DuPage Bar Plays Vital Role in ABA House of Delegates
By Guest Columnist Patricia Lee Refo
(The author is the Immediate Past Chair of the ABA House of Delegates. She is a member of the bars of Arizona and Illinois, and is a partner at Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix, Arizona.)
Note from the DCBA President: If there is any topic I wanted to see covered in the DCBA Brief this month, that topic must be our role in the American Bar Association House of Delegates. Our president-elect serves as the DCBA’s delegate in the house, after all, a position I was proud to have the opportunity to hold last year and which Gerry Cassioppi has the honor of holding this year. The mid-year meeting he will attend as our representative is scheduled for the first week of February.As he prepares for that meeting, I am constantly reminded of both how much I enjoyed my stint in that position and how close we came to losing it just two years ago when the criteria for local bar representation was revisited by the full House. I remain convinced that we have the Chair of the House at that time, Patricia Lee Refo, to thank for our continued involvement in the House as she personally undertook the work of ensuring our questions were answered and our interests considered. When our Executive Director, Robert Rupp, told me that she was willing to write a guest column on the subject for this issue, accordingly, I was glad to hear it but maybe not as surprised as he thought I would be. Chairwoman Refo’s commitment to the legal community is, in my view, exemplary and I am grateful beyond measure for her stepping in here. But I do also believe, as she long ago convinced me she believes, that the DuPage County Bar Association has an important role to play in the legal community and that…well, perhaps it’s best I let her take it from there.
– Ted Donner
The American Bar Association House of Delegates, I was told by the senior delegate who welcomed me into the House for my first meeting, is the “second finest deliberative body in the world.” Hyperbole? For sure. But the relevance and importance of the work of the House has never been clearer.
The House is the policy making arm of the \ABA. The ABA President cannot speak on any issue unless the House has first adopted a policy. The same is true for the ABA’s lobbyists in Washington – they cannot lobby on any issue unless and until the House has adopted a policy.
If we know our legal history, we remember that the American Bar Association is a creature of the state and local bars of the United States, formed in 1878 to be a national voice for the legal profession. The House was formed in 1936, and was designed to be – and remains – a body controlled by the state and local bars. Of its 589 delegates, 331 are selected by state or local bar associations. In short, nothing passes the House unless the state and local bars are supportive in large numbers.
The DuPage County Bar Association has had a delegate in the House since 1997, with that role being filled each year by the President Elect. DuPage County delegates have served with distinction, sitting with the Illinois delegation, and have played a vital role in the work of the House.
Why does any of this matter to you? Because the work of the House, and the positions it takes on behalf of the lawyers of America, affect each one of you. As but one example, the House adopts and amends the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which have been adopted across the country as the foundation of lawyers’ ethical duties. In 2004, the House adopted (and has since amended and updated) Principles for Juries and Jury Trials, defending the sanctity of the unanimous jury and setting out best practices for enhancing juror comprehension, especially in long or complex cases.
The House has consistently stood up for the attorney-client privilege in the face of attempts by the government to limit the privilege or reduce its client protections.
The House has adopted specific resolutions on access to justice issues. After the House adopted a resolution urging the states to address access to justice issues in rural America – where some counties have no lawyer at all – programs like South Dakota’s “Project Rural Practice” went to work to bring lawyers to rural communities, where legal needs often go unmet. The House also has a long history of support for the Legal Services Corporation, which provides civil legal services to qualified persons who would otherwise be without legal assistance at all.
Why should you care about the actions of the ABA House of Delegates? Because its policy positions, taken by representatives of the state and local bars of our country, impact literally every aspect of the legal profession. Any state bar or local bar can bring a resolution to the House and argue that it be adopted as the policy of the ABA. So bring your work from DuPage County to the floor of the House. Let the ABA be your megaphone.