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American Bar Association

American Bar Association

750 North Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, Illinois 60611
Telephone: (312) 988-5000
Fax: (312) 988-6081
Web site:

Professional Association
Employees: 800
Sales: $140 million (1998)
NAIC: 81392 Professional Organizations

The American Bar Association is a voluntary professional association that includes practicing attorneys, judges, law professors, court administrators, and nonpracticing attorneys involved in journalism or other occupations. Although it has no formal authority to discipline lawyers who break the ABAs ethical code, it influences state bars that do have that power. Likewise, the ABA plays a significant role in proposing state and federal laws, reforming the court system, accrediting law schools, and evaluating individuals nominated by the president to be federal judges. It also is a major publisher, with about 90 periodicals such as the American Bar Association Journal and many others on various legal specialties. Although the ABA is the major legal association, only about half of the nations attorneys are members. It competes with numerous other associations based on ethnicity or legal specialty. This large and complex organization, with numerous committees and sections, deals with trends in the legal profession, such as the increased use of paralegals and the effects of Information Age technology, as well as legal controversies such as abortion, the death penalty, improved legal access for all persons, and the litigation explosion.

Origins and Early Activities

Lawyers played a crucial role in founding the United States; most of the men at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 were lawyers. Many early American presidents and other government leaders were lawyers, yet in the early and mid-1800s popular reaction against lawyers and other professionals mounted as part of Jacksonian Democracy. The prevailing complaint at the time was that just about anyone could become a doctor or lawyer without much training. In 1851, for example, the Indiana state constitution mandated that any citizen and voter of good character could begin a law practice. Medical licensing also ended during that era. The emphasis was on equality, at least for white males.

Attitudes began changing after the Civil War as lawyers in New York City formed a city bar association in 1870, followed by state associations in Kentucky in 1871, New Hampshire in 1873, Iowa in 1874, Connecticut in 1875, and Illinois in 1877. At that time many elite lawyers in New York City and other big cities began counseling big businesses, rather than serving primarily as courtroom litigators. In the post-Civil War period, corporations expanded in size and influence, resulting in huge smokestack industries and also an increasing demand for attorneys.

Although others had pushed for the creation of a national professional society for lawyers, Simeon E. Baldwin, a leading Connecticut attorney, played the key role in starting the ABA.

Following Baldwins invitation, on August 21, 1878, a group of 100 lawyers from 21 states and the District of Columbia met in Saratoga Springs, New York, to organize their professions first national association. Most of the men who formed the ABA were elite corporate lawyers. Author Jethro K. Lieberman described early ABA membership: You could become an invitee to membership if you were white, Protestant and native born, preferably with a British surname, and attended the elite law schools such as Harvard, Yale and Columbia; only then did you have a chance of prospering. Catholics, Jews, women and blacks were automatically excluded from membership. This exclusion was necessary to the elite bars sense of identity. Any fraternity is defined not only by whom it accepts but also by whom it excludes. The Association also pinned the stigma of immorality on the lower class of lawyers as shysters who talked, dressed and acted differently.

The elitist nature of the ABA was not unique for the time. The American Federation of Labor, the nations major union formed in 1885, did not allow women, African Americans, and unskilled workers to join. Likewise, few women and minorities practiced medicine or most other professions.

The ABAs organization was part of a major professionalization trend in the late 1800s. Scientific medicine began with the adoption of the germ theory of disease and new medical schools based on the German model. The engineering professions started, as did the university-based social sciences of sociology, psychology, and anthropology. The American Economic Association was started in 1885.

Although many have argued that the early ABA was a conservative organization aligned with big business interests, other legal scholars have pointed out that Baldwin and other founders of the bar engaged in various reform efforts. For example, Baldwin pushed for electoral and constitutional reforms in Connecticut, while other ABA founders fought corruption both in politics and business.

