E-Mail from the ABA President

A week ago I e-mailed the ABA President, Carolyn Lamm, regarding the impropriety of the amicus brief filed in the challenge to the Arizona immigration bill, as well as the ABA’s poor performance in helping those derailed by the economy.

From: BL 1Y [mailto:nycbl1y@gmail.com]
Sent: Monday, July 05, 2010 4:19 PM
To: Lamm, Carolyn
Subject: Friendly House v. Whiting Amicus Brief

Dear Ms. Lamm,

Your recent amicus brief filed with the United States District Court, District of Arizona purports to offer the concerns and opinions of the American Bar Association.  However, like the rest of the country, the legal community is split in its opinion on the Arizona immigration law.  As no consensus exists within the ABA membership, the brief you have filed can represent only the views of your administration and the other co-signers of the brief.  I request that you ask the court for leave to re-file, and make the necessary changes to correct this error.

Further, I ask that you and your administration refocus your efforts on providing more substantial career resources for the tens of thousands of attorneys who have been laid off, unable to find work, or otherwise had their careers derailed in the recent economy.  To highlight the poor attention the these concerns have received, the ABA Career Center provides only a single article addressing alternative careers for lawyers, which is wholly unhelpful and little more than an advertisement for the author’s services.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

[BL1Y]

Today I heard back from Ms. Lamm, which I really wasn’t expecting to happen.  It’s not a particularly interesting response, which is to be expected.  You don’t become partner in a big law firm without first mastering the art of saying nothing with a lot of words.  But here it is anyways.  [Note: The difference in e-mail headings is just an artifact of gmail.]

from ABA President <Abapresident@abanet.org>

to nycbl1y@gmail.com

date Tue, Jul 13, 2010 at 11:39 AM

subject RE: Friendly House v. Whiting Amicus Brief

mailed-by abanet.org

Dear Mr. [BL1Y],

Thank you for message. I respect your views and appreciate that you took the time to share them.

As the voice of the nation’s legal profession, the ABA adopts positions through its representative House of Delegates and advocates on issues of importance to the profession, the justice system, access to justice, and the rule of law. In an organization of nearly 400,000 members, some disagreements are inevitable.

Everything in the ABA’s amicus brief in Friendly House v. Whitting–including the discussion of immigration, due process, and racial profiling–is supported by policies adopted by the ABA House of Delegates, whose 561 members represent ABA entities and include delegates from state and local bar associations in every state.

As the national professional association of lawyers, the ABA must take positions on issues involving the just rule of law and access to justice. In full accordance with our procedures (available at www.abanet.org/amicus), the ABA Executive Committee authorized the filing of the amicus brief to advance association policy. The brief is available at www.abanet.org/media/nosearch/friendly_house_v_whiting.pdf.

As lawyers, we have many areas of common interests and concerns. I ask you to consider the full range of positive and constructive things the ABA does to improve the profession and advocate for the integrity of our legal institutions. You ask what the ABA has done to help the thousands of lawyers who have been affected by the economic crisis. In addition to the resources we offer at www.abanet.org/economicrecovery and elsewhere throughout the association, please also note that responding to the economic crisis is a legislative priority of the ABA. More information is at http://www.abanet.org/poladv/priorities/#econ.

I encourage your participation in the ABA so that your views can be heard as the House of Delegates develops and evaluates policies in the future.

I thank you again for your comments.

Sincerely,

Carolyn B. Lamm

President, American Bar Association

First, about the brief filed in the Arizona case, the problem isn’t that the ABA can’t file a brief in this matter.  It’s that the brief is phrased in such a way as to sound as though the ABA speaks with one voice on the matter, and not that it is merely the opinion of Ms. Lamm, her office, or even of the House of Delegates.

And if it’s true that the ABA had to file a brief because it “must take positions on issues involving the just rule of law,” ask yourself this: what legal cases don’t involve the just rule of law?  Some cases are obviously more important than others, and there’s no denying that Arizona’s immigration enforcement is a hot ticket item.  But, before this amicus brief was filed, the ABA had in its history only filed 8 briefs at the trial level.  Ms. Lamm has filed 2 briefs regarding challenges to the same law while the cases were at the trial level and before the law was even in effect (the second brief was filed on the case brought by the DoJ).

