American Bar Association
FormationAugust 21, 1878
TypeLegal Society
HeadquartersChicago, Illinois
  • United States
William T. Robinson III
Key people
Jack L. Rives, Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer

The American Bar Association (ABA), founded August 21, 1878,[1] is a voluntary bar association 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 schools, and the formulation of model ethical codes related to the legal profession. The ABA has 410,000 members. Its national headquarters are in Chicago, Illinois; it also maintains a significant branch office in Washington, D.C.


Union Trust Building, home to the ABA's branch office in Washington, D.C.

The ABA was founded on August 21, 1878, in Saratoga Springs, New York, 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."[2] The goals and objectives are:

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, 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, the District of Columbia and the United States Virgin Islands. The exception is the State Bar of California; 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."[3] Law schools which meet ABA standards are listed as "approved".[4]

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.[5] Even states which recognize unaccredited schools within their borders will generally not recognize such schools from other jurisdictions for purposes of bar admission.[6]

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.[7]

In June 2009, the ABA Journal 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.[8]

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.[9][not specific enough to verify][10][11] On October 17, 2011, the ABA announced it was considering penalties, including loss of accreditation for schools that misreported their graduates employment data.[12] On December 12, 2011, despite the ongoing controversy surrounding law school accreditation standards and inability of law school graduates to effectively service their educational debt, the ABA approved yet another law school. [13]

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.[14][15] In 2006, the ABA acknowledged that it violated the consent decree and paid DOJ a $185,000 fine.[16]

Continuing legal education

Russell Frisby, 2008–2009 Chair of the ABA's Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice section, at a Rappaport Center roundtable

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 and for-profit organizations, such as West LegalEdCenter.



Main article: ABA Journal

The Association publishes a monthly general magazine circulated to all members, the ABA Journal (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 published by the Law Practice Management Section and GPSolo Magazine 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 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 (published by the ABA Section of Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice and The American University Washington College of Law) and The International Lawyer (published by the ABA Section of International Law and SMU Dedman School of Law); (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 Homelessness & Poverty

In 1991, the Commission on Homelessness & Poverty was established by the Board of Governors of the ABA.[17] The Commission is charged with:

These tasks are carried out by thirteen (13) volunteer members appointed by the ABA President and a staff attorney.

Commission on Disability Rights

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). In order to better reflect the Commission's focus on both disability law and the rights of lawyers and law students with disabilities, it was most recently renamed the Commission on Disability Rights. 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."[18] The Commission consists of 15 members appointed by the ABA President-elect on an annual basis. It meets bi-annually and is headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Positions on social and legal issues

Presidential signing statements

In July 2006, an ABA task force under then President Michael S. Greco released a report that concluded that George W. Bush's use of "signing statements" violates the Constitution.[19] 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.[20]

Mandatory sentencing requirements

See also: Mandatory sentencing

A hearing in 2009 heard testimony from the ABA which stated that "Sentencing by mandatory minimums is the antithesis of rational sentencing policy"[21] In 2004 the association called for the repeal of mandatory minimum sentences, stating that "there is no need for mandatory minimum sentences in a guided sentencing system."[22]

Same sex marriage

At the 2010 annual meeting, the ABA passed formal Resolution 111 urging every state, territorial, and tribal government to eliminate all legal barriers to civil marriage between two persons of the same sex who are otherwise eligible to marry.[23][24]

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."[25]

The process has been alleged by some (including the Federalist Society) to have a liberal bias.[26][27][28] For example, the ABA gave Ronald Reagan's judicial nominees Richard Posner and Frank H. Easterbrook low "qualified/not qualified" ratings; later, the ABA gave Bill Clinton judicial nominees with similar resumes "well qualified" ratings. [29] Meanwhile, Judges Posner and Easterbrook have gone on to become the two most highly cited judges in the federal appellate judiciary.[30]

In 2001, the George W. Bush 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, who never took his seat because his nomination was filibustered. However, it gave only a "qualified/not-qualified" rating to nominee Janice Rogers Brown.[31] In 2006, the ABA gave a unanimous "well-qualified" rating to Judge Samuel Alito, Bush's appointee for Sandra Day O'Connor's Associate Justice position.


The ABA has been criticized for perceived elitism[32] and overrepresentation of white male corporate defense lawyers among its membership;[citation needed] in 1925, African-American lawyers formed the National Bar Association 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[citation needed] percent today[when?]. 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, gun control, and redefining marriage.[33] 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. The Federalist Society 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.[34] 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 programs to retain their accreditation.[35][36][37]

The more recent collision of attorney layoffs in 2009,[38][39] the glut of fresh non top-tier law graduates without work,[40] and the continued expansion of law schools[41][42] 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.[43] 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."[43]

Recent ABA presidents

Main article: List of Presidents of the American Bar Association

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.[47]

