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American Bar Association

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The American Bar Association (ABA) was founded on August 21, 1878 by a group of 75 lawyers. The ABA is a voluntary bar association of lawyers and law students which is not specific to any jurisdiction in the United States. As stated on their website, the American Bar Association's mission is:

To serve equally our members, our profession and the public by defending liberty and delivering justice as the national representative of the legal profession.[1][2]

For a more in-depth look at the American Bar Association's mission and goals see their website.[3]

Ethical standards for lawyers and judges

In 1983, the ABA adopted the Model Rules of Professional Conduct; these rules have been adopted by the District of Columbia and all states except California. The current rules evolved from the Model Code of Professional Responsibility, adopted in 1969, and the earlier 1908 Canons of Professional Ethics.[4] The ABA also has a code of conduct for the judiciary; a list of its cannons can be found here.

Accreditation of law schools

The accrediting body of the American Bar Association is the Council and the Accreditation Committee of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar (to be referred to as the Council). The Council is recognized by the United States Department of Education as the official accrediting body and is considered to be a separate organization from the ABA.

The Council is composed of 21 ABA members, of which no more than 10 can be deans or faculty of law schools. The rest of the Council is composed of judges, practicing attorneys, one law student, and no less than three public members.[5]

Council committees

The Council has three established committees to aid in the accreditation process. The first is the Accreditation Committee, a 19-member committee that aids in the evaluation of schools seeking accreditation on both a full and partial level, as well as monitoring currently approved schools. The Accreditation Committee meets five times per year. Second is the Standards Review Committee, a 14-member committee that is responsible for reviewing the accreditation standards and maintaining their transparency, as well as keeping them focused on a quality legal education. The Standards Review Committee meets four times per year. The final committee is the Data Policy and Collection Committee, a 10-member committee that focuses on the collection of data and related data policies. The Data Policy and Collection Committee meets three to four times per year.[5]

Accreditation process

All law schools seeking accreditation must be in operation for at least one year prior to submitting their application. Schools wishing to apply are encouraged to reach out to the American Bar Association to receive information on the Standards for Approval of Law Schools, the Rules of Procedure and the accreditation process. Once the school has applied, the first step is a site evaluation that begins with a questionnaire that sets a base understanding for a site evaluation team. After the evaluation team visits the school, they construct a fact-finding report that is presented to the Accreditation Committee. The Accreditation Committee will then assess the information gathered and report it to the full Council, which isn't bound by the Accreditation Committee's findings and recommendations. The Council decide if provisional accreditation will be granted.

The transition from provisional to full accreditation usually takes places between three and five years after the initial provisional accreditation. During this time, there will be more on-site visits which will be taken into account when deciding whether or not to award full accreditation. Fully accredited schools must complete annual questionnaires. Three years after accreditation the school is reviewed. Following that, the school is reviewed every seven years. If during these evaluations a school is found to be non-compliant with the standards they will be required to fix the dependency by a certain date or face further action. For a more in-depth look at the accreditation process, see the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar: The Law Accreditation Process.[6][7]


The American Bar Association annually publishes approximately 100 law-related books and approximately 60 periodicals. Most of the periodicals are tailored towards specific parts of the law, such as human rights, law practice and criminal justice. Periodicals include journals, magazines and newsletters. Full lists of periodicals can be found here.[8]

Governing bodies and leaders

The governing structure of the American Bar Association is composed of a House of Delegates, a Board of Governors, a president, a president-elect, a chair of the House of Delegates, a secretary and a treasurer.

The House of Delegates is a group of 560 members who are the policy-making body of the ABA. A breakdown of the House of Delegates can be found here.

The 38-member Board of Governors includes the elected officials: the president, president-elect, immediate past president, Chair of the House, secretary and treasurer. It also includes 18 district representatives, 13 members-at-large, two young lawyers, a judicial representative, six section representatives, two women members-at-large, two minority members-at-large and one law student member-at-large. Every six years the Board of Governors consists of 40 members, as there are a secretary-elect and treasurer-elect in those years.[9]

Recent ABA Presidents

Notable presidents

In 1995, Roberta Cooper Ramo became the first female president of the American Bar Association since its inception in 1878.[10]

Since 2000, the ABA has had two more firsts. Dennis Archer became the first African-American president in 2003, and Michael Greco became the first foreign-born president in 2005.

Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary

The President of the United States has consulted with the American Bar Association on judicial nominee prospects since 1953. The ABA conducts a background check of potential nominees.[11] The only president who did not consult with the ABA on prospective nominees was George W. Bush. The committee is made up of 15 members: two from the Ninth Circuit, one from each of the other federal circuits, and the Chair of the Committee. The members are appointed by the President of the ABA to staggered three-year terms. Members of the committee can serve no more than two terms, and they are selected to represent a wide variety of backgrounds.[11]

The ABA has strong rules in place to help protect the impartiality and independence of the committee. No member may be a part of the government structure of the ABA, they are not allowed to seek or accept a federal nomination and they must disclose if that they were a member of the committee if they ever appear before a judge they evaluated.[11]

Members of the Committee on the Federal Judiciary can rate a nominee one of three ways: Not Qualified, Qualified or Well Qualified. The evaluation process is performed by a committee member from the same circuit from which the candidate is nominated. The evaluator then prepares a report from a Personal Data Questionnaire (collected by the United States Department of Justice), extensive readings of the candidate's legal writings, confidential interviews of those the candidate has worked with and a personal interview. The report is presented to the Chair of the Committee who verifies if it is complete. If the White House wishes for the Committee to offer a rating on the candidate all of the evaluation materials will be packaged and presented to the Committee for a vote and rating. After each member goes over the materials they issue their vote on the nominee. Each member votes, with the tiebreaker vote going to the Chair of the Committee. The three ratings can also be accompanied by a Majority (eight to nine votes), Substantial Majority (ten to thirteen votes) or Unanimous designation. The majority rating is presented as the committee's official rating. Ratings of nominees to the Supreme Court of the United States are the same, but the ratings are held to a higher standard. A description of the three possible ratings can be found on page six of the Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary: What it is and How it works.[11]

Criticism of the rating system

The American Bar Association's rating system has been called into question, with critics alleging that it is biased against minorities and women. In a study by University of Rochester professor Maya Sen, she breaks down the ratings of the ABA into demographic groups and looks at judicial performance in relation to those ratings. She concludes that a lower rating by the ABA does not have a bearing on the quality of a judge's overall performance but does have a noticeable effect on the ability of a nominee to be confirmed to a federal judgeship.[12][13] The Federalist Society has written about the possible bias of the ABA, noting that nominees to the Supreme Court of the United States by Republican presidents have drawn more criticism than those made by Democratic presidents.[14]

Critics of the ABA's rating system often point to two judges, Richard Posner and Frank Easterbrook, who received lower ratings than similar counterparts. These two judges, nominated by President Ronald Reagan, received Majority Qualified, Minority Not Qualified by the ABA, yet Posner and Easterbrook are two well cited federal judges.[15][16]

Judicial selection

The American Bar Association is an advocate for merit based judicial selection. The ABA's Judicial Selection: The Process of Choosing Judges expresses that the key to an independent judiciary is to remove partisan influence on judges. They also believe that elections inherently create ethical dilemmas for judges if they ever have to hear a case that election donors are involved in.[17]

Taxpayer-funded lobbying

Main article: National government sector lobbying

The American Bar Association submits federal lobbying reports. Local governments, like Peoria County, Illinois, pay membership dues to the association.[18][19]

External links


  1. American Bar Association, "ABA Mission and Goals," accessed March 5, 2014
  2. Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  3. American Bar Association, "History of the American Bar Association," accessed March 5, 2014
  4. American Bar Association, "Model Rules of Professional Conduct," accessed March 20, 2014
  5. 5.0 5.1 American Bar Association, "The Law School Accreditation Process," accessed March 7, 2014
  6. NCBEX, "Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements," accessed March 5, 2014
  7. Rules Regarding Admission to Practice Law (California)
  8. American Bar Association, "Publications," accessed March 21, 2014
  9. American Bar Association, "Board of Governors General Information," accessed March 21, 2014
  10. The American Law Institute, "Roberta Cooper Ramo," accessed March 21, 2014
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 American Bar Association, "Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary," accessed March 21, 2014
  12. Washington Post, "Has the American Bar Association kept our judges white and male?," February 28, 2013
  13., "How Judicial Qualification Ratings May Disadvantage Minority and Female Candidates," accessed March 28, 2014
  14. Federalist Society, "ABA Watch: The ABA's Role in Evaluating Supreme Court Nominees," August 2005
  15. New York Times, "Pulling Rank," January 25, 2006
  16. The Daily Beast, "How I Write: Richard Posner," November 7, 2013
  17. American Bar Association, "Judicial Selection: The Process of Choosing Judges," accessed March 28, 2014
  18. American Bar Association at Open Secrets
  19. Peoria County lobbying contracts and membership dues