ABA/NLADA Conference, Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs

Here is the conclusion of our May interview with ABA then-President Carolyn Lamm, including her comments about the crisis in legal services funding.

Me: The ABA Equal Justice Conference just kicked off in Arizona today. What are the most important issues in the area today?

Lamm: Funding is huge. It’s at the top of the list. The justice gap in the United States is only growing. About 80 percent are not served. That’s huge, especially when they are facing the loss of basic human rights, such as housing and family status, not to be able to have a lawyer. And we know that it’s grown exponentially in terms of need. We now have 65 million Americans that are below the poverty guideline for Legal services Corporation legal service. The stats are that they are able to serve between one and two million per annum.

The funding is now at $435 million. At a time when there were far fewer poor in the 1980s, it was at $765 million, when that amount was worth a whole lot more.

That’s not to mention those in the middle class who can’t afford service. It really is s a tremendous problem.

Me: Are there any other solutions?

Lamm: I’ve heard from some who say that lawyers should do it pro bono. I’m sorry, but lawyers can’t do it pro bono. Lawyers can each devote 50, maybe 100 hours a year. Lawyers can donate money to support it. But we can’t fill that justice gap doing it for free—that’s nonsense.

The ABA does what it can on ABA Day, when we bring in all the state bar presidents to lobby the legislators. What do we get, and extra $20 million, an extra $40 million in a good year? It’s like a Band-Aid on a broken leg. It’s not working.

Me: Are there other topics that will be covered at the conference?

Lamm: Service and support and training. In DC, I see it very starkly. The legal service providers are never as computerized as other places, and they need it more than anybody.

Me: What about staffing?

Lamm: It concerns me that we have so many young lawyers coming out of law school that are unemployed or underemployed. I think the numbers are 40 to 50 percent of graduating classes. We really should be finding ways to put them to work as interns or otherwise to fill this justice gap. They’d get experience and be moving forward. So far, we haven’t been able to do that programmatically, and it’s really horrible. We’ve got the lawyers, and we’ve got the people with the need. That we can’t bridge that is too bad.

Me: What would you name as the ABA’s proudest accomplishment this year?

Lamm: Many things. I think Ethics 2020 is tremendously important. Our advocacy efforts and helping the profession in a time of crisis were important.

Carolyn Lamm, 2009-10 ABA President

Here is more from our May interview with ABA then-President Carolyn Lamm, including her comments about SB1070. We’ll post the conclusion of our interview tomorrow.

Me: In regard to Arizona’s new immigration law, 1070: This morning, there is a statement on the Equal Justice conference website. It is very straightforward, and is very critical of the law. [NOTE: The statement, by ABA’s Committee Counsel, Steven B. Scudder, is no longer on the ABA’s website.] What is the ABA’s position?

Carolyn Lamm: The ABA’s policy that was passed by the House of Delegates—and that’s what we advocate until there’s a new policy—doesn’t specifically refer to this law. What it refers to is the federal enforcement of immigration laws. And that’s what we prefer. We don’t prefer, and in fact oppose, state law enforcement of immigration laws. So this falls within our general policy.

Further, we adopted at our most recent meeting—again, before this law, nothing is specifically focused on this law—a whole series of resolutions that are meant to advocate due process in the adjudication system. They really flow from our 500-page report that I mentioned.

So we don’t have anything specifically on this law. This law falls within the context of our past policy. Our former resolution focuses more on the pre-emption issue, of course.

We obviously condemn in substance the law because it doesn’t coalesce with what our policy is.

Me: At this morning’s breakfast, you talked some about the possible enforcement side of 1070, saying problems may or may not flow from the enforcement.

Lamm: That’s right. I could see equal protection issues if some of our citizens were being arrested or detained on the basis of the way they look. That’s an issue.

Me: But some groups and individuals have said that the law on its face is problematic.

Lamm: There are always differing views on constitutionality, which is why we have courts and a Supreme Court to sort these things out. And there is a view of the law that one could take that there are substantive due process issues and potential equal protection issues because of the way the classes are defined, basically.

Me: Is there a possibility that the ABA House will speak to that?

