20150928.VBA AwardI very much appreciate this award!

Thank you,  VBA Immediate Past President Dan Richardson!

And thank you, Vermont Bar Association!



What Does the Future Hold for the American Bar Association?

by Rich Cassidy on September 24, 2015

2013-08-12 18.09.12Transitions are occasions for reflection. I’ve been a member of the American Bar Association since I was admitted to the bar in 1979, and since 1999, I’ve served in its House of Delegates. This week, I resigned my seat in the House as the representative of the Vermont Bar Association to focus on my duties as President of the  Uniform Law Commission.

As leave the House, I am wondering about the future of ABA. Back in 1979, I joined the ABA without a second thought. It seemed, at least to me, that if you were a lawyer you were a member of your state bar and of the ABA. Even then, I know not every lawyer saw it that way, but I think most did.

In the ensuing 35 years, things have changed. The legal profession is far larger and more diverse, both in terms of its demographics and in terms of the societal roles fulfilled by lawyers. And the Bowling Alone phenomena has meant that Americans are less willing to join anything.

For many years, ABA membership increased as the size of the profession increased, but at a lower rate, resulting in erosion in the overall percentage of lawyers who were ABA members.

That trend took a nose dive with the great recession of 2007.

The ABA used to claim nearly one-half million members. Even at the peak, that was an exaggeration based on the extension of free membership to law students and first year lawyers. According to the Annual Report of ABA Executive Director Jack L. Rives as delivered to the House of Delegates at this year’s Annual Meeting in Chicago, dues paying ABA Membership is declining steeply.   When I joined the Board of Governors in 2005, some 282,954 lawyers were dues-paying, card carrying ABA members. This year, the projected count is down to 232,538 lawyers.

That is the lead demographic. As a member-driven organization, the ABA is heavily dependent on dues revenue, which is eroding from a peak in 2007 of $70,762, 230. Dues revenue for 2014 was only $57,958,100. This year, dues revenue is projected to rise to $61,000,000, based almost entirely on a significant dues increase.  That is still $3,000,000 less than budgeted.

Fewer members attend ABA Annual meetings. Some 5,700 lawyers attended the 2015 Annual Meeting. That’s a lot of lawyers, but less than half of those who attended in the 1980s.

The capital assets of the organization are being eroded. Most notably, within the last few years, the ABA sold its Washington, DC office and is operating out of more modest, rented premises.

Why should you care? If you care about the law and the legal profession, I think you should. There simply is no other national voice of the legal profession.

It is important that lawyers have influence on the national scene on Rule of Law issues. There is no other national guardian of the law. Some politicians care about legal issues, but for many, the law is an impediment to adopting policies that they prefer.

The ABA remains a huge organization and it does a myriad of things. Some of them are important to only small groups of lawyers.

But there are at least three things that the ABA does that are irreplaceable to the Rule of Law and our profession:

  1. The ABA is the source of professional ethics for lawyers. It wrote and maintains the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The rules have been substantially adopted in every state but California, and it’s rumored that may be adopted there.
  1. The ABA lobbies the federal government on Rule of Law issues, particularly funding for the Legal Services Corporation. It is hard to imagine that the Legal Aid would be functional today without the ABA’s support.
  1. The ABA vets and rates nominees for the federal judiciary. It is a critical check of the quality of the federal bench at all levels.

The ABA has many characteristics that deserve criticism. Let me single one out that is a particular concern: the law school accreditation program. In my view, as I have written here in the past, the Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar remains an important barrier to critically needed reform.

And I could take the time to identify other features of the ABA that need change.

But I won’t bother. For all its faults, the ABA is — overall — a force for good and a tremendous asset to our profession.

The trends cited above are causes for real concern. But the sky is not falling. The ABA remains a critically important institution in the United States, and it would remain so even if only the three functions mentioned above continued. And the truth is, the ABA is fulfilling many other important functions.

ABA Executive Director Jack L. Rives takes a more sanguine view of the same trends that trouble me. He thinks better days lie just over the horizon.


Frankly, I hope he is right. Even if he is not, and even if more trouble is ahead,there is no other entity in a position to assume the ABA’s role as the national voice for the legal profession.

So, I suppose the ABA may look leaner and meaner in the future. And as Yogi Berra said: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

We will just have to wait and see!



Life is Surprising!

August 13, 2015

Forty-five years ago I was active in Gov. Phil Hoff’s campaign for the U.S. Senate from Vermont. I was in high school.  That summer, I had a job as a bell-hop, that did not start until 3:00 PM. I spent every day from 8:00 AM to 2:45  on the campaign. We lost that race, even though […]

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Thoughts on Becoming President of the Uniform Law Commission

July 28, 2015

This month, I experienced one of the most satisfying events of my professional career. At its 124th Annual Meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia, I was elected to a two year term as President of the Uniform Law Commission. You can find the official press release here. It is a custom that the incoming President offers a few […]

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Obergefell v. Hodges and the Supreme Court as Arbiter of Constitutional Disputes

July 20, 2015

I was overjoyed to learn that the United States Supreme Court had decided in Obergefell v. Hodges,[1] that the states must allow same-sex marriage. I thought of my many friends and family members who are gay, and what this decision means to them. I thought of my late friend, David W. Curtis, an openly gay […]

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The Model Apportionment of Tort Responsibility Act Explained

June 24, 2015

Last week I testified before Rhode Island’s Special Legislative Commission to Study Changes to the Law of Joint Tortfeasors. Legislation about tort law is a notoriously difficult matter. The interests of the plaintiff’s and defendants bar sharply opposed, and fair consensus is hard to find. Still, Rhode Island is apparently engaged in reconsidering its law […]

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“The Fall and Rise of Lawyers,” Aspiring Lawyers, Law Schools and Bar Associations: Take Notice!

May 26, 2015

On Saturday, CNN published an important story on the status and future of the American legal profession. The story, by University of Tennessee Law Professor Benjamin H. Barton, The Fall and Rise of Lawyers, (May 23, 2015), asserts that sole practitioners have struggled financially for 25 years and that the future looks even worse. My […]

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Wall Street Journal Lifts National Profile of Collateral Consequences

May 19, 2015

Monday’s Wall Street Journal (May 18, 2015), raised the national understanding of problems presented by the proliferation of the collateral consequences of criminal convictions. The print article, published on page A3 of the Journal,  “After Prison, Landing Work is Tricky, Officials Aim to Get More Ex-inmates Back to Work,” focuses on the story of Hashim Lowndes […]

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Thank You, American Law Institute

April 16, 2015

I learned Tuesday that I have been elected to membership in the American Law Institute. I am really very pleased to be elected. The American Law Institute is described as “the leading independent organization in the United States producing scholarly work to clarify, modernize, and otherwise improve the law. The Institute (made up of 4000 […]

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A Lawyers’ Canon?

March 16, 2015

The idea of a “Western Canon” is a body of books and cultural achievements that are broadly accepted as most important and influential in shaping our culture. One example is Harold Bloom’s, The Western Canon, Riverhead Books, 1994. Obviously, the idea of a canon provides endless opportunity for debate, and little potential for definitive resolution. One area […]

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