The American Bar Association and its Influence on the Legal Profession, and Beyond

Libby Meadows

Associate Editor

Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2021

If you are a law student, lawyer, or have any association with lawyers, you have likely heard of the American Bar Association (ABA). The ABA has a great deal of influence in the legal profession, politics, the corporate world, and beyond. Recently, the ABA made headlines after a judicial nominee cried to the Senate during his Senate Committee hearing. This was, in part, due to the ABA’s influence. An ABA evaluator sent a scathing letter to the committee, putting into question the nominee’s character. This letter came under attack by Republicans for its alleged biased and untruthful nature. Despite the dividing nature of the letter, the ABA’s impact is undeniable.

About the ABA

On August 21, 1878, 75 lawyers from 20 different states met in the District of Columbia to establish the ABA. In 1927 the ABA headquarters moved from Baltimore, Maryland to Chicago, Illinois, where the headquarters remains. The current President of the ABA is Judy Perry Martinez and she was elected in 2019. The President’s role is to assists the Presidential Officers to promote the legal profession. The ABA consists of 39 subgroups. These subgroups are divided primarily by area of law and interest. Some of these groups focus on unique areas of law, like air & space law, while others are specific to young lawyers. These groups operate to foster a community in the legal community and to promote leadership. The ABA is also comprised of several committees. Standing committees investigate matters, coordinating committees coordinate activities, and special committees investigate and study nonrecurring matters.

The ABA governs legal education

Law schools earn their accreditation through the Office of the Managing Director of Accreditation and Legal Education, a faction of the ABA. Among other things, the office oversees the training and appointment of law school site evaluation teams, the collection of law school data in accordance with the standards for approval of law schools, and dissemination of site team reports, and various other relevant accreditation materials. For a law school to become an ABA accredited institution, they must seek approval and successfully complete the accreditation process. The Council and Accreditation Committee are recognized by the Department of Education (DOE) as the accrediting agency for schools seeking to provide a Juris Doctorate program.

While the Council and Accreditation Committee are separate from the ABA, the ABA provides the Council and Accreditation Committee with standards that the schools apply must comply with to receive ABA accreditation. The standards provide a frame work that the applying schools must adhere to that relate to the different aspects of the operation of a law school. The standards cover topics like organization and administration, program, faculty, admissions and student services, library and information resources, and facilities, equipment, and technology. The standards also provide regulations for international study programs and internships.

The ABA governs the regulation of lawyers

In addition to assisting with the accreditation of law schools, the ABA provides Model Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers to abide by. These rules cover topics such as conflicts of interest, declining or terminating representation, voluntary pro bono publico service, and restrictions on rights to practice. In addition, the Model Rules of Professional Conduct govern misconduct and disciplinary matters. These rules are integral to the legal profession. If violated, a lawyer can be disciplined in the jurisdiction in which they practice, and in jurisdictions where the misconduct occurred.

Federal Judiciary Involvement

As previously mentioned, the ABA contains a committee called the Standing Committee. One of the jobs of the Standing Committee is to provide the Senate Judiciary Committee with the Committee’s independent, nonpartisan peer evaluation of the professional qualifications of every judicial nominee to the Article III and Article IV federal courts. The committee’s purpose is to support and encourage the selection of the best-qualified candidate for the position. Their evaluation is limited to the professional qualifications of the candidate and not their philosophy or ideology. However, this comes with its controversies. In 2017, the Trump Administration ended the ABAs role in evaluating candidates for federal judiciary positions. The ABA received backlash from the Republican party for supporting Democratic political candidates and providing more favorable reviews to candidates from the Democratic party.   Despite the backlash, the ABA remained firm in its belief that it provides nonpartisan evaluations of all candidates. The ABA used its recent review of Justice Neil Gorsuch to back its unbiased stance.  This ban was short lived as the ABA continues to  provides evaluations of Federal Judicial nominees.

The ABA’s impact

 The ABA is long-established, and well-respected entity. Arguably, the ABA is the foundation of the legal profession. As students, the ABA controls our legal education. As young lawyers, the ABA influences our involvement in the legal community. As seasoned lawyers, the ABA governs our ethical duties and obligations to our clients. The ABA even has a role in American politics. President Trump attempted to limit the ABA’s role in our judicial system, however the ABA did not waiver. The ABA will continue to have an influence in our lives and livelihood no matter who the President is. As a lawyer, or otherwise, it is important to understand the role of the ABA and how it influences our daily lives.