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American Bar Association

Renaissance of Idealism in the Legal Profession

Renaissance of Idealism Final Report (PDF)

Renaissance of Idealism Video

In his inaugural message, former ABA President Michael S. Greco issued a call for a "renaissance of idealism in the legal profession-a recommitment to the noblest principles that define the profession: providing legal representation to assist the poor, disadvantaged and underprivileged; and performing public service that enhances the common good."

Why a "Renaissance" - and why now?

Goal X of the American Bar Association is "To preserve and enhance the ideals of the profession" and its dedication to public service." Every year, thousands of lawyers throughout America heed that call, giving selflessly of their time and talents to help those in need.

The outpouring of support within the legal profession for the people and businesses displaced by Hurricane Katrina offered an example of the generosity of the legal community. Every day, somewhere in this country, lawyers are providing pro bono representation to criminal defendants, victims of domestic violence, immigrant children, elderly residents in need of affordable housing and medical treatment, and small business owners struggling with legal problems. Lawyers serve on town councils and nonprofit boards, run for elective office and coach youth sports teams.

Many of today's young lawyers enter the practice of law expecting to find opportunities to engage in these kinds of activities. Yet many soon become disappointed and frustrated as the demands of their law practice severely limit the time and opportunities they have to contribute to society. For veteran lawyers as well, the pressures and pace of law practice often make it difficult to participate in the life of their communities.

If we are to change this situation, lawyers must be able to strike a better balance in their lives and law practices. The key to that balance is freeing up time-in law firms, in government offices, in any setting where a lawyer practices law-for lawyers to perform public service, to volunteer their legal training to those in need, to help improve their communities, and in the process to find greater fulfillment in their legal careers.

How is the ABA addressing these issues?

In August 2005, President Greco appointed a Commission on the Renaissance of Idealism in the Legal Profession to coordinate this effort. The Honorary Co-Chairs of the Commission were the Hon. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Theodore C. Sorensen, Esq., former Special Counsel to President John F. Kennedy. The Chair was Mark D. Agrast, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. and a member of the ABA's Board of Governors. The Vice-Chair was Doreen D. Dodson, a partner in the Stolar Partnership in St. Louis, Missouri.

Working in concert with ABA sections, divisions and committees, and with state and local bar associations, the Commission presented programs, publications and policy initiatives that make the case for the value of pro bono and public service activities - not only to their beneficiaries but to the lawyers and legal employers who provide them. The goal was to encourage more lawyers to undertake this work by fostering workplace policies and practices that make it possible for them to do so.

As an initial step, the Commission created an online Best Practices Resource Guide to help lawyers in every practice setting identify ideas, strategies and opportunities for engaging in pro bono and public service activities.

Ginsburg "The Renaissance of Idealism seeks to reinvigorate the noblest principles that have defined the legal profession: to assist the poor, disadvantaged, unpopular, and underprivileged, and to perform public service that enhances the common good. I am pleased to be associated with this important effort."

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Honorary Co-Chair
Associate Justice - United States Supreme Court
Sorensen "The American Legal Profession -- the only profession mandated in our cherished Constitution -- has long been proud of its tradition of providing pro-bono services to those unable to afford them and a steady stream of public servants to government at every level. That idealism has been diminished over time by commercial and other needs and requires a new birth in which the ABA's Commission on the Renaissance of Idealism in the Legal Profession can play a valuable role."

Theodore C. Sorensen, Honorary Co-Chair
Former Special Counsel to President John F. Kennedy
Updated: 9/22/2006

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