American Bar Association
The American Bar Association (ABA), founded August 21, 1878, is a voluntary
Voluntary association
A voluntary association or union is a group of individuals who enter into an agreement as volunteers to form a body to accomplish a purpose.Strictly speaking, in many jurisdictions no formalities are necessary to start an association...

 bar association
Bar association
A bar association is a professional body of lawyers. Some bar associations are responsible for the regulation of the legal profession in their jurisdiction; others are professional organizations dedicated to serving their members; in many cases, they are both...

 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 school
Law school
A law school is an institution specializing in legal education.- Law degrees :- Canada :...

s, and the formulation of model ethical codes related to the legal profession. The ABA has 410,000 members. Its national headquarters
Headquarters denotes the location where most, if not all, of the important functions of an organization are coordinated. In the United States, the corporate headquarters represents the entity at the center or the top of a corporation taking full responsibility managing all business activities...

 are in Chicago, Illinois; it also maintains a significant branch office in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....


The ABA was founded on August 21, 1878, in Saratoga Springs, New York
Saratoga Springs, New York
Saratoga Springs, also known as simply Saratoga, is a city in Saratoga County, New York, United States. The population was 26,586 at the 2010 census. The name reflects the presence of mineral springs in the area. While the word "Saratoga" is known to be a corruption of a Native American name, ...

, by 100 lawyers from 21 states. According to the ABA website,
"The legal profession as we know it today barely existed at that time. Lawyers were generally sole practitioners who trained under a system of apprenticeship. There was no national code of ethics; there was no national organization to serve as a forum for discussion of the increasingly intricate issues involved in legal practice."

The purpose of the original organization, as set forth in is first constitution, was "the advancement of the science of jurisprudence, the promotion of the administration of justice and a uniformity of legislation throughout the country...."


The ABA mission, as stated in its 2008 mission statement, 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."
The goals and objectives are:
  • Goal 1: Serve our members. (Objective: Provide benefits, programs and services which promote members’ professional growth and quality of life.)
  • Goal 2: Improve our profession. (Objectives: 1) Promote the highest quality legal education; 2) Promote competence, ethical conduct and professionalism; 3) Promote pro bono and public service by the legal profession.)
  • Goal 3: Eliminate bias and enhance diversity. (Objectives: 1) Promote full and equal participation in the association, our profession, and the justice system by all persons; 2) Eliminate bias in the legal profession and the justice system.)
  • Goal 4: Advance the rule of law. (Objectives: 1) Increase public understanding of and respect for the rule of law, the legal process, and the role of the legal profession at home and throughout the world; 2) Hold governments accountable under law; 3) Work for just laws, including human rights, and a fair legal process; 4)Assure meaningful access to justice for all persons; and 5) Preserve the independence of the legal profession and the judiciary.)

Leadership and governance

The ABA is governed by the Office of the President; the 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; and the Board of Governors.

In 2010, Jack L. Rives
Jack L. Rives
Jack L. Rives is the Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the American Bar Association, and a former TJAG of the United States Air Force Judge Advocate General's Corps. In 2008, he became the first Judge Advocate General in any service to hold the rank of Lieutenant general...

, formerly the TJAG (The Judge Advocate General of the Air force), was appointed Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer.

Model ethical standards for lawyers

An 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
U.S. state
A U.S. state is any one of the 50 federated states of the United States of America that share sovereignty with the federal government. Because of this shared sovereignty, an American is a citizen both of the federal entity and of his or her state of domicile. Four states use the official title of...

 and the District of Columbia. The exception is the State Bar of California
State Bar of California
The State Bar of California is California's official bar association. It is responsible for managing the admission of lawyers to the practice of law, investigating complaints of professional misconduct, and prescribing appropriate discipline...

; 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." Law schools which meet ABA standards are listed as "approved".

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.

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

In June 2009, the ABA Journal
ABA Journal
The ABA Journal is a monthly legal trade magazine and the flagship publication of the American Bar Association. It claims to be "read by half of the nation's 1 million lawyers every month"...

reported that the ABA had been working "for months" to change 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.

More recently, a non-profit Tennessee organization called Law School Transparency has called upon the ABA to provide meaningful statistics regarding the employment prospects and salary information of graduates of ABA accredited institutions. On October 17, 2011, the ABA announced it was considering penalties, including loss of accreditation for schools that misreported their graduates employment data.

Antitrust consent decree and contempt fine

In 1995 the United States Department of Justice accused the ABA of violating Section 1 of the Sherman Act in its law school accreditation proceedings. The case was resolved with a consent decree. In 2006, the ABA acknowledged that it violated the consent decree and paid DOJ a $185,000 fine.