Lamm: Nothing has been raised so far. But state bars can put in resolutions at any time. I’ve heard about a lot of proposals but I haven’t seen anything.

Me: Do you think it’s possible that in 10 years, say, the ABA leadership will be sorry that they didn’t speak to larger issues?

Lamm: What issues?

Me: Racial profiling.

Lamm: We do have a policy on opposing laws that have racial profiling.

Me: But when you look specifically at the Arizona law, how does a police officer determine immigration status by looking at someone? How does reasonable suspicion arise except in a way that implicates racial profiling?

Lamm: That’s right, that’s right. I can’t understand what it would mean.

We have problems with local enforcement of immigration laws. We have problems with racial profiling. So I don’t know how this law would pass muster, and that’s why I issued the statement that I issued. My first statement was very strong about it. And while reasonable minds can differ, my view is, as the law is, it is objectionable.

Me: You heard some comments about the law from legal leaders at this morning’s breakfast. Were they similar to others you’ve received?

Lamm: I have gotten comments from all ends of the spectrum. We have 400, 000 members. There are those who say this is terrible, this ought to be condemned, people ought to be indicted, this is hideous, you’ve got to boycott.

And I have ones on the other side saying this must be done, we must support it. And you’ve got some in the middle. You can’t make choices just on the basis of what one set said. I have to balance the views of all members and then make a balanced call in light of our existing policies.

Me: I want to ask you about another risk. If you as the ABA President routinely sit in rooms like you did this morning and ask for views about 1070, and no one in those rooms will ever be at risk of being one of those people who will be stopped by law enforcement and asked to provide their ID and immigration status, are you getting a full enough picture to make a balanced decision?

Lamm: I don’t know. It’s very hard. The people at the breakfast are all leaders in the bar, leaders in their opinion community. They have to take a relatively balanced view.

And when I hear from many of the dissatisfied groups that represent the immigrant groups or whatever, I have a lot of empathy for what they’re saying. But they’re not necessarily in the same position as the other groups I’m hearing from, or in the same group as my members, whom I have to reflect as well. When I’m a spokesperson for the organization, I have to stay within the confines of our policy; I can’t go out and make policy.

Me: This morning, you also spoke about demonstrations and protests. What is your opinion about those?

Lamm: Maybe I’m jaded living in Washington, but I’m not sure what demonstrations and protests achieve. Obviously they evidence frustration from a certain population, but being the leader of the organized bar, we tend to solve our disputes in court. And we try to persuade judges that some actors, some law, is legal or illegal and should be invalidated. That’s why we have a justice system. It can’t be that the way the leaders of the bar, the advocates in court, go out to the streets, unless you’ve lost everything, you’ve lost in every forum, and it’s a complete frustration and it’s the only way to save the rule of law. But I don’t think we’re close to there yet.

Me: But when you look back at American history, at the Selma marches, or Martin Luther King Jr. at the Washington Memorial, they certainly were important strategic turning points.

Lamm: Yes, but let’s look at that. The courts had failed. The courts had said, “Separate is equal.” The courts said you can have segregation, and we did. And they weren’t listening. We’re not there yet in the law. If this goes to court and all of the legitimate arguments are made, and the court says, “Oh, yeah, racial profiling is fine, without any evidence or rational basis,” then of course. Perhaps that’s when you have to vocalize.

Me: An organization named FAIR provided this law draft to Arizona, and is doing the same to states nationwide. Does it concern the ABA that a law may be farmed out across the country?

Lamm: Again, I may be jaded by Washington, but that’s the way the system works. You have advocacy groups pushing their views of the laws, and legislators have to look at it and decide that’s right or that’s not right.

Tomorrow: The conclusion of our interview with President Lamm, when she discusses the crisis in legal services for the poor and middle class.

ABA President Carolyn Lamm at the Maricopa County Bar Association, May 14, 2010

This week, the American Bar Association hosts its big annual shindig up in San Francisco. In thinking about that, I’ve decided to post a related story.

