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Logo of the American Bar Association.

The American Bar Association (ABA), founded August 21, 1878, is a voluntary bar association of lawyers and law students, which is not specific to any jurisdiction in the United Statesmarker. The ABA's most important stated activities are the setting of academic standards for law schools, and the formulation of model ethical codes related to the legal profession. The ABA has 410,000 members. Its national headquarters are in Chicago, Illinoismarker; it also maintains a significant branch office in Washington, D.C.marker

Model ethical standards for lawyers

The most important role of the ABA is its creation and maintenance of a code of ethical standards for lawyers. The Model Code of Professional Responsibility (1969) and/or the newer Model Rules of Professional Conduct (1983) have been adopted in 49 states and the District of Columbiamarker. The lone exception is Californiamarker, which has refused to adopt either (see State Bar of California for more information). However, a few sections of the California Rules of Professional Conduct were clearly drawn from the ABA models.

Accreditation of law schools

According to the ABA, it "provides law school accreditation, continuing legal education, information about the law, programs to assist lawyers and judges in their work, and initiatives to improve the legal system for the public. The Mission of the American Bar Association is to be the national representative of the legal profession, serving the public and the profession by promoting justice, professional excellence and respect for the law."

ABA accreditation is important not only because it affects the recognition of the law schools involved, but it also affects a graduate's ability to practice law in a particular state. Specifically, in most U.S. jurisdictions, graduation from an ABA-accredited law school is expressly stated as a prerequisite towards being allowed to sit for that state's bar exam, and even for existing lawyers to be admitted to the bar of another state upon motion. Even states which recognize unaccredited schools within their borders will generally not recognize such schools from other jurisdictions for purposes of bar admission.

The United States has accused the ABA of violating Section 1 of the Sherman Act in its accreditation proceedings, resulting in a consent decree in 1995.

For law students attending ABA-accredited schools, memberships are available at significantly reduced rates. Students attending non-ABA accredited law schools are only permitted to join the ABA as associate members.

The ABA is changing its accreditation standard, where accreditation will be the result of what kind of lawyer an ABA law school produces as opposed to "input" measures such as faculty size, budget and physical plant.

Continuing Legal Education

The American Bar Association Center for Continuing Legal Education (ABA-CLE) serves as the central CLE resource for the ABA—and the profession—by providing quality programs and products of national scope. ABA-CLE is overseen by the ABA Standing Committee on Continuing Legal Education and works closely with experts from the ABA Sections and the profession at large in developing programs and products in a variety of delivery formats. In addition to its own distribution, the ABA-CLE is also delivered via private, for-profit CLE organizations, such as West LegalEdCenter.



The Association publishes a monthly general magazine circulated to all members, the ABA Journal (since 1984, formerly American Bar Association Journal, 1915-1983), now also online.

ABA members may also join subject-specific "sections", and each section publishes a variety of newsletters and magazines for its members (such as Law Practice Magazine published by the Law Practice Management Section). The first such journal was the Annual Bulletin of the Comparative Law Bureau, the first comparative law journal in the U.S. (1908-1914). The sections also hold their own meetings.

Each section will normally have a publication program that includes (1) books, usually oriented toward practitioners; (2) scholarly journals, such as Administrative Law Review (published by the ABA Section of Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice and The American University Washington College of Law) and The International Lawyer (published by the ABA Section of International Law and SMUmarker Dedman School of Law); (3) newsletters, such as The International Law News (published by the ABA Section of International Law); (4) e-publications, such as a monthly message from the section chair, or updates on substantive law developments; and (5) committee publications, such as a committee newsletter published by one of the substantive law committees.

Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law

The Commission's mission is "to promote the ABA's commitment to justice and the rule of law for persons with mental, physical, and sensory disabilities and to promote their full and equal participation in the legal profession." The Commission consists of 15 members appointed by the ABA President-elect on an annual basis. It meets bi-annually at its headquarters in Washington, D.C. to map out future plans and to direct its current activities.

The ABA’s Commission on the Mentally Disabled was established in 1973 to respond to the advocacy needs of persons with mental disabilities. After the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the ABA broadened the Commission’s mission to serve all persons with disabilities and changed its name to the Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law (CMPDL). Today, the Commission carries out an array of projects and activities addressing disability-related public policy, disability law, and the professional needs of lawyers and law students with disabilities.

Professor of Law, Alex J. Hurder currently sits as Chair of the Commission, and John W. Parry is the Staff Director.

Governing bodies and leaders

The ABA has a House of Delegates which acts as the organization's primary body for adopting new policies and recommendations as part of the association's official position.