The original 1878 ABA Constitution outlined five goals: 1) to advance jurisprudence, 2) to encourage uniform state laws, 3) to strengthen the administration of justice, 4) to uphold the legal professions honor, and 5) to encourage friendly interaction among bar members. Formation of the ABA stimulated the organization of more local and state bar associations. By 1900 most state bar societies had been started, although they remained unconnected to the ABA in any formal way.

Although the ABA generally had little early success promoting uniform state laws, three states (Minnesota, Missouri, and New Hampshire) approved marriage and divorce laws based on an ABA suggestion in the early 1880s. Starting in 1892, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws held its meetings with the ABA. Working together after 1900, the two organizations suggested several laws that states adopted.

The ABA also proposed federal laws. An early example was the Bankruptcy Act passed by Congress shortly before 1900. The Bankruptcy Act, as it stands today as amended, is practically the work of this Association, stated a 1903 ABA document.

The ABAs influence on American courts was also seen in the late 1800s. For over ten years the ABA pushed for special federal courts for handling appealed cases before reaching the U.S. Supreme Court. Around 1890, Congress created the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal, which followed ABA guidelines.

The ABA in the Early 20th Century

The ABA remained a small organization of just 1,718 members in 1902. Nonetheless, it had made some notable contributions to the legal profession. Perhaps the most important accomplishment of the early ABA, wrote Bernard Schwartz, was its sponsorship of the meetings that led in 1900 to the organization of the Association of American Law Schools. The ABA and the new AALS struggled to upgrade legal educational standards. In the 19th century most attorneys were trained through an apprenticeship system, similar to the informal expectations of the medical profession. However, shortly after the turn of the century, the three-year model for law school was adopted. Likewise, the ABA and the AALS successfully promoted the case method of instruction in law schools.

In 1902 the ABA quit meeting regularly at Saratoga Springs; from that point to 1936 it met in different cities as a means to attract new members. Thus ABA membership grew to 29,008 in 1936. Other statistics demonstrated the same story. The bar went from just two sections, each with two officers, to 14 sections with 960 officers in 1935. The number of committees rose from 18 in 1902 to 27 in 1935. Membership revenues in those years increased from $8,255 to $197,877.66.

In 1921 North Dakota passed a state law that required practicing attorneys to pay dues and become members of the state bar association, the two key features of the so-called integrated bar, or what critics would call the involuntary or compulsory bar. In 1927 California became the first large state to integrate its bar. These developments were praised by the ABA, which soon strengthened its formal ties to the state bar associations.

A key turning point came in 1936 when the ABA created its House of Delegates, which became the body responsible for making bar policy. Each state bar association was allowed representatives in the ABA House of Delegates, thus linking state and national associations. Although the legal profession was regulated by state governments and state bar societies, the ABA heavily influenced what happened without having any formal authority.

Shortly after the turn of the century reformers in most states passed laws limiting child labor. Moreover, state laws mandating school attendance led to more children going to school rather than work. After the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional both the federal Child Labor Law and a federal tax on goods made by children, in 1924 an amendment to the U.S. Constitution was proposed to prohibit child labor. The ABA in 1933 voted to oppose that amendment, stating that opposition to the admitted evil of child labor should be overseen by states and families. Strangely, just a few moments later the ABA voted against amending the ABA constitution to allow it to take sides on public policy matters.

During the 1930s, the ABA opposed many New Deal laws and reforms pushed by President Franklin Roosevelt, several of which were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Ironically, the expansion of the federal government during the Great Depression led to an increased need for lawyers. For example, corporations needed more legal advice to make sure they complied with the rules and regulations of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Company Perspectives:

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.

The ABAs fight against the New Deal led more liberal attorneys to start their own society called the National Lawyers Guild. A mixture of populists, Marxists, and progressive attorneys, mostly on the East Coast, formed the guild in 1937. This move was also motivated by the fact that the ABA represented a largely elite base of lawyers associated with big business while ignoring the legal needs of the lower classes and minorities.

