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August 7, 2010

Outgoing ABA President Tackles Critical Issues, Earns Important Victories

Since the gavel was passed to her nearly one year ago, ABA President Carolyn Lamm has been at the forefront of some of  the most critical issues facing the nation and the legal profession.

One of the first challenges she faced was the economic crisis, taking office during one of the worst recessions in decades.  To meet it head-on, Lamm established the ABA “Commission on the Impact of the Economic Crisis on the Profession and Legal Needs“—to analyze the impact of the bad economy and mitigate its effect on lawyers and the justice system.  Lamm was an especially strong advocate for law students and recent law school graduates beleaguered with student loans and dealing with unemployment and underemployment.  Lamm was instrumental in establishing a website portal of ABA resources to help struggling association members, as well as developing an online job board, among several other actions.

Practicing law internationally, Lamm has experienced the globalization of business and the rapid adoption of new technologies first hand. She established the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 to review the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct in the context of these changes affecting the legal profession worldwide. After a thorough examination of the relevant issues, the commission is expected to propose ABA policy recommendations that will help enable lawyers to better serve their clients, the courts and the public, now and well into the future.

Reinforcing the ABA’s commitment to a diverse legal profession, Lamm established the ABA Presidential Diversity Commission, aimed at providing practical resources and guidance for women lawyers, lawyers of color, disabled lawyers and lawyers of differing sexual orientations. A year-long assessment and information-gathering process resulted in “Diversity in the Legal Profession: Next Steps,” which includes specific strategies and pragmatic recommendations “to help lawyers move their practices forward,” said Lamm.

Lamm and the association’s work on Capitol Hill is also noteworthy. In the past year, the ABA remained steadfastly opposed to federal regulation of lawyers, fighting any attempt to interfere with the attorney-client privilege and preserving the independence of the legal profession.  Among victories, the ABA prevailed against the Federal Trade Commission, obtaining a deferral of enforcement of the “Red Flags” identity-theft rule.  If enforced, the cost to the profession would be a minimum of $300 million annually, and a maximum of $3 billion a year.  Under Lamm’s leadership, the ABA also argued successfully against a proposed consumer financial protection agency that would have subjected lawyers to unnecessary federal regulation.  Lamm expressed her pride with the ABA’s advocacy efforts, “It’s been a very, very busy year where I think we’ve made very great and positive progress for U.S. lawyers.”

A central theme for Lamm’s presidency has been membership. She has been at the forefront of multiple efforts to increase membership value, as well as initiatives to re-position the ABA for membership growth. Among several accomplishments, the ABA, under her leadership, retooled its dues structure for solo and small firm practitioners.  Lamm expressed her optimism about the future:  “I’m very hopeful that we will move forward to attract most of the profession as members of the ABA.”