In 1995 Roberta Cooper Ramo became the first woman president of the American Bar Association since its inception in 1878.

Antitrust consent decree and contempt fine

In 1995, DOJ Antitrust division filed a suit against the ABA, which was settled with a consent decree. In 2006, the ABA acknowledged that it violated the consent decree and paid DOJ a $185,000 fine.

Recent ABA Presidents

Rating of judicial nominees

For decades, the ABA has participated in the federal judicial nomination process by vetting nominees and giving them a rating ranging from "not qualified" to "well qualified." The process has been accused by some (including the Federalist Society) of having a liberal bias. For example, the ABA gave Ronald Reagan's judicial nominees Richard Posner and Frank H. Easterbrook low "qualified/not qualified" ratings; later, the ABA gave Bill Clinton judicial nominees with similar resumes "well qualified" ratings.[54195] Meanwhile, Judges Posner and Easterbrook have gone on to become the two most highly-cited judges in the federal appellate judiciary.

In 2001, the George W. Bush administration announced that it would cease cooperating with the ABA in advance of judicial nominations. The ABA continues to rate nominees. In 2005, the ABA gave John Roberts, George W. Bush's nomination for Chief Justice of the United States, a unanimous "well-qualified" rating. It also gave a unanimous "well qualified" rating to appellate court nominee Miguel Estrada, who never took his seat because his nomination was filibustered. However, it gave only a "qualified/not-qualified" rating to nominee Janice Rogers Brown. In 2006, the ABA gave a unanimous "well-qualified" rating to Judge Samuel Alito, Bush's appointee for Sandra Day O'Connor's Associate Justice position.

Position on Signing Statements

In July 2006, an ABA task force under then President Michael S. Greco released a report that concluded that George W. Bush's use of "signing statements" violates the Constitution. These are documents attached by the President to bills he signs, in which he states that he will enforce the new law only to the extent that he feels the law conforms to his interpretation of the Constitution.

Criticisms of the ABA

The ABA has been criticized for perceived elitism and overrepresentation of white male corporate defense lawyers among its membership; in 1925, African-American lawyers formed the National Bar Association at a time when ABA would not allow them to be members.

However, since the 1960s, the ABA has made great strides in increasing the diversity of its membership. Its membership has grown from less than 11 percent of all American lawyers to roughly 50 percent today . In recent years, the ABA has also drawn some criticism, mainly from the conservative side of the political spectrum, for taking positions on controversial public policy topics such as abortion, and gun control. The ABA's official position in favor of abortion rights led to the formation of a (much smaller) alternative organization for lawyers, the National Lawyers Association. The Federalist Society sponsors a twice-a-year publication called "ABA Watch" that reports on the political activities of the ABA.

There are heated debates over requirements placed on law schools by the ABA. Many states and practitioners believe ABA requirements to be unnecessary, costly, outdated and lacking innovation. Some legal professionals and academics feel these requirements promote the rising cost of tuition. In addition, the ABA has been criticized for requiring law schools to implement affirmative action programs to retain their accreditation.

The more recent collision of attorney layoffs in 2009, the glut of fresh non top-tier law graduates without work, and the continued expansion of law schools have raised questions on whether the ABA has been too lenient in its accreditation process.

Annual meeting

Each year, the ABA holds an annual meeting that consists of speeches, classes, and gatherings. The most recent convention was held in New York Citymarker from August 7 to August 12, 2008. The next meeting will be held in Chicagomarker from July 31 to August 3, 2009.

See also


  1. ABA History; For a historical overview see Matzko, John A., "'The Best Men of the Bar': The Founding of the American Bar Association," in The New High Priests: Lawyers in Post-Civil War America, Gerard W. Gawalt (ed.), (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984), pp. 75-96.
  2. ABA Website; retrieval date 2008.03.19.
  3. National Conference of Bar Examiners. Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements
  4. See, e.g., Supreme Court Rule 7 (Tennessee), Rules Regarding Admission to Practice Law (California).
  5. United States v. American Bar Association, U.S. District Court (D.C.), text of decree.
  6. ABA Website; retrieval date 2008.04.27.
  10. [1]
  11. ABA Policy on Gun Violence - Special Committee On Gun Violence - American Bar Association
  12. [2]
  13. Wall Street Journal Critique of the ABA "blackmailing" law schools into affirmative action
  14. Academic Mismatch I by Walter E. Williams
  15. Academic Mismatch II by Walter E. Williams

External links

International American Bar Associations sites

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