In the late 1800s a few women joined state bar associations for the first time, though very few women practiced law. In 1870 only five American women were working as lawyers, compared to a reported 40,731 male lawyers. By 1900 the number of female lawyers had risen to 1,010 while male lawyers numbered 113,693. More women became lawyers in the 1920s and 1930s, but most did so by attending smaller part-time law schools that resisted ABA efforts to raise educational standards. Corporate lawyers and the ABA elite tried in vain to purge the legal profession of part-time schools that allowed women, minorities, and immigrants to become lawyers. Decades passed before women and minorities joined the legal profession in any significant numbers.

Postwar Developments

After World War II, the federal government and others were concerned about the possible subversive activities of Communists. In response to this Second Red Scare, often known as McCarthyism, the ABA in 1950 voted to expel all ABA members who were members of the Communist Party or supported Marxism-Leninism. Although that vote was consistent with the bars general reputation as a conservative association, not all lawyers agreed with the ABA. For example, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York opposed this ABA resolution.

The ABA became increasingly politicized, as did the American culture of the 1960s and 1970s. Issues impacting the legal profession during this time included those surrounding the civil rights and womens movements and then a host of new environment and work place safety laws and regulations. Attorneys specializing in such new areas of the law formed new ABA committees to address the issues and influence law-making.

The law as profession also began to change, starting in the late 1970s when many major law firms, the source of most bar leaders, began expanding into huge firms with hundreds of attorneys. Before that time, most law firms were run more or less like secret societies, with little public information available about their partners or clients. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that professional societies could not restrict advertising by their members because it violated the First Amendment right to free speech and also was a violation of antitrust laws. At that point lawyers, dentists, doctors, and other professionals began advertising their services instead of simply waiting for clients or patients to come to them.

Another significant development that transformed the legal community was the introduction of new publications that featured details on firm management and finances, thus giving lawyers information they needed to compare and possibly change firms. The National Law Journal and The American Lawyer were the two major periodicals that revolutionized legal journalism. Eventually law firms actually sought to be included in those magazines, which each published lists of the nations top law firms.

Although the so-called elite lawyers still remained the minority of the nations attorneys, they received most of the press and continued to dominate state bar associations and the ABA. In fact, when more women and ethnic minorities became attorneys, relatively few joined the ABA that historically had rejected them. In addition, separate associations for women, racial groups, and those practicing in legal specialties competed with membership in the all-purpose ABA.

Another rift in the membership ranks was caused in the early 1990s when the ABA adopted a pro-choice resolution, affirming the right of women to have abortions. Although this was consistent with the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, several thousand ABA members left the association because of its stand on such a controversial political question. As Salt Lake City attorney Edward McDonough reflected, in an August 1997 issue of the Salt Lake Tribune, the ABA abortion resolution had no effect on legislation or on court decisions. It had no effect other than to alienate many of the ABAs long-term members and drive them out of the organization.

The resignations came as a blow to the ABA, which was also soon faced with challenges on other fronts. The Massachusetts School of Law sued the ABA in 1993, claiming that the ABAs role in accrediting law schools was unfair. Over the next few years, the ABA was forced to revise its program of accreditation to comply with federal law and preserve the rights of a university to set its own standards. Moreover, the ABAs role in nominating candidates for positions as judges came under fire as the Senate Judiciary Committee announced that it would proceed with its own nominations regardless of ABA input.

Key Dates:

Lawyers at Saratoga Springs, New York, organize the American Bar Association (ABA).
The American Association of Law Schools is started with support from the ABA.
First issue of the American Bar Association Journal is published.
North Dakota becomes first state to require all practicing attorneys to be state bar members.
ABA opposes most New Deal laws and programs.
ABA creates its House of Delegates that ties state bar associations with the ABA.
ABAs office in Washington, D.C., is opened.
ABA dedicates its Museum of Law in Chicago.

