ABA president encourages lawyers to be ‘helpers’ and promote civility

Annual Meeting

Bob Carlson addresses the House of Delegates

ABA President Bob Carlson speaks at the ABA Annual meeting in San Francisco. Photo by Mitch Higgins.

ABA President Bob Carlson’s final speech to the House of Delegates on Monday followed a video featuring lawyers who have faced addiction, depression and other stigmatized health issues.

Carlson credited Bree Buchanan, the chair of the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs, and her colleagues as “helpers” who are working to promote lawyer well-being through the new video and other efforts. He added that all of the delegates—who were assembled at the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco—are indebted to the helpers they encounter in their own lives.

“We need to encourage these efforts,” Carlson said. “We need to be helpers ourselves. We need to do so as long as it takes to make unhealthy conditions and behaviors in our profession the exception—and healthy conditions and behaviors the rule.”

Carlson contended that helpers arise in other situations that seemingly violate fairness and justice—such as at the border, where immigrant children are held in unsafe conditions despite federal and state laws and “common decency.”

The ABA has called on authorities to end this illegal treatment and provide immigrants with access to lawyers, Carlson said. It has urged Congress to approve funding to ensure that unaccompanied immigrant children in federal custody receive the care they need.

The ABA also recently joined with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Federal Bar Association and National Association of Immigration Judges in calling on Congress to establish an immigration court that is independent of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Carlson told the House of Delegates that he was privileged to work with “extraordinary helpers” on two trips to Harlingen, Texas, where he worked with the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project. The Commission on Immigration project provides legal information, pro se assistance and pro bono representation to adults and unaccompanied children in immigration detention.

In recent months, Carlson said, the ABA has received a significant number of online donations—from non-ABA members and even nonlawyers—for its work with ProBAR, the Immigration Justice Project of San Diego and Children’s Immigration Law Academy in Houston.

Carlson said one donor wrote: “I have a toddler who had a nice dinner tonight and is safe asleep in his bed now. I cannot bear the thought that there are children at the border hungry and sleeping on concrete. And I felt helpless, so we’re donating.”

Another situation creating fear is natural disasters, which can be deadly and uproot lives, Carlson said.

He pointed out that in his term as president, he worked to call attention to the helpers who provide pro bono legal assistance to survivors of disasters. He particularly thanked the Young Lawyers Division and legal aid and state and local bar programs for their efforts in this area.

Carlson also commended the Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary for evaluating the professional qualifications of 137 judicial nominees, more than twice the average, this year.

Judicial evaluations are “tools in the search for truth,” which is grounded in a free press, he said. He contended that lawyers are allies with a fair and independent news media, a concept that was explored by this year’s Law Day theme.

Carlson reminded the House of Delegates that he pledged that the ABA would “deliver a clear, concise, consistent, repeated and repeatable message about the ABA and on behalf of America’s lawyers and judges.”

The ABA continues to expand its reach and show not only the legal profession but the world why its work matters, he said.

“We stand for professional excellence, and we stand for justice,” he said. “Time and again, I have witnessed a new sense of energy and appreciation for the ABA—from the numerous bar associations that are working to promote lawyer well-being, to those who steadfastly work with the ABA year after year in our mutual fight for legal aid funding.”

Carlson recounted his other recent efforts, including working with young diverse lawyers at the Collaborative Bar Leadership Academy in Denver, standing with George and Amal Clooney to highlight TrialWatch in New York and speaking at the first annual meeting of the new California Lawyers Association in San Diego.

“The ABA matters, and I tried my best to be a helper,” he said, receiving a standing ovation.

In closing, Carlson noted that people are rightfully scared when “bigotry and hatred emanate from powerful news organizations, candidates for public office, and prominent government officials.”

This bigotry and hatred leads to threats and violence, he said. Violence—whether it comes from handguns in homes or mass shootings using easily available weapons of war—destroys lives, and it needs to stop, he added.

Carlson encouraged lawyers to help by speaking out in their communities while also promoting civility.

“Words matter,” he said. “How we treat each other matters. In our public discourse, we must be aware of our own words and actions. We must talk to each other with mutual respect, no matter how much we disagree.”

“Each of us needs to be helpers now more than ever,” Carlson added. “We need to be helpers to serve our members, improve our profession and promote the values we stand for. We need to be helpers who say no to division, helplessness and fear.”

Follow along with our coverage of the 2019 ABA Annual Meeting.