like to do it all the way to Veterans Day on November 11, so that any community can organize activities around that time so that we can help veterans.
We are asking state bars, we are asking local bars, we are asking other community organizations to sponsor veterans’ pro bono events then, and also, a second Pro Bono Day in May as a meaningful way to serve veterans around Memorial Day.
So if you are a lawyer listening, we would like you to help us, and please go to that website, HYPERLINK “http://www.ambar.org/veterans” ambar.org/veterans to find out how you can help.
Bob Ambrogi: Thanks. There is a couple of other topics I want to ask you about, but I want to give you an opportunity to talk more about your initiatives for the year, if there was something else that you wanted to do before I move on to those.
Linda Klein: Oh boy, I have got lots I would like to talk about. Well, we are going to also mobilize the Bar on another important civics initiative that represents the foundation of our profession, our democracy. This is an election year and voting is a basic right and obligation of every citizen and a pillar of the rule of law. So we are mobilizing the incredible ABA’s nonpartisan resources on election law.
There is a new book, a bipartisan book that’s come out about election law, and we are encouraging lawyers to get involved. The website for that, HYPERLINK “http://www.ambar.org/vote” ambar.org/vote will show you the way to get to a new video that we are distributing to schools nationwide to encourage young people to get involved. We are asking our clients and our communities to vote.
We have developed a promotional card that can be downloaded electronically, it’s not up on the website yet, but please check in probably around the middle of August after the ABA’s annual meeting, and it will explain the importance of voting, point to valuable resources, and a way that you can take what the ABA has developed about voting, personalize it to your law firm, to your bar association, to your community organization and distribute it either by printing it or electronically.
The ABA website HYPERLINK “http://www.ambar.org/vote” ambar.org/vote has links to state by state information on voter registration, voter ID requirements, time off to vote rule. There is a map, you click on the map on the state that interests you and you will get all these resources that will come up, that is a great way to make sure that everyone knows that lawyers care that people vote, and we encourage everybody to vote this year.
As voting is fundamental to our democracy, so to is education, and the ABA has done great work advocating for children and our support for providing a quality education to all, and we are promoting this year lawyers getting involved in a right to a high quality education for all children.
Nationally, we are still far from finished in securing the basic right to a quality education on a consistent basis, particularly for children from low income families and children of color and children with disabilities, children whose primary language is not English, children in foster care, children from homeless families, and the American Bar Association believes that everyone, every child is entitled to a quality education.
We have established a six member education committee, which will be chaired by Reggie Turner from Detroit, and it will complement and leverage the efforts of the other ABA entities, and there are many of them that are involved in this.
So those are some of the initiatives that are outward-facing that we are going to talk about this coming year and work together on, and I am very excited about.
And then there is that more inward-facing, helping lawyers and trying to figure out the ways to help lawyers based on what I learned on my listening tour, and I will pause there because I am sure you have got questions.
J. Craig Williams: Well, that’s a good transition to the question I was going to ask, because as an everyday lawyer who is a member of the ABA, what is the benefits that it could offer to members and why do lawyers want to join the ABA?
Linda Klein: Lawyers join the ABA for a variety of reasons that are personal to them. I have been known to say, and I didn’t coin this phrase, but I am sure you have heard it before, one size fits one. And with over 3,500 entities my guess is that there is something for every lawyer in the United States within the American Bar Association.
Many lawyers join the ABA because they are interested in their practice area and practice specific information, a lot of that comes from the ABA Sections, who do fabulous work on bringing sections, divisions, forums, on bringing information that lawyers need on a timely basis.
Some lawyers want to get involved, like you guys, as the host of this show, you are involved in the American Bar Association, you are speaking, you are writing, you are doing things that help lawyers, and that’s what excites you.
There are others lawyers that want to get involved in some of the international work that we do, or just want to support it financially. The ABA is in over 60 countries. The ABA brought justice to 18,000 rape victims in Congo by helping develop mobile courts that went throughout the country. So when it comes to a panoply of things to be involved, then the ABA is certainly there.
But also when it comes to value for your membership dollar, there are discounts and other benefits that the ABA has that indeed all lawyers can take advantage of, that more than many times over pay for their ABA dues.
Bob Ambrogi: Linda, I want to ask you about, back at the midyear meeting in San Diego one of the most contentious debates I think the ABA has had in quite a while was over Resolution 105, which was kind of giving states a framework to consider the regulation of so-called nontraditional legal service providers. And some saw this as opening a door to broadening the definition of law, to an ABA endorsement I guess of broadening the definition of law practice.
I think, as I recall, you supported Resolution 105, and I am wondering what the ABA’s position should be going forward in this debate over kind of redefining what the practice of law should be in the face of companies such as LegalZoom and Rocket Matter and Limited License Legal Technicians in Washington, where do you come down on that?
Linda Klein: I think there were a bunch of questions in there.
Bob Ambrogi: Well, I think the bottom line question is, do you feel that the definition of law practice needs to be expanded in order to meet the access to justice crisis in this country?