During this time, the ABA explored new fronts as well, including the possibility of approving nonlawyer or multidisciplinary partnerships in which lawyers could form businesses with accountants, financial planners, and other professionals. That trend was already underway in Europe and Canada, where consulting divisions of the Big Five accounting firms acquired law firms. Although some American attorneys favored multidisciplinary practices, some were concerned about conflicting professional ethics. For example, attorneys swore to maintain client confidentiality, while accountants were required to report financial problems to the government. In any case, the ABA in 1999 postponed voting on such partnerships.

In the 1990s the ABA offered numerous services to its members and the public. For example, its extensive Web site included information on how to apply for law school, how to find data on disciplined attorneys, and how to contact paralegal associations. It also informed the public about its free Museum of Law in Chicago, its numerous research studies, books, periodicals, and related Web sites. A tremendous amount of information about the legal system, court cases, legal specialties, and other related topics was available on the Internet through the ABA. According to the August 1999 Profile of the American Bar Association, the ABA during the 1990s had initiated hundreds of different programs, ranging in topics from child abuse, law practice management, and juvenile crime to the legal problems of the elderly and the high cost of justice. The profiler also observed that The legal profession can be viewed as a giant confederation, at the center of which is the American Bar Association.

The ABA clearly has been one of the nations most significant organizations, having promoted a society based on the rule of law, not men. Both state and federal governments have passed laws modeled on ABA suggestions. Likewise, the ABA has heavily influenced the court system, law schools, and other aspects of the legal system. Although many Americans have taken the rule of law for granted, many other nations have not enjoyed such stability. On the other hand, the ABA has historically fought for its members privileges and resisted reforms that would have helped many Americans. As argued by Jerold S. Auerbach and other critics, the bar historically created a system of unequal justice in which the rich could buy access to the law through the best attorneys, while those not so privileged seldom could afford a lawyer. The ABA to its credit recognized the challenge and has tried to promote better access through various pro bono programs, with some success. Similarly, the ABA has had limited diversity in its ranks, and in spite of progress, has remained mainly a largely Caucasian organization. The data are compelling, wrote ABA President William G. Paul in the October 1999 ABA Journal, explaining Our profession is more than 90 percent white, and enrollment in our law schools is about 80 percent white. But 30 percent of our society is people of color, and in the next few decades it will be 50 percent. These trends put at risk the professions historic role as the connecting link between our society and the rule of law. Thus a major challenge in 2000 for the ABA and the legal profession as a whole was to promote a system of equal justice under the law. The bar and its membership remained optimistic about reaching that goal, while critics alleged that lawyers were more focused on their own pocketbooks.

Principal Divisions

Business Law; Environmental Law; International Law; State and Local Government Law; Antitrust Law; Health Law; Labor and Employment Law; Election Law; Administrative Law; Center for Continuing Legal Education; Commission on Domestic Violence; Commission on Legal Problems of the Elderly; Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law; Commission on Opportunities for Minorities in the Profession; Commission on Women in the Profession; Coordinating Committee on Gun Violence; Council on Racial and Ethnic Justice; Legislative and Governmental Advocacy.

Principal Competitors

National Bar Association; National Lawyers Association; Bar Association of National Lawyers.

Further Reading

The ABA in Law and Social Policy: What Role?, Washington, D.C.: Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, 1994.

Auerbach, Jerold, Unequal Justice: Lawyers and Social Change in Modern America, New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Carson, Gerald, A Good Day at Saratoga, Chicago: American Bar Association, 1978.

Chester, Ronald, Unequal Access: Women Lawyers in a Changing America, Mass.: Bergin & Garvey Publishers, 1985.

Drachman, Virginia G., Sisters in Law: Women Lawyers in Modern American History, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Galanter, M. and T. Palay, Tournament of Lawyers: The Transformation of the Big Law Firm, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Ginger, Ann Fagan, and Eugene M. Tobin, editors, The National Lawyers Guild: From Roosevelt Through Reagan, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988.

