American Bar Association

American Bar Association

American Bar Association (ABA), voluntary organization of lawyers admitted to the bar of any state. Founded (1878) largely through the efforts of the Connecticut Bar Association, it is devoted to improving the administration of justice, seeking uniformity of law throughout the nation, and maintaining high standards for the legal profession. It is composed of over 30 committees that deal with such diverse legal topics as maritime law, professional ethics, legal education, the judicial system, and legal aid for the indigent. Through its main office in Chicago, the ABA coordinates the activities of state and local bar associations. In 1999 its membership exceeded 404,000. Affiliated organizations include the American Law Student Association and the American Bar Foundation, a group devoted to legal research and education.

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.

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 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.

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 unaccredited law schools are only permitted to join the ABA as associate members.

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 general magazine for all members, the ABA Journal. 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 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 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.

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.

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. 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 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.

ABA claims regarding Constitutional violations by the Bush Administration

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, 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.

Sections, Forums and Entities

Annual Meeting

Each year, the ABA holds an annual meeting that consists of speeches, classes, and gatherings. The most recent convention was held in San Francisco in 2007 and had 9,824 attendees. The next meeting will be in New York City from August 7 to August 12, 2008.

See also

International American Bar Associations

Notes or references


External links

University of Mississippi.

Jerome J. Shestack, past president of the ABA, receives 2008 Gruber Prize for Justice; for more information, visit

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