The American legal profession is the largest in the world. It is reported that there are over 6,50,000 lawyers practicing in the United States. It is an integral, important and significant segment of the administration of justice.
The American Bar Association (ABA) was founded on August 21, 1878 in Saratoga Springs, New York, by hundred lawyers from 21 States, which has, now, membership of more than 400,000. It is the world’s largest voluntary professional Association. The influence of ABA does not stem only from the large number of membership of its size, but its multi-dimensional activities and diversity and the quality of its membership. ABA’s members represent, approximately, half of all lawyers in the whole of the United States.
Organisation set up
There is one interesting feature in the membership of ABA and it is that the individuals who are not allowed to practice law in any jurisdiction, but who have an interest in the work of ABA, are also entitled to join ABA as Associates. The members of legal fraternity in other countries, who have not been admitted to practice law in the US can also become International Associates. Any law student is eligible to become a Member of the Association under such conditions and with such rights, privileges and limitations as the bye-laws may provide. The professed mission of ABA is to be the national representative of the legal profession, serving the public and the profession, by promoting justice, professional excellence and respect for law and justice.
The Main Design and Desideratum
Through various organs and divisions, the ABA undertakes study of variety of issues and formulates responses ranging from policy positions to clearing house efforts. The members who are involved in such activities are primarily but not exclusively lawyers who volunteer their services for the Association. ABA has commenced hundreds of programmes involving and addressing diverse disciplines and various facets and faculties of life including legal-aid, child abuse, problems of senior citizens, high cost of justice, law practice management, juvenile crime, information technology, environmental issues, free press, domestic violence, clinical education, law teaching, and so on and so forth. While new programmes and initiatives are consistently increasing, an overview of current and recent activities undertaken by ABA offers refreshing profile of the Association. The ABA consists of more than 2200 individual entities and medium through which active work is done. There are 23 Sections, 5 Divisions, more than 80 Commissions/ Committees and 6 Forums and entities to address professional development, improvement of laws, and continuing education through the work of more than 1700 Committees, and issue publication of outstanding quality. Interestingly, ABA is involved in publishing 30 Magazines and Journals, over and above, 40 Newsletters. Divisions of ABA differ from sections and so far as internal structure is concerned, there is a Law Student Division. It is governed by the Board of Governance and has an Assembly consisting of Law School representatives and Student Bar Association representatives.
Law Practice Management
The membership of Law Practice Management section is open to lawyers, legal assistants, law librarians, marketing professionals, counsels, consultants, co-ordinators, and any one interested in development and management of the legal practice and culture. This section has more than 90 publications, covering wide variety of aspects of cultivating clients to managing and building a practice and long range planning.
Amicus Curiae Brief Concept
The Standing Committee on amicus curiae briefs recommends whether the ABA should file an amicus curiae brief in a particular matter and certifies to the Board of Governance that the proposed brief is of professional quality and a fair representation of the policy-position of the Association.
With a view to co-ordinate the programmes in Asia, the Board of Governance of ABA has commenced the Asia-Pacific Law Initiative Commission (ALIC) in November, 1988, the main goal of which is to advance the Rule of Law in the world. In 1998, in collaboration with Ford Foundation, the ABA had also conducted a large trial demonstration programme hosted by the National Judges College of the Supreme Peoples Court in Beijing. ABA has also started a collaborative programme with All China Law Teachers Association to promote and proliferate in-lawyers training and internship on the subject of Bar Association and Management, legal information exchange, law practical management and legal information.
In order to promote judicial independence, there is a Special Committee of ABA which initiates programmes to advance and develop an independent, effective and dynamic judiciary.
Justice Initiative Programme
Since 1992, the ABA has started justice initiative programme. It aims at improving State and Local justice systems, specially through projects that involve non-lawyer community as well as the Bench and the Bar. The programme held in 1994, Just Solutions Conference (JSE) had created a creative and commendable compendium of all ABA policies on civil, criminal and family justice issues and launched SPAN project to improve and create more effective legal services delivery systems.
Legal Aid - Mission
The Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants Service is also doing commanding, creative, and effective work through the Standing Committee and indigent defence. The main function of this Committee is to ensure adequate funding for the Legal Services Corporation and to evolve strategy to meet and oppose threats to the independence and effectiveness of the National Legal Services Programme for military personnel. After the introduction of Americans with Disability Act of 1990, the Commission on Mental and Physical Disability has broadened its vision and mission to serve all persons with disabilities. The Commission has also been constituted to provide wide range of activities related to the minority lawyers and law students in the legal profession. The “Minority-in-Desk House Counsels Group” is another affiliation of the Commission and it is comprised of minority targets within Corporations.
A Standing Committee on Public Services is charged with the responsibility to examine, analyse, evaluate, review and foster development of pro-bono publico programmes and activity by Law Firms, Bar Associations, Corporate Law Departments and other Legal Practitioners. This Standing Committee is also holding ABA Probono Conference. The model role of professional conduct pertaining to pro-bono publico, evidently clarifies the voluntary nature of the pro-bono responsibility. The standards for programmes providing pro-bono civil legal services to the persons of limited means were evolved by ABA in 1996. This Committee is actively engaged to focus efforts on implementation and adoption of the standards by pro-bono programmes throughout the United States.
Project 2000 - Professionalism
It is appropriate to mention about the Scheme of ABA known as ‘Project 2000’, which is a comprehensive ABA – wide plan to promote and improve its services through cost-effective and innovative strategies and technology. The cornerstone of the project is, complete revamping of the ABA’s Telecommunication and Network Infrastructure to support the clientserver system and state-of-art service centre. The Governance of ABA is also very interesting, effective and scientific and with the element of professionalism. The House of Delegates established in 1936 meets twice every year i.e. annually and mid-year meetings.
ABA - Governance
The Board of Governance, consisting of 39 members has the authority to act and speak for ABA. When the House of Delegates is not in Session, the Board usually meets 5 times in an year. It has to oversee the overall performance and operation of Association and to develop specific plans of action. The Board consists of 18 district representatives and 13 members at large, who must be less than 36 years of age at the beginning of their term, one of whom must be an active member of the judiciary, 6 of whom should represent the sections and until conclusion of 2005 Annual Meet, 2 minority members and 2 women members and the following ex officio members: The President, The President-elect, Chair of the House of Delegates, Secretary, Treasurer, and immediate past President and every third year, Secretary-elect and Treasurer-elect are important constituents.
The American Bar Association is not only the world’s leading and largest Association of Lawyers and members of Legal fraternity, but it is a pioneer in fostering, promoting and proliferating, directing and developing not only American legal profession, but also, in creating legal and judicial culture throughout the United States. From the beginning of the Republic, lawyers have swarmed every government - Federal, State or Local, ABA is a force to be reckoned with. The voice of ABA is heard in the Capitol Hills, the seat of power in the US. The Indian Bar has much to learn from the ABA.