Jacobs, Margaret A., ABA Puts Off Vote on Nonlawyer Parterships, Wall Street Journal, August 11, 1999, p. B9.

Linowitz, Sol M., with Martin Mayer, The Betrayed Profession: Lawyering at the End of the Twentieth Century, New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1994.

McDonough, Edward, Not All U.S. Lawyers Condone the American Bar Association, Salt Lake Tribune, August 3, 1997, p. AA2.

McKean, Dayton David, The Integrated Bar, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1963.

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, edited by Gerard W. Gawalt, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984, pp. 7596.

Meserve, Robert W., The American Bar Association: A Brief History and Appreciation, New York: Newcomen Society in North America, 1973.

Schwartz, Bernard, The Law in America: A History, New York: McGraw Hill Book Company, 1974.

Sunderland, Edson R., History of the American Bar Association and Its Work, Ann Arbor: Reginald Heber Smith, 1953.

David M. Walden

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American Bar Association


The American Bar Association (ABA) is a nationwide organization to which qualified attorneys voluntarily belong. With over 400,000 members the ABA is the largest voluntary professional organization in the world.

The American Bar Association was founded in 1878 to improve legal education, to set requirements to be satisfied to gain admittance to the bar, and to facilitate the exchange of ideas and information among its members. Over the years, the ABA has been largely responsible for the further development of American jurisprudence, the establishment of formal education requirements for persons seeking to become attorneys, the formulation of ethical principles that govern the practice of law, and the creation of the American Law Institute (ALI) and the Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, which advance the fair administration of justice through encouraging uniformity of statutes and judicial decisions whenever practicable. In recent years, the ABA has been prominently involved in the recommendation and selection of candidates for the federal judiciary, the accreditation of law schools, and the refinement of rules of legal and judicial ethics.

The ABA continues to put great emphasis on promoting diversity within its membership and has initiated several programs designed to bring more women and racial and ethnic minorities into the profession.

The ABA provides various forums through which attorneys continue their legal education during their careers. Its national institutes are held frequently in areas of law that have become topical or have undergone sweeping reform. In conjunction with the ALI, the ABA holds seminars in order to continue the professional education of interested members.

Within the ABA, members may participate in the activities of numerous sections, which range in size from about 3,600 members to more than 60,000 and are organized according to specialized areas of law. Various committees exist that deal with such topics as judicial selection, professional responsibility and discipline, lawyer referral services, and the unauthorized practice of law. Other committees are concerned with topical areas, such as prepaid legal services, malpractice, legal problems of the elderly, and public-interest law.

The ABA is involved in the political process through its seven-person Governmental Affairs Office (GAO), a lobbying effort that serves as the "eyes, ears and voice" of the organized bar at the seat of the national government in Washington, D.C. The GAO staff is housed with about 170 other ABA staffers in the ABA's District of Columbia office. (The ABA's main offices are in Chicago, with more than 500 staff members.) The lobbying group in Washington, D.C., headed by the ABA's associate executive director, testifies on Capitol Hill more often than any other trade association. The ABA's lobbyists offer detailed information and analysis on various technical issues, such as tax or antitrust legislation. Moreover, on issues such as abortion, which many ABA members and leaders consider as having an effect on the legal system, the ABA offers its voice along with those of other interested groups.

Equal access for all to the justice system has become an increasingly important theme in the ABA's mission. The association has sought for a number of years to increase and improve free legal services to needy persons by practicing lawyers. These lawyers donate some of their work pro bono publico ("for the good of the public"). In 1981, the ABA created the Private Bar Involvement Project, now called the Pro Bono Project, which acts as a national clearing-house of information and resources for various pro bono programs around the United States. When it began, there were 66 organized projects nationwide; by 1995, there were more than 950.

