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 States. 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 headquarters are in Chicago, Illinois.
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 state jurisdictions and the District of Columbia. The one exception is California, which has refused to adopt either (see State Bar of California), although a few sections of the California Rules of Professional Responsibility have similarities with sections in the ABA model.
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 unaccredited law schools are only permitted to join the ABA as associate members.
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 SMU 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.
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.
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 Supreme Court, 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.
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.
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, capital punishment 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 and costly. 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.
University of Mississippi.
Jerome J. Shestack, past president of the ABA, receives 2008 Gruber Prize for Justice; for more information, visit http://www.gruberprizes.org