Continuing legal education

The American Bar Association Center for Continuing Legal Education (ABA-CLE) serves as the central CLE resource for the ABA 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, non-profit CLE organizations, such as Practising Law Institute
Practising Law Institute
Practising Law Institute is a non-profit continuing legal education organization chartered by the Regents of the University of the State of New York. Founded in 1933, the company organizes and provides CLE programs around the world...

 and for-profit organizations, such as West LegalEdCenter
West LegalEdCenter
West LegalEdcenter is an online continuing legal education service that is marketed to lawyers and law professionals in the United States. Launched in 2001, it has 7500 programs and 17,000 hours of local, state and national CLE content in its online library...




The Association publishes a monthly general magazine circulated to all members, the ABA Journal
ABA Journal
The ABA Journal is a monthly legal trade magazine and the flagship publication of the American Bar Association. It claims to be "read by half of the nation's 1 million lawyers every month"...

(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
Law Practice Magazine
Law Practice Magazine is a legal magazine published six times per year by the Law Practice Management Section of the American Bar Association . It claims, as editorial purpose, to be "dedicated to helping legal professionals master all aspects of the business of practicing law"...

published by the Law Practice Management Section and GPSolo Magazine
GPSolo Magazine
GPSolo Magazine is a legal magazine published eight times a year by the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division of the American Bar Association . It began its existence under the name The Compleat Lawyer in 1983....

 published by the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division). The first such journal was the Annual Bulletin of the Comparative Law Bureau, the first comparative law
Comparative law
Comparative law is the study of differences and similarities between the law of different countries. More specifically, it involves study of the different legal systems in existence in the world, including the common law, the civil law, socialist law, Islamic law, Hindu law, and Chinese 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
Administrative Law Review
The Administrative Law Review was established in 1948 and is the official law journal of the American Bar Association Section of Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice.-Overview:...

(published by the ABA Section of Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice and The American University Washington College of Law
Washington College of Law
American University Washington College of Law is the law school of American University. It is located on Massachusetts Avenue in the Spring Valley neighborhood of northwest Washington. WCL is ranked 50th among law schools by US News and World Report...

) and The International Lawyer
The International Lawyer
The International Lawyer is a peer-reviewed journal of legal scholarship, and the official quarterly publication of the American Bar Association's Section of International Law and Practice...

(published by the ABA Section of International Law and SMU
Southern Methodist University
Southern Methodist University is a private university in Dallas, Texas, United States. Founded in 1911 by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, SMU operates campuses in Dallas, Plano, and Taos, New Mexico. SMU is owned by the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church...

 Dedman School of Law
Dedman School of Law
The Southern Methodist University School of Law, commonly referred to as SMU Law School or Dedman School of Law is a prominent professional graduate law school located in Dallas, Texas. Founded in February 1925, the school remains the only law school in Dallas...

); (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 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). 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. Its 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.

Positions on social issues

At the 2010 annual meeting the ABA passed a formal resolution urging every state and territory in the union to permit same-sex marriages.

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." According to a compendium of those ratings, the ABA's Committee on the Federal Judiciary began rating Supreme Court nominees in 1956, but: "At various points in its history, the committee altered its ratings categories, making comparisons across time difficult."

The process has been alleged by some (including the Federalist Society) to have a liberal bias. For example, the ABA gave Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

's judicial nominees Richard Posner
Richard Posner
Richard Allen Posner is an American jurist, legal theorist, and economist who is currently a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago and a Senior Lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School...

 and Frank H. Easterbrook
Frank H. Easterbrook
Frank Hoover Easterbrook is the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. He has been Chief Judge since November 2006, and has been a judge on the court since 1985...

 low "qualified/not qualified" ratings; later, the ABA gave Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton
William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton is an American politician who served as the 42nd President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. Inaugurated at age 46, he was the third-youngest president. He took office at the end of the Cold War, and was the first president of the baby boomer generation...

 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
George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

 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
Miguel Estrada
Miguel Angel Estrada Castañeda is an attorney who became embroiled in controversy following his 2001 nomination by President George W. Bush to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit...

, who never took his seat because his nomination was filibuster
A filibuster is a type of parliamentary procedure. Specifically, it is the right of an individual to extend debate, allowing a lone member to delay or entirely prevent a vote on a given proposal...

ed. However, it gave only a "qualified/not-qualified" rating to nominee Janice Rogers Brown
Janice Rogers Brown
Janice Rogers Brown is a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She previously was an Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court, holding that post from May 2, 1996 until her appointment to the D.C. Circuit.President George W. Bush...

. In 2006, the ABA gave a unanimous "well-qualified" rating to Judge Samuel Alito
Samuel Alito
Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr. is an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was nominated by President George W. Bush and has served on the court since January 31, 2006....