The ABA actively supports several major legislative priorities on topics that have been in the forefront of American political and governmental affairs. The ABA has called for a moratorium on the death penalty until certain procedures and policies are put into effect that mandate fair and impartial administration of capital punishment. Since the september 11th attacks in 2001, the ABA has stepped up its opposition to laws requiring extra verification of citizenship for immigrants. Additionally, the ABA has urged that U.S. citizens and legal residents detained as "enemy combatants" be afforded due process rights and that military tribunals authorized to conduct trials of suspected terrorists be used in limited circumstances. Finally, the ABA has announced its opposition to the incommunicado detention of nationals held in undisclosed locations by immigration officials or the homeland security department.

The ABA holds annual conventions and midyear meetings to discuss designated legal topics and ABA matters. It publishes the monthly American Bar Association Journal, an annual directory, and various journals and newsletters reporting the work of its sections and committees. The ABA also supports the activities of affiliated organizations—such as the American Bar Foundation, which sponsors research activities in law.

The ABA also provides a social outlet for its members through which members meet to freely exchange ideas and experiences that add to the human dimension in the practice of law.

The ABA has eleven goals:

  1. Promote improvement in the U.S. system of justice;
  2. Promote meaningful access to legal representation and the U.S. system of justice for all persons regardless of their economic or social condition;
  3. Provide ongoing leadership in improving the law to serve the changing needs of society;
  4. Increase public understanding of and respect for the law, the legal process, and the role of the legal profession;
  5. Achieve the highest standards of professionalism, competence, and ethical conduct;
  6. Serve as the national representative of the legal profession;
  7. Provide benefits, programs, and services that promote professional growth and enhance the quality of life of the members;
  8. Advance the rule of law in the world;
  9. Promote full and equal participation in the legal profession by members of minorities and women;
  10. Preserve and enhance the ideals of the legal profession as a common calling and its dedication to public service;
  11. Preserve the independence of the legal profession and the judiciary as fundamental to a free society.

further readings

American Bar Association Website. Available online at <> (accessed May 29, 2003).

American Bar Foundation Oral History Program. Available online at <> (accessed May 30, 2003).

Hobson, Wayne K. 1986. The American Legal Profession and the Organizational Society, 1890–1930. New York: Garland.

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American Bar Association


AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION. Founded in 1878 at a gathering of seventy-five lawyers from twenty-one states and the District of Columbia, the American Bar Association (ABA) in 2002 includes nearly 410,000 members and stands as the legal profession's preeminent organization. Its twenty-three sections, five divisions, and scores of committees and commissions address a broad range of legal issues and specialty areas; produce hundreds of books, newsletters, and journals annually; and convene even greater numbers of meetings and conferences, all part of its mission to serve the needs of the profession and the public.

Simeon Eben Baldwin, a young Connecticut lawyer and Yale law professor who later become that state's governor and state supreme court chief justice, was the driving force behind the ABA's formation. Baldwin was joined in this effort by other prominent lawyers such as Benjamin Bristow of Kentucky, the first U.S. solicitor general, and William Evarts of New York, President Rutherford B. Hayes's secretary of state and defense attorney in President Andrew Johnson's impeachment trial. The goals of the ABA's founding constitution remain substantially the same today: "to advance the science of jurisprudence; promote the administration of justice and uniformity of legislation throughout the Union; uphold the honor of the profession of the law; and encourage cordial intercourse among the members of the American Bar."

During the ABA's first twenty-five years, "the membership was small, the policy selective, the air rather social." With membership by invitation only, the original roster of 289 grew to a mere 1,718 lawyers by 1903. Some of its early accomplishments, however, were significant, including legislation creating federal circuit courts of appeal to relieve the U.S. Supreme Court's substantial and backlogged caseload. During this period the ABA spawned groups such as the Association of American Law Schools and the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.

The turn of the twentieth century saw dramatic changes in the organization. Major initiatives over the next thirty to thirty-five years included codes of ethics for lawyers and judges, membership campaigns, publication of the American Bar Association Journal, law school standards, and legal services for those who could not afford to pay for them. In addition to holding its first public hearings (on issues of commercial law), the ABA took a prominent role in publicly opposing the judicial recall movement of the period. Its efforts on behalf of an independent judiciary would continue to be a hallmark of the organization, most prominently during the "court-packing" controversy of 1937.