See also



  1. ^ ABA History; For a historical overview see Matzko, John A., "'The Best Men of the Bar': The Founding of the American Bar Association," in The New High Priests: Lawyers in Post-Civil War America, Gerard W. Gawalt (ed.), (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984), pp. 75-96.
  2. ^ 2008 mission statement[dead link]
  3. ^ ABA Website; retrieval date 2008.03.19.
  4. ^ "ABA-Approved Law Schools by Year". ABA website. Retrieved April 1, 2011.
  5. ^ National Conference of Bar Examiners. Comprehensive Guide to Bar Admission Requirements
  6. ^ See, e.g., Supreme Court Rule 7 (Tennessee), Rules Regarding Admission to Practice Law (California).
  7. ^ ABA Website; retrieval date 2008.04.27.
  8. ^ "Sweeping Accreditation Review May Prompt 'Sea Change' in Law School Evals - News". ABA Journal. 2009-06-03. Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  9. ^ "Law School Transparency". Law School Transparency. Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  10. ^ Karen SloanContactAll Articles (2010-09-14). "Law schools give cold shoulder to transparency project - National Law Journal". Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  11. ^ "Law School Transparency - Blawgs". ABA Journal. Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  12. ^ Karen Sloan ContactAll Articles (2011-10-17). "ABA weighs fines, loss of accreditation for law schools that misreport jobs data". Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  13. ^ Name (2011-12-12). "The John Marshall Law School Launches New Law School in Savannah". JD Journal. Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  14. ^ United States v. American Bar Association, U.S. District Court (D.C.), text of decree.
  15. ^ "Justice Department and American Bar Association Resolve Charges That the ABA's Process for Accrediting Law Schools was Misused". 1995-06-27. Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  16. ^ "Justice Department Asks Court to Hold American Bar Association in Civil Contempt - ABA Acknowledges Consent Decree Violations and Agrees to Pay $185,000". 2006-06-23. Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  17. ^ ABA Commission on Homelessness & Poverty
  18. ^ "Commission Mission". Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  19. ^ Green, Elizabeth Weiss. "Signs Of A Struggle." U.S. News & World Report 141.5 (7 Aug. 2006): 30. Academic Search Premier. Web. 29 Dec. 2011.
  20. ^ Berry, Michael J. "Controversially Executing The Law: George W. Bush And The Constitutional Signing Statement." Congress & The Presidency 36.3 (Autumn 2009): 244-271. Academic Search Premier. Web. 29 Dec. 2011.
  21. ^ "Sentencing Commission Takes New Look at Mandatory Minimums". Third Branch News. Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. June 1 2010. ((cite web)): Check date values in: |date= (help)
  22. ^ "Sentencing Commission Takes New Look at Mandatory Minimums". Third Branch News. Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. July 2004.
  23. ^ "ABA Backs Marriage Equality for Gays and Lesbians". ABA Journal. 2010-08-10. Retrieved 2012-08-16.
  24. ^ "Resolution 111" (PDF). American Bar Association. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
  25. ^ Epstein, Lee et al. The Supreme Court Compendium: Data, Decisions & Developments, page 390 (Fourth Edition, CQ Press, 2007)
  26. ^ Batkins, Sam (2004-08-12). "ABA Retains Little Objectivity in Nomination Process". Center for Individual Freedom. Retrieved 2006-08-20.
  27. ^ Lindgren, James (2001-08-06). "Yes, the ABA Rankings Are Biased". Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 7 September 2006. Retrieved 2006-08-21. ((cite news)): Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (|url-status= suggested) (help)
  28. ^ "ABA Ratings of Judicial Nominees". ABA Watch. Federalist Society. July 1996. Archived from the original on 2001-07-10. Retrieved 2006-08-20.
  29. ^ "John Lott's website". 2006-01-25. Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  30. ^ Choi, Stephen (2003). "Who Would Win a Tournament of Judges (Draft)". Boalt Working Papers in Public Law (19). University of California: 96. Retrieved 2006-08-20. ((cite journal)): Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  31. ^ "Ratings of Article III Judicial Nominees: 108th Congress" (PDF) (Press release). American Bar Association. 2005-01-26. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 July 2006. Retrieved 2006-08-20. ((cite press release)): Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (|url-status= suggested) (help)
  32. ^ "ABA: Perception vs. Reality - Magazine". ABA Journal. 2007-11-01. Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  33. ^ "ABA Policy on Gun Violence - Special Committee On Gun Violence - American Bar Association". Retrieved 2012-02-19.;
  34. ^ Susan BeckContactAll Articles (2009-01-05). "Suggestions for Law School Makeovers Include Radical Changes - Daily Business Review". Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  35. ^ Wall Street Journal Critique of the ABA "blackmailing" law schools into affirmative action
  36. ^ Academic Mismatch I by Walter E. Williams
  37. ^ Academic Mismatch II by Walter E. Williams
  38. ^ "Layoff Tracker". Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  39. ^ Penn, Mark (2009-03-02). "Laid-Off Lawyers and Other Professionals". The Wall Street Journal.
  40. ^ Koppel, Nathan (2009-03-19). "Best Defense? Seeking a Haven in Law School". The Wall Street Journal.
  41. ^ "Up to 10 New Law Schools Planned; How Many Are Too Many? - News". ABA Journal. 2008-06-03. Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  42. ^ [1][dead link]
  43. ^ a b Matt Rainey/The Star-Ledger. "Irate Law School Grads Say They Were Misled About Job Prospects". Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  44. ^ "Carolyn B. Lamm". Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  45. ^ "Stephen N. Zack". Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  46. ^ "Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III". 2011-08-08. Retrieved 2012-02-19.
  47. ^ [2][dead link]
International American Bar Associations sites