For years I have enjoyed the honor, opportunity and responsibility to serve the profession through various leadership roles in the American Bar Association (ABA). Some of these have included service as a section chair, a member of standing committees appointed by the President, a member of the nominating committee and as a member of the House of Delegates, the policy making body of the ABA. It is disappointing that more law school faculty and administrators fail to take an active role in the Association, especially since this is the national voice for our profession. There are scarce few members of the Academy represented in the House of Delegates. Yet, this body substantively debates myriad legal and policy positions on uniform acts and proposed regulatory and legislative change that impact the legal landscape. It is perhaps understandable (though not excusable) that there are not more members of the Academy in the House of Delegates since election or appointment to the House is accomplished through either leadership positions in state and local bar associations, leadership in ABA Sections, or a small number of delegates elected by the membership running either at-large or representing certain constituencies.
The ABA membership structure benefits most law schools that opt for a law school-wide membership for faculty. There are many good reasons for law faculty to actively engage with the ABA through substantive sections and committees. For example, the sections have robust publishing programs that include books, magazines, sometimes law reviews/journals and newsletters. Not only is it a good way to stay current in a field, but faculty could have the opportunity to reach thousands of lawyers across the country by publishing with the ABA. The ABA also has an extensive CLE programming throughout the year and not just in conjunction with regularly scheduled meetings. The webinar and teleconference CLE formats not only allow you to listen in from your office, but you have the opportunity to participate as presenters. This involvement is great because in part, it lets practitioners know who you are and the kind of research and scholarship you are producing, and of course like publications it helps to brand you with the name of your school. Sections and committees also develop proposed resolutions to the ABA House of Delegates that may shape the future policy of the Association and lead the way for law reform. This can be another avenue to pursue reform initiatives individual faculty may be advocating through research and scholarship endeavors. Another great benefit is networking. By showing up in person at various ABA meetings, faculty get to meet exceptional lawyers from across the country who can both help when needed to answer questions about unique legal doctrines in a given state, and who also may be in a position to hire your students after graduation.
It is true that the ABA Section on Legal Education is a “natural” home for many academics/ administrators, and that is the place where accreditation and standards issues are debated and approved. I am not discussing the Section on Legal Education or those types of issues in this blog entry, since my purpose is different – it is to raise awareness of other important contributions we can make to the profession as a whole through the ABA and how active involvement benefits our roles as teachers
and scholars. However, I will note that at the last meeting of the ABA House of Delegates in San Francisco in August, there was a spotlight program on the challenges facing legal education with two members of the academy presenting. Further, the ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education is an initiative arising from the broader ABA and not from the Section on Legal Education.
In short, my anecdotal observation based on active ABA participation over the last two decades is that too many colleagues in the Academy are missing out on positive opportunities by accepting passive membership in the ABA and not taking a more active role.