In May, ABA President Carolyn Lamm visited Arizona. The primary focus of her visit was the ABA Equal Justice Conference. But while in town, she took the time to have a breakfast with Arizona legal leaders, hosted by the Maricopa County Bar Association. She and the MCBA’s Executive Director, Alan Kimbrough, are old and good friends, so when he asked, she couldn’t say no.

(We covered the visit and the ABA conference here and here.)

Following the breakfast, President Lamm sat down with me for half an hour. We talked about her practice, the ABA, and the ABA’s position on Arizona’s SB1070, the immigration law that has garnered national attention.

(In fact, that very week, the law caused a dilemma for the ABA—whether to cancel the Arizona conference. They ultimately did not, but their partner, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, withdrew, taking with it a good number of attendees and panelists.)

Today, here is our conversation about her practice, which she maintained despite her ABA duties. Tomorrow, read what she told me about SB1070.

Me: What is your practice?

ABA President Carolyn Lamm

Carolyn Lamm: I represent primarily foreign sovereigns and their state-owned entities. Many of them are under bilateral investment treaties—they’re big international arbitrations, basically, to resolve disputes at something called ICSID—the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes at the World Bank. It is in Washington, and the default jurisdiction is Washington.


Me: That must provide a lot of variety.

Lamm: There are many countries and entities that I represent. In addition, if one of my clients is sued in U.S. courts, I usually represent them. I argued a big case this year in the Fifth Circuit called In Re Refined Petroleum Products; I’m representing the Saudis, the Saudi defendants and the Ministry of Petroleum in an amicus brief.

Me: What issues do you address?

Lamm: In cases like this in which collusion and price fixing are alleged, I do the international issues. I act Act of State political questions. In that, we won, they appealed, and it’s in front of the Fifth Circuit. I hope to win again. The last person to argue for the OPEC states in the Ninth Circuit was Justice Scalia, before he went on the Court.

Me: Is that what you always imagined you’d do?

Lamm: I started at the Justice Department. I love foreign, and languages and cultures and all that stuff. I went to the Justice Department and first I did frauds and then was Assistant Director of commercial litigation. But at Justice, remember, you’re doing the same issues. You’re representing the state, it’s all sovereign immunity. It’s all the same kind of sovereign defenses. When I switched to private practice in 1980, I joined White & Case. It was the time of the fall of Iran, and I was going into court on behalf of many of the U.S. investors in Iran. But you’re arguing the same issues—whether it falls within the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

So I grew up with those issues as a lawyer, and I just started doing more and more of them. It’s a peculiar little arcane practice, very active and very stimulating.

Me: You are a partner at White & Case in Washington, DC, while working as ABA President. That must take a lion’s share of your time. How has your year been? (Click here for her c.v.)

Lamm: I have wonderful partners, and they are tremendously supportive.

I just tried a case in April in which I represent 190,000 Italian bondholders against Argentina in the first treaty case ever brought as a result of their nonpayment of their debt obligations. I brought it as a treaty case because enforcement of the treaty is in every signatory state. So you can enforce an award under the treaty in 146 different countries. And I can get them! Believe me, they may have secreted their assets from the United States, but they are somewhere in the world.

Me: How do you balance the presidency?

Lamm: If you are a lawyer with a really credible practice, where clients rely on you, it’s your professional obligation. You can’t completely walk out.

I’ve cut back significantly. I used to work about 150 percent of average; I’m probably down to about 75. And I’m doing probably another 80 percent for the ABA. So everybody’s getting their 2,500 hours this year. I’ll sleep next year.

Me: Have you had any Arizona cases?

Lamm: Yes, it was federal district court. I was representing the government of Indonesia, the ministry of finance, who had been sued by this guy who had bought all kinds of bank notes issued by the national security council, essentially, of Indonesia. It was a huge fraud. And we won. It went back and forth to the Ninth Circuit, and I did prevail.

Tomorrow: More from our interview with ABA President Carolyn Lamm, including her comments about SB1070.

ABA President Carolyn Lamm

Well, our title’s not entirely accurate. I attended a breakfast meeting this morning with legal leaders and ABA President Carolyn Lamm. The breakfast conversation—and my follow-up Q&A with President Lamm—were so extensive that I’ve not managed to return to the conference this morning.

