By James Dimos, Deputy Executive Director, American Bar Association
Greetings from Chicago!
I felt a tinge of nostalgia when Judge Moberly asked me to write a guest President’s Message. Fifteen years ago, as IndyBar President, I had the pleasure of writing the bi-monthly message (though, by this time in the year, it was closer to being a chore). I appreciate truly the opportunity to write one again.
While I know many of my friends and long-time colleagues at the bar will be reading this message, I appreciate that some readers may be asking: “Who is this guy?” Right after graduating from law school in 1986, I started practicing in Indianapolis with the firm then known as Locke Reynolds Boyd & Weisell. I stayed with the firm my entire career as a practicing lawyer, even as the firm’s name grew shorter and roster grew longer through its 2009 merger with Frost Brown Todd. In addition to serving as IndyBar President, I served as Indiana State Bar President, represented both IndyBar and the ISBA as a delegate in the American Bar Association House of Delegates, and represented Indiana on the ABA’s Board of Governors. Yes, you might say that I am a “bar junkie.”
Last year, while running unopposed for ABA Treasurer, opportunity knocked in the form of an offer to become ABA Deputy Executive Director, a full-time position serving as the number two staff person of the Association. After some thought, I accepted the position and joined the staff on August 31.
The transition from private practice to bar management has been relatively smooth. There are no timesheets, though I still need to be responsive all hours of the day and night. I spend much more time on budgeting and human resources than I did at the firm, but I still get to use my legal skills on many occasions. I am in Chicago and Washington, D.C., often, yet still in Indianapolis two to three days a week. The best part of the job is also the most challenging—working with our more than 400,000 members to address the crucial issues facing the legal profession.
In a typical day, I may sit in a meeting discussing a proposed change to a law school accreditation standard and then move to a discussion about whether one of our substantive law sections should weigh in on merits of a proposed federal regulation. From there, I can participate in a conference call about our new member benefit for solo and small-firm practitioners (ABA Blueprint) and then meet with lawyers from China to discuss our respective criminal justice systems. I may then have to review expense reports and answer a few hours’ accumulation of email (not everything in the job is exciting).
As the largest professional organization for lawyers in the world, the ABA works to improve the quality of legal education in the U.S.; drafts model rules and standards for professional conduct of lawyers and judges; and provides ways to make lawyers better at their craft. The Association speaks for the American legal profession on the merits of existing and proposed laws and for the rule of law both domestically and across the globe. It challenges our profession to be more inclusive and to assist those who cannot afford our services.
In each of these areas, the legal profession faces significant questions such as:
- How should the next generation of lawyers be educated in a rapidly changing world fueled by technological advances?
- Where is the appropriate balance in the model rules of professional conduct between client protection and the ability of lawyers to compete with non-lawyer providers of legal services?
- Who should regulate the non-lawyer providers of legal services?
- Can lawyers use technology to better serve clients and those who cannot afford legal representation?
- Whether our profession is as welcoming and supportive to all who seek to become lawyers or use legal services.
- At the root of these and many other questions facing the profession rests a fundamental inquiry: How can lawyers remain relevant?
Over the last two years, the ABA House of Delegates, the Association’s policy-making body made up of delegates from local and state bars, including IndyBar Delegate Phil Isenbarger, has developed policy directing the Association’s efforts to address these types of questions. Beyond policy, our sections and committees are actively providing programing and guidance on how the profession can address these concerns. We are also working with local and state bars to develop a public service campaign that will allow those bars to tell the story about the value that lawyers provide to society and to educate Congress and federal agencies on issues, such as the need for a strong attorney-client privilege and the right to effective assistance of counsel.
To be effective, the ABA needs two things: vibrant local and state bars and a healthy ABA membership. Much of our work is done in conjunction with local and state bars, and their strength is a necessary part of our efforts. While the ABA has more than 400,000 members, we can always use more—either as engaged volunteers or to provide strength in numbers. So, I encourage you to support your local and state bar and, if you haven’t already, join the ABA. In fact, if you would like to join now and receive a 50 percent discount in dues through August, 2017, just visit: americanbar.org/friendsofdimos or call: (800) 285-2221 and use the code DIMOS17. We would love to have you!