A memo to the Board of Delegates of the American Bar Association closes with as clear a statement of its moribund state as possible.
Of course, another option is to do nothing. However, that is a false choice. Our internal data and market research clearly show that the ABA is on a trend line that will render it irrelevant and fiscally unviable. As a result, we believe that a new membership model is the most practical first step that the Association can take to secure its future. The Board must find a path that allows for the implementation of a new membership model while fairly allocating the responsibility to contribute to member value and the risk and reward of the new membership model across all aspects of the Association. The Association missed its opportunity in 2010 to make meaningful change and, while it must be prudent, that cannot happen again. Otherwise, the ABA and the entities that are part of it will wither on the vine.
This comes as no surprise, as the failure of the ABA to reflect the needs and interests of the bar has been manifest for quite a while. In fact, they asked and were told in clear terms why lawyers fled en masse.
The ABA leadership just does not get it. Lawyers started leaving the ABA when the ABA stopped representing lawyers and started pushing an active liberal agenda. Simplified dues categories and bundled benefits are not going to overcome that.
What other organization, held captive by a clique of passionate progressives, would believe passage of Model Rule 8.4(g), making it an ethical duty upon pain of disbarment not to adhere to social justice orthodoxy? Or Resolution 117 to make diversity the foremost function of the profession?
Despite being told, in no uncertain terms, that the lawyers wanted no part of their progressive political party, and coming to grips with the realization that the ABA was on a trend that would render it financially unviable, the same big brains that destroyed the association decided to ignore everything and believe that the problem was the price and marketing of unicorns.
Over the last eighteen months, the Association has been working on a recommendation from the Standing Committee on Membership (“SCOM”) for a possible new membership model for the American Bar Association, originally named “OneABA,” for implementation in Fiscal Year 2020. The new model was based on research performed by Dr. J.P. Dube’ that identified the benefits that potential members valued the most and the price that made sense to them.
There’s no doubt that the ABA was a pricey membership, which didn’t matter much when its dues were paid by law schools and Biglaw, so that human beings didn’t feel the pinch. And there’s similarly no doubt that the ABA offered nothing of interest to lawyers in terms of benefits. Self-important associations are too self-important to deign to provide value for their dues. Member benefits were for the little bar associations. Mere membership in so august a body as the ABA was more than enough value for the peons.
And the concept worked for a very long time. The ABA was taken seriously by the bar, and it was sufficiently important for lawyers to be members, even delegates or participants on committees, because it was the American Bar Association. Until the ABA became the social justice bar association, when it ceased to be important. Or more to the point, it chose to go from irrelevant to antagonistic to the majority of lawyers who weren’t obsessed with progressive causes.
Did the ABA simply ignore what they were told by former members? Not exactly.
The research also showed that the new membership model was just a step forward and that we need to identify ways continually to deliver more value to members while being aware of the price sensitivities of lawyers. We also confirmed that the ABA needs to improve the perception of our brand as others seem more able to define the ABA, often inaccurately and to our detriment.
By inaccurately, it seems the ABA isn’t taking issue with its being defined as positioned to the hard left of the political spectrum, but defined as goofy, radical and terminally misguided. They would much rather define themselves as heroes of social justice. Same ideology, but tied up in a much prettier bow. The aspect of being an association focused on the legal profession, as opposed to making lawyers “leaders in the fight against injustice,” made a whooshing sound as it flew over the delegates’ heads.
The ABA has two systemic functions beyond being a place for legal academics and Biglaw attorneys to go for a group hug. It accredits law schools. It reviews and reports on the qualifications of nominees for the federal bench. As for the latter, the ABA has already cut its own throat, ignoring the responsibility to vet qualifications and instead substituting its view on judicial candidates’ politics. The ABA has rendered itself irrelevant to the judicial selection process, with somewhat less credibility than the SPLC has with designating hate groups.
As for accrediting law schools, it bears responsibility for the excessive volume of law schools, for profit or otherwise, putting out graduates who are extremely diverse with no hope of passing the bar exam, and even less hope of getting a job. The fantasy failed, and we’re awash in law school grads whose stock in trade is no longer time and advice, but misery.
Can the ABA save itself? Bruce McLeod isn’t hopeful.
Not only is it not remotely useful to the legal profession, but it has become a positive detriment and an adversary to those who are simply trying to make a living, and don’t want to throw in with ABA’s radical leftist scheme to remake the world. In recent years, ABA has simply gone on a radical, leftist frolic, pressing for abortion rights, open borders, curtailment of the second amendment, and special rights and protections for every manner of sexual deviant. ABA has openly and notoriously reduced itself to a simple adjunct of the left-most splinter of the Democratic Party, and everybody readily sees it.
But everybody doesn’t see it. The lawyers who support the ABA’s shift into radical politics think it’s fabulous, and the 85% of the bar that disagrees is not merely wrong, but “literally Hitler.” And its delegates and academic fellow travelers believe that it can salvage its unsustainable finances by reducing dues and giving members a discount on books no one wants to read.
It’s not that the bar doesn’t need an ABA, an organization to speak to and for the needs and interests of practicing lawyers, but that this association has chosen a path that no discount on a copy machine can overcome. And if their brains were half as big as they believe they are, they would realize it. They do not.