New ABA president to address legal education, homeless youth, women leaving the legal profession

Hilarie Bass, co-president of global law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP, became president of the American Bar Association (ABA) today at the conclusion of the Annual Meeting in New York. She will serve a one-year term ending in August, 2018.

"During my leadership year, we will focus on the future of the profession: how we educate future lawyers, how we serve our clients and how we provide access to justice," Bass said.

Bass will concentrate her efforts on the future of legal education, the legal needs of homeless youth both in the United States and worldwide, and the precipitous exodus of experienced female lawyers from the profession. She also will institute an ABA Legal Fact Check online service to help answer legal questions in the news.

The ABA has created a new 10-member Commission on the Future of Legal Education to help lead the discussion of how the nation educates future lawyers. It will study issues such as the bar exam and passage rates, the length of law school, alternative teaching methods and more.

"The legal profession is confronting significant challenges in legal education," Bass said. "The ABA is uniquely positioned to work with the important stakeholders to explore possible changes that could transform legal education."

The Legal Rights of Homeless Youth Initiative will have an international and domestic component. In the U.S., more than 500,000 homeless children need access to lawyers who can remove the legal barriers that prevent these youth from getting the education, employment, housing, healthcare, identification and other services that could transform their lives. But of the more than 350 shelters in the U.S. that serve homeless children, few have access to pro bono legal services. The ABA project will train volunteer lawyers to provide legal assistance to children in the shelters and match lawyers from across the country with shelters to provide free legal assistance.

Internationally, the ABA will convene a summit in Sao Paulo, Brazil in Nov. 2017 with organizations from across the globe to exchange ideas and information on how to best fulfill the obligations laid out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"The problem of homeless youth cannot be solved overnight, but it must be addressed," Bass said. "By bringing together some of the leading experts at the Brazil summit, we hope that together these great minds can take on this global challenge. At home, it will take the dedication of lawyers willing to make a difference in the lives of children in need; I know our legal community will step up."

The ABA also will address the problem of women leaving law firms in its Achieving Long-Term Careers for Women in Law initiative. While women are for the first time this year matriculating at a higher percentage in law schools than men, preliminary research reveals that the most experienced women are leaving the profession in their 40s and 50s. Indeed, by the age of 50, women may comprise just about a quarter of the profession. To gain an understanding about the career dynamics of women lawyers, the ABA is co-sponsoring a research project with the American Bar Foundation on the career trajectories of women lawyers. In November, the ABA will cosponsor a first-of-its-kind summit with Harvard Law School examining potential solutions for the long-term retention and advancement of women in law.

"This is a huge loss of talent and expertise to the legal profession and to our justice system that we cannot afford," Bass said. "We need to understand why so many women lawyers are leaving when their experience is at its peak and they should be reaching the highest levels of leadership positions."

With ABA Legal Fact Check, the goal is to operate a fact-checking service that focuses on the law and legal matters. The ABA will work with a panel of legal experts to develop dependable answers to legal questions that emerge in the public arena.

"With the proliferation of misinformation about legal and constitutional issues, the ABA can provide a trusted, reliable and nonpartisan source for anyone seeking answers to questions of law," Bass said.

Bass serves as co-president and a member of the executive committee for Greenberg Traurig, a multi-practice firm that has more than 2,000 attorneys in 38 offices worldwide. She previously served an eight-year term as national chair of the firm's 600-member litigation department. Bass is based in Miami.

Before she was elected president-elect in 2016, Bass began her service to the ABA as a young lawyer and served as chair of the 70,000-member Section of Litigation in 2010-11. In that role, she spearheaded the creation of a Task Force on Implicit Bias in the Justice System. She has held several other notable positions at the ABA, including serving as chair of the Committee on Rules and Calendar (2012-14), member of the Board of Governors (1990-93), member of the House of Delegates (1988-95, 2000-2017) and the Florida representative to the Nominating Committee (2010-2017). She was a member of the ABA Commission on Women from 2002-2005.

"I have dedicated myself to supporting the ABA for more than 30 years because I believe it is imperative to give back to the profession that has given me so much," Bass said. "I am honored to be representing my fellow attorneys as we work together to improve access to justice and uphold the rule of law."

A prolific trial attorney, Bass has successfully represented high-profile corporate clients in cases involving hundreds of millions of dollars in controversy, as well as precedent-setting pro bono cases. She has worked and settled more than 100 cases, tried more than 20 cases to conclusion and argued numerous appeals. Among her significant cases, Bass is widely recognized for her pro bono work on behalf of two foster children that led to the elimination and declaration as unconstitutional of Florida's 20-year-old ban on gay adoption. Following the decision, Florida also removed questions of sexual orientation from the adoption application. Bass achieved payments of tens of millions of dollars in settlements for homeowners and builders as lead counsel for Homebuilder Group Committee in a multidistrict litigation case involving defective Chinese drywall. It is one of the largest construction defect cases in U.S. history and the first of its kind holding a Chinese manufacturer of defective drywall subject to U.S. court jurisdiction.

Outside of her firm, Bass has led many top legal and community organizations and received numerous awards and honors. She was inducted in 2011 to the American College of Trial Lawyers. She is listed in "The Best Lawyers in America," "Who's Who Legal: Florida" and "Chambers USA." Bass also has been honored with the Judge Learned Hand Award from the American Jewish Committee (2017), Euromoney Legal Media Group's Outstanding Practitioner Award (2016), silver medallion from the Miami Coalition of Christians and Jews (2011) and C. Clyde Atkins Civil Liberties Award from the ACLU in Florida (2009), among several other awards throughout her career.

Bass serves as vice chair of the University of Miami's Board of Trustees. She was formerly chair of the United Way of Miami-Dade County and a president of the Florida Bar Foundation (1994-95).

Bass earned her law degree at the University of Miami School of Law and her bachelor's degree at George Washington University.

Published: Wed, Aug 16, 2017