, Bush's appointee for Sandra Day O'Connor
Sandra Day O'Connor
Sandra Day O'Connor is an American jurist who was the first female member of the Supreme Court of the United States. She served as an Associate Justice from 1981 until her retirement from the Court in 2006. O'Connor was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981...

's Associate Justice position.

Position on Signing Statements

In July 2006, an ABA task force under then President Michael S. Greco
Michael S. Greco
Michael Spencer Greco is a former President of the American Bar Association . He is currently a partner in the Boston office of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis LLP, and a former partner at the now-defunct Hill and Barlow.-ABA Presidency:As President of the American Bar Association,...

 released a report that concluded that George W. Bush's use of "signing statement
Signing statement
A signing statement is a written pronouncement issued by the President of the United States upon the signing of a bill into law. They are usually printed along with the bill in United States Code Congressional and Administrative News ....

s" 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
National Bar Association
The National Bar Association was established in 1925 as the "Negro Bar Association" after Gertrude Rush, George H. Woodson, S. Joe Brown, James B. Morris, and Charles P. Howard, Sr. were denied membership in the American Bar Association. It represents the interests of African-American attorneys in...

 at a time when ABA would not allow them to be members.

Since the 1960s, the ABA has increased 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
Abortion is defined as the termination of pregnancy by the removal or expulsion from the uterus of a fetus or embryo prior to viability. An abortion can occur spontaneously, in which case it is usually called a miscarriage, or it can be purposely induced...

, 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
National Lawyers Association
The National Lawyers Association is a voluntary association of lawyers in the United States, similar in many respects to the American Bar Association , but farther to the political right. It was founded in 1993 in response to the ABA's official position in favor of abortion rights.Apart from the...

. The Federalist Society
Federalist Society
The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, most frequently called simply the Federalist Society, is an organization of conservatives seeking reform of the current American legal system in accordance with a textualist and/or originalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution...

 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
Affirmative action
Affirmative action refers to policies that take factors including "race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or national origin" into consideration in order to benefit an underrepresented group, usually as a means to counter the effects of a history of discrimination.-Origins:The term...

 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.

The ABA has also faced criticism that it has failed or refused to stop law schools from publishing misleading data about employment and salary prospects. In response, ABA President Lamm told the Newark Star-Ledger that "Law students ought to look at the numbers and envision how their future might be before going to law school, not after."

Recent ABA presidents

  • 2000-2001: Martha Barnett
    Martha Barnett
    Martha Walters Barnett was the President of the American Bar Association from 2000 to 2001. At present she is a partner at the Holland & Knight Law firm. Martha Barnett attended Tulane University for her Bachelors degree, and she received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Florida...

  • 2002-2003: Alfred P. Carlton, Jr.
  • 2003-2004: Dennis W. Archer
    Dennis Archer
    Dennis Wayne Archer is an American lawyer and politician from Michigan. A Democrat, Archer served on the Michigan Supreme Court and as mayor of Detroit...

     (first African-American president)
  • 2004-2005: Robert J. Grey, Jr.
    Robert J. Grey, Jr.
    Robert James Grey, Jr., Past President of the American Bar Association is a partner with the Richmond, Virginia-based law firm, Hunton & Williams...

  • 2005-2006: Michael S. Greco
    Michael S. Greco
    Michael Spencer Greco is a former President of the American Bar Association . He is currently a partner in the Boston office of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis LLP, and a former partner at the now-defunct Hill and Barlow.-ABA Presidency:As President of the American Bar Association,...

     (first foreign-born president)
  • 2006-2007: Karen J. Mathis
  • 2007-2008: William H. Neukom
  • 2008-2009: H. Thomas Wells, Jr.
  • 2009-2010: Carolyn B. Lamm
  • 2010-2011: Stephen N. Zack (first Hispanic American president)

Annual meeting

Each year in August, the ABA holds an annual meeting in different cities that consists of speeches, CLE classes, gatherings, and the ABA EXPO.

See also

  • Attorney at law (United States)
  • ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct
    American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct
    The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, created by the American Bar Association , are a set of rules that prescribe baseline standards of legal ethics and professional responsibility for lawyers in the United States. They were promulgated by the ABA House of Delegates upon the recommendation...

  • ABA digital signature guidelines
    ABA digital signature guidelines
    The ABA digital signature guidelines are a set of guidelines published on 1 August 1996 by the American Bar Association Section of Science and Technology Law. The authors are members of the Section's Information Security Committee...

  • Solosez
    Solosez is an electronic mailing list of more than 3,300 members. Most of the members are lawyers, law students and law-related professionals, although the list welcomes all comers, lawyer and non-lawyer alike. Sponsored and hosted by the American Bar Association and its General Practice Solo...

    , an electronic mailing list sponsored and hosted by the American Bar Association

External links

International American Bar Associations sites
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