In 1926 the ABA established its first permanent headquarters in Chicago and hired its first executive secretary. Ten years later there was a major change in governance, with the formerly small and exclusive Executive Council replaced by a larger, more representative House of Delegates and Board of Governors (these continue to the present day, with respective memberships of 536 and 37). The ABA had a significant number of distinguished presidents during this period, including U.S. President and Chief Justice William Howard Taft, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, and Nobel Peace Prize recipients Frank Kellogg and Elihu Root.

By 1936 ABA membership exceeded 28,000, but its composition was neither diverse nor free from controversy. In 1911 three African American lawyers had been recommended and approved for membership without knowledge of their race. Though the ABA did not seek their resignations, a section was added to the membership form inquiring about a candidate's race and ethnicity. It was not until the early 1940s that a House of Delegates resolution affirmed that ABA membership was "not dependent on race, creed or color."

During the first part of the century, women, like African Americans, had little prominence in either the profession or the ABA. In 1918 Mary Frances Lathrop became the ABA's first woman member—and in fact went on to serve in its highest councils—but she was among a limited number of women in the organization.

From 1936 to 1969 ABA membership grew to nearly 140,000. The period began with the organization's strong opposition to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's proposals to reorganize the federal judiciary, and concluded with the passage of comprehensive Standards for Criminal Justice and a new, expanded Code of Professional Responsibility. In the intervening years the ABA assumed a formal role in reviewing the qualifications of federal judicial nominees, supported expanded legal services and civil rights programs, and spawned organizations addressing priori-ties in legal research, international law, minority legal education, and judicial education.

The most recent era began with the ABA taking a strong "rule of law" stance throughout the Watergate saga, in which former ABA President Leon Jaworski played a major role as special prosecutor. During this period the organization faced other significant issues such as lawyer advertising, tort reform, abortion, high-profile trials, and the rapidly changing nature of law practice. Internationally the ABA began providing extensive guidance to emerging democracies in the former Soviet Union and other countries seeking to strengthen their law schools, justice systems, and law reform efforts. As in earlier periods the ABA has continued its strong support of legal services and judicial independence.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the ABA is a far more diverse organization, reflecting the growing number of women and minorities entering the profession. This diversity has reached the highest offices of the organization, with women and minorities chairing the House of Delegates and two women having served as ABA president. Most recently the ABA elected the first African American to its presidency. In 2003 former Michigan supreme court justice and Detroit mayor Dennis Archer will lead an organization that could not have been imagined by Simeon Baldwin and his colleagues in 1878.


American Bar Association. Home page at

Sunderland, Edison. History of the American Bar Association and its Work. Ann Arbor, Mich.: American Bar Association, 1953.


See alsoLegal Profession .

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American Bar Association

American Bar Association (ABA), voluntary organization of lawyers admitted to the bar of any state. Founded (1878) largely through the efforts of the Connecticut Bar Association, it is devoted to improving the administration of justice, seeking uniformity of law throughout the nation, and maintaining high standards for the legal profession. It is composed of over 30 committees that deal with such diverse legal topics as maritime law, professional ethics, legal education, the judicial system, and legal aid for the indigent. Through its main office in Chicago, the ABA coordinates the activities of state and local bar associations. In 1999 its membership exceeded 404,000. Affiliated organizations include the American Law Student Association and the American Bar Foundation, a group devoted to legal research and education.

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American Bar Association

American Bar Association (ABA) US organization whose members are attorneys admitted to the bar of any state. Founded in 1878, the association attempts to ensure parity of law nationwide, improve the efficiency of the legal system, and maintain high standards. The association comprises over 25 committees, each responsible for specialized areas of law. by the mid-1990s the association boasted over 400,000 members.

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