Linda Klein: The ABA’s policy that 105, and as you know was approved, explains that the regulatory authorities in every state will decide; it’s usually the Supreme Court of that state, and what 105 did was it said, if the state is going to move forward in this regard, then here are some best practices for the Supreme Court to consider.
The ABA needs to lead and the ABA needs to be at the forefront of considering everything that helps with access to justice. It may be some of the things that I am going to talk about in a minute, which are arming lawyers with the tools that they need so that they can practice more efficiently and make their services more affordable for clients.
We are right now in a time of transition and the ABA is going to continue to lead and continue to study and share the results of its work.
J. Craig Williams: Okay. We need to take a break right now before we continue the conversation. Stay with us, we will be back in just a few moments.
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Bob Ambrogi: And welcome back to Lawyer 2 Lawyer. This is Bob Ambrogi and joining my co-host J. Craig Williams and I today is Linda Klein, President-elect of the American Bar Association and possibility by the time you are hearing this President of the American Bar Association. She will be taking office in just a couple of weeks.
J. Craig Williams: Well, Linda, as you mentioned, you are going to taking over and you are the President-elect, what has been your role over the last year, how have you learned from the prior President and what’s going to be continuing on to next year?
Linda Klein: Well, Paulette Brown has done a fabulous job bringing issues of diversity and implicit bias and inclusion to the forefront here. One of the four goals of the ABA as you mentioned when you started this program is diversity and inclusion throughout the profession. Our profession is unfortunately the least diverse of all professions in the United States and the ABA is definitely committed to do better about that. The implicit bias training that the Department of Justice has set that they will be doing with all of their employees certainly shows that the legal profession is starting to move forward in this regard.
The work of the Diversity 360 Commission that Paulette Brown created as President will continue among the many diversity entities within the ABA and we are going to continue to move forward certainly in that regard. The ABA’s track record on advancement of women in the profession is fabulous and we have got many programs where women promote the success of other women. We have got some great tools on the ABA website for the ABA Commission on Women and the Gender Equity Task Force.
The Power of the Purse, which is a program that’s free, can be downloaded by anyone, can be done in Bar Association or in conjunction with in-house counsel, and it advises in-house counsel on ways that they can use their economic influence to increase diversity on law firm teams, not just women but diversity as well in all other ethnicity and other ways.
There is program by the Commission on Women in the Profession called the Grit Project. Here’s another toolkit that can be downloaded all the materials that a law firm or Bar Association can use to present a successful program on establishing what we have been calling the grit and growth mindset in many organizations. It’s something that can be taught and yet it is a set of qualities that most successful lawyers share.
There is an upcoming project. I ask everybody to look out for, called the Bias Interrupters project which uses social research that can help a firm fix its basic business systems to make sure that the playing field is level so everyone can advance to partner level.
Lots more to talk about, and if you go to HYPERLINK “http://www.ambar.org/cwpresources” ambar.org/cwpresources, it’s all there, because we know that although women constitute a-third of the profession, there are only a-fifth of law firm partners, a-fifth of general counsel at Fortune 500 companies, and law school dean and for women of color, they only occupy 2% of large law firm equity partnerships. So the ABA is committed to level the playing field for all lawyers.
Bob Ambrogi: Well, and it’s worth noted that you are a winner yourself of the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award which recognizes the accomplishment of women lawyers who have excelled in their field, so of course, a past winner of that, so congratulations for that.
Linda, we are getting near the end of our time but I believe there was something else that you wanted to talk to our listeners about. So let me give you that opportunity now.
Linda Klein: Thank you. I promised at the beginning of this podcast that I want to talk about our member benefit initiative, just as voting and veterans and education are very basic, that’s how we feel about member benefits, and we are going to be looking back to basics that the ABA does incredible things for access to justice for the legal community, for the court system, but we are going to also do incredible things for our members and potential members.
We are going to provide benefits to lawyers with a strong focus on solo practitioners, small firms, new lawyers practicing five years or less, we are going to be providing lawyers with access to a suite of services to run their practices via a new ABA web portal and the result will be that small law firms, daily operations are going to be more efficient and more productive.
And other plan phases of this will be offering insurance and retirement plan and we are going to use this new portal to highlight the added value of ABA membership because we want to bring the benefits of ABA membership to all lawyers.
Bob Ambrogi: Excellent. Great, well, thank you very much. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Linda Klein: I thank you very much for your time. If anybody would like to reach me before August 8th, try HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected]” [email protected], after that try HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected]” [email protected]. I look forward to hearing from everyone and I thank you very, very much for this opportunity.
Bob Ambrogi: Well, we thank you. We have been very honored to have you be on the show with us today and we look forward to your taking office in San Francisco in a couple of weeks and to your term over the next coming year.
Linda Klein: Thank you.
J. Craig Williams: Bob, that brings us to the end of our show. This is Craig Williams with my co-host Bob Ambrogi. Thanks for listening. Join us next time for another great legal topic. When you want legal, think Lawyer 2 Lawyer.
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