Why not wait until the facts can be developed and the case has reached a higher court?  Maybe Lamm is correct that this really is an extraordinary law.  Or, maybe her time in office ends a few days after the Arizona law takes effect.  But maybe that’s just cynical of me.  After all, what interest could Ms. Lamm, who practices international arbitration, have in seeing her name on top of one of these briefs?

Moving on, let’s take a look at what the ABA actually said when it adopted responding to the economic crisis as a legislative priority:

The ABA supports relief for law students and recent law school graduates during the current economic downturn, both with Congress and with the Executive Branch, to ease the burdens of educational debt. Legislative proposals the ABA is exploring include raising the cap on federal Stafford loans, incorporating bar study loans into the definition of an educational loan, and permitting retroactive borrowing from the federal government to pay back private student loans, as well as allowing TARP funds to be used to assist in student loan repayment or extension.

What?  More federal loans for law students?  Ms. Lamm has previously said that the ABA can do nothing to reduce the number of law schools, citing anti-trust concerns.  But does the ABA really need to endorse more government-subsidizing law degrees?  “Sorry, we’re not allowed to use band aids, but how about this delicious salt?”

And the Economic Recovery Resources?  The name alone ought to tell you that it’s off the mark.  We’re not in recovery mode yet.  The nation is facing a potential double dip recession, and even if it does recover, law firms will be slow to respond.  Economic Crisis Resources would be more appropriate, instead of trying to white-wash the situation.

While the site does have a bunch of articles with lots of links, it’s largely the same tripe you see elsewhere.  Here’s how to transition to a new career: Evaluate your skills and desires, then network.  Gee, thanks.  Your fairy-tale view of the world suddenly gave me a master’s in computer science and turned my parents’ best friends into executives in a big bank’s quantitative analysis department.  Great work, ABA!

Have you considered your school’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program?  Have you considered that most jobs that qualify you for LRAP are highly competitive even in a booming legal market?  Fewer qualifying jobs exist, and more people are trying to get them.  How about instead of linking us back to our school’s own website, you petition schools to expand who qualifies for LRAP?

Now, honestly, there may be very little the ABA really could do to help out all the unemployed, under-employed and mal-employed attorneys, but if this is the best the ABA has to offer, then the ABA should publicly admit that it is unequipped to support its members instead of pretending it’s offering a real service.

But, here are a few “action steps” the ABA could take that would make a difference:

1. Pressure law schools to respond to the Law School Transparency survey.

2. Adopt a 2 year law school program where students may graduate with fewer credits, provided enough of those credits are from substantive law classes.

3. Petition Congress to create a national bar, so lawyers may freely travel to pursue job opportunities.

4. Require law schools to make experiential and substantive law classes more available to students, instead of giving schools leave to offer such opportunities to only a select minority.

5. Raise or eliminate the cap on credits earned in classes taught by adjunct professors.

6. Kill self.

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6 Responses to “E-Mail from the ABA President”

  1. thenambypamby Says:

    You realize that if she took the sixth option, you’d only get a less qualified version of her as the replacement, right?

  2. bl1y Says:

    Repeat #6.

  3. Nando Says:

    The ABA only cares about its major corporate clients and Biglaw. They DO NOT give a damn about the average struggling recent lawyer or law student. Frankly, I am surprised this worthless bag of ass responded to your email.

  4. bl1y Says:

    That’s not true. The ABA also cares about scoring prestige points for its leaders.

  5. Joe Says:

    I agree that it is time to have a national bar so lawyers can move freely. I live in an area where there are 4 different states within a half hour of each other. I am not going through the tremendous hassle of 4 state bars. I should be able to accept a job in any of those states. If I move I should be able to practice where I want and when I want.

  6. bl1y Says:

    Every state bar is about 50% MBE, and on top of that uses multistate essays. State specific questions are usually only 20-30% of the test, so it’s not like states can make a good faith argument that their rules are really that different.

    What would make sense is a national bar, plus each state having a short test on state procedure offered 4-6 times a year and dropping their own C&F review, etc.

    The whole state bar system is only in place so states can protect their own lawyers by reducing competition, which of course runs contrary to any number of ethics rules.

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