American Bar Assocation (ABA)

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With over 410,000 members, the American Bar Association (abbreviated ABA) is one of the largest voluntary organizations of lawyers, students and legal professionals in the United States. It is based in Chicago, Illinois with a secondary branch in Washington, D.C. The ABA is dedicated to serving its members, advancing causes within the legal profession, enhancing diversity, setting ethical codes of legal practice and conduct, and most importantly it sets academic standards for law schools.

History

The American Bar Association (ABA) was founded by a group of lawyers in Saratoga Springs, New York during the summer of 1878. At that time, lawyers were typically sole practitioners who were trained as apprentices rather than by law schools, as we’re familiar with today. There was no governing board or organization to set ethical legal practices or educational standards. The ABA was originally established to promote justice administration and uniformity of legislation and advance the science of jurisprudence. Over the last century the ABA has evolved into the organization we see today.

The ABA’s Mission

The underlying mission of the ABA is to serve its members, as well as the public, by promoting justice at the national level, serving as a representative of the legal professional, and defending liberty. The goals and objectives of the ABA include the following:

  • Serve its members. Specifically the ABA provides programs and services designed to enhance its members’ quality of life and broaden their career opportunities.
  • Serve the legal profession. The ABA promotes a code of ethical conduct and standards for legal education. It also encourages its members to provide pro bono legal services to the general public, as well as needy individuals that would otherwise go unrepresented.
  • Promote diversity and eliminate bias. The ABA strives to ensure equal participation in both its organization as well as the legal profession at large by persons of all religious, ethnic and racial backgrounds.
  • Advance the rule of law. The American Bar Association has programs in place aimed at increasing public awareness and respective for the law and legal profession, as well as the role the justice system plays throughout the world. As part of this objective, the ABA also works to promote laws that protect basic human rights and strives to ensure a fair legal process for all U.S. citizens. The association strives to ensure everyone has access to legal services and recieves justice. The ABA works to preserve an independent U.S. legal profession.

Ethical Standards and Law School Accreditation

Two of the most important roles of the ABA are to (1) establish and enforce a code of ethical standards for legal professionals–practicing lawyers inparticular–and (2) create and promote legal education standards–primarily through law school accreditation.

The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, developed by the American Bar Association in 1983, are rules that serve as a minimum standard of professional responsibility and ethical conduct for lawyers in the United States. The predecessor to this newer model is the Model Code of Professional Responsibility that was established in 1969 (and replaced in 1983). The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct have been adopted in nearly every state nationwide, with exception of California–which uses the California Rules of Professional Conduct developed by the State Bar of California (but very similar to the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct).

Most people recognize the American Board Association as the organization that provides accreditation to most of the law schools in the United States. ABA accreditation is important for two primary reasons. First, ABA accreditation helps law schools be recognized as legitimate institutions of legal education. Second, it can affect a student’s ability to practice law in a particular state following graduation. In most states students must have a Juris Doctorate degree from an ABA-accredited school in order to sit for the bar exam. In fact, even in states where non-ABA accredited law schools exist, students graduating from these school may not be allowed to practice law or be accepted to the bar in other state where ABA accreditation is required.

ABA membership is open to practicing lawyers, legal entities and law students. Students studying at ABA-accredited law schools can receive full ABA membership at a discounted rate. Students attending non-ABA accredited schools can join the ABA and receive membership benefits, but they must join as associate members.

To date, much of the ABA accreditation standards and process for accrediting law schools has been based on criteria including faculty size, physical facilities and budget. Recently, however, there has been a push by constituents within the industry (e.g. Law School Transparency–a non-profit organization in Tennessee) to change ABA’s accreditation standard to reflect more meaningful statistics and performance metrics. Specifically, it has been suggested that ABA accreditation criteria include figures regarding a schools’ job placement rate, graduation rate, salary level upon graduation, etc. Currently, ABA requires that law schools provide tenure options for their professors in order to receive and maintain ABA accreditation status. However, the ABA is considering the removal of this requirement.


Continuing Education

ABA supports practicing lawyers by providing continuing legal education through the American Bar Association Center for Continuing Legal Education (ABA-CLE)–one of the main resources for continuing legal education in the United States. The ABA-CLE works with industry experts and members of the ABA to develop relevant and up-to-date continuing education programs and products for members and non-members alike.


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