This afternoon, I head over to another great event: the graduation of the State Bar of Arizona’s newest class of the Bar Leadership Institute. That is a premier initiative of the Bar’s Diversity Department, headed up by I. Godwin Otu. Be sure to read our interview with Otu (his preferred moniker) in the June Arizona Attorney Magazine.

I’ll have information about both events in an upcoming story. But in the meantime, here are a few photos from the breakfast, generously sponsored and hosted by the Maricopa County Bar Association (special thanks to MCBA Executive Director Allen Kimbrough!).

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Immigration and its discontents still seem to be driving, well, everything here in Arizona.

ABA President Carolyn Lamm: What should we ask her?

As we reported last week, a prominent conference was just the latest victim of the SB1070 juggernaut, passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jan Brewer.

The conference is to be co-sponsored by the American Bar Association. Called the Equal Justice Conference, it’s scheduled for May 13-15.

Despite strong pressure to move the conference to another state, the ABA opted to stay put (though a co-sponsor, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, did jump ship; read their statement here).

But the state law has led to what may be one of the more remarkable conference mission statements I’ve ever read. On the conference home page, the ABA’s Committee Counsel, Steven B. Scudder, explains some of the tightrope the ABA is walking. He quotes a speaker who explains, “Isn’t that what we learned from the civil rights era, that engaging is often better than boycotting?”

Hmmm. Maybe. I guess. Read the complete statement here.

He then goes on to describe generally changes that the ABA is making in the program to allow attendees to hear about and converse on the Arizona legislation.

We’ll be at the conference on Thursday and Friday. There, we’ll see how the ABA adjusted its programming. And we’ll also hear from keynote speaker Sonia Nazario, a Pulitzer Prize winner who will speak on, among other things, immigration.

Also attending the conference will be ABA President Carolyn Lamm. We’ll have the opportunity speak with her: What should we ask? Post your suggestions, or send them to the editor at Tim.Eigo@staff.azbar.org.

Also be sure to tweet about the conference (or follow the postings) on Twitter (hashtag #ejcaz)

In the meantime, you can read the full conference program here.

How quickly a news story is kindled, springs into flame—and then dies.

ABA President Carolyn Lamm

That was the case today on the question of whether the American Bar Association would move a key conference out of Phoenix, Arizona, this coming week.

The cause of the hubbub was Arizona’s recently enacted SB1070, which ratcheted up the immigration debate. Supporters and detractors have lined up to hurl kisses and brickbats.

The ABA opted for brickbats. Last Friday, April 30, ABA President Carolyn Lamm issued a statement opposing the recently passed Arizona immigration law. It staked out a pretty strong position. You can read the whole thing here.

Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs

But maybe they began to regret their full-throated denunciation. After all, the ABA does a lot of business here in one of the sunniest, most resort-rich states of the country. And by the weekend after the ABA’s press release, an anomaly was noted.

The national association of lawyers was slated to host its annual Equal Justice Conference in Phoenix. It’s scheduled for May 13-15.

As the media noted, pressure was mounting for the ABA to move the conference to a more immigration-friendly venue.

Of course, the ABA has a lawyer or two itself, and they know from hotel and conference contracts and registrations. Canceling now? Ugly, ugly, ugly.

Sonia Nazario

Well, it took all of four days for the ABA to clarify its message.

This afternoon, it said “Nothin’ to see here, folks,” and declared that they were still heading west next week.

Who can blame them? Sun, pools and prepaid registrations are hard to pass up.

But one aspect of the conference may prove to be more ironic than a burrito in the Arizona Legislature.

The keynote address will be delivered by Sonia Nazario, a former writer at The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times and a board member of a child advocacy organization. But she’s also the author of the book Enrique’s Journey, the story of a Honduran boy’s search to find his mother in the United States.

Hope he has his papers.

We’ll be attending Nazario’s keynote address at the opening plenary on Thursday, May 13. We’ll let you know what she says.

For more on the conference—documented or not—click here.