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ABA President Bass: Lawyers' Role Critical in Safeguarding Society

November 13, 2017 2:42 AM

American Bar Association President Hilarie Bass didn’t envision herself at a big law firm after she graduated.

“I did not grow up around lawyers, or for that matter, people who had degrees,” she said.

And yet, 36 years later, she remains at her very first law firm, Greenberg Traurig, which has grown to become the largest firm in the United States, with 38 offices in 11 countries worldwide. A world-class litigator representing some of the most high-profile clients in some of the nation’s largest-stakes class actions, Bass has risen to lead the firm as co-president.

Bass visited Tulane Law School on Nov. 9 to speak with Tulane and Loyola law students about the important leadership roles lawyers play in society and in ensuring the integrity of their own profession.

She decried recent statements by the White House criticizing the U.S. justice system as a “laughingstock,” and said that current events have in fact highlighted the critical role lawyers play in safeguarding access to justice and the rule of law.  From volunteer lawyers greeting arriving immigrants at the airport to state attorneys general going to court to challenge the constitutionality of executive orders, she said that the spotlight on lawyers has cast a positive light on the essential integrity of the legal profession.

She observed that the ABA was contributing to these efforts by recently establishing a new online resource, ABA Legal Fact Checker , which allows the public to check the veracity of claims made in public discourse about the law and legal system.

The program a Q&A-style session moderated by Tulane Law alumna Judy Perry Martinez (L’82), who practices law with Simon, Peragine, Smith & Redfearn in New Orleans.  She was formerly Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer for Northrop Grumman, the international aerospace company, and has held a succession of senior leadership posts in the ABA. 

Louisiana State Bar Association President Dona Renegar (L ’92), a named partner in the Lafayette-based litigation firm of Veazey, Felder & Renegar, joined in emphasizing the importance of public service and pro bono work to the legal profession.

Renegar recalled her own experience as a student in Tulane Law School’s Juvenile Justice Clinic as life-changing, and said the satisfaction of helping clients in need redirected her own career ambitions toward legal services and public interest work. 

Bass encouraged law students to take active roles in pro bono work, in young lawyers’ organizations and in the ABA, the 400,000-member organization she leads this year.

Bass discussed a number of topics including the evolving legal profession, the impact of technology on both education and litigation and the importance of pro bono work. Bass is widely respected for her pro bono work on behalf of two foster children that led to the end of Florida’s 20-year-old ban on adoption by gay and lesbian parents.

“One of the things I hear all the time from firms is that the most important thing to retain young lawyers in firms is the availability of pro bono work,” Bass said.

She emphasized that pro bono work helps young lawyers be perceived as leaders, which not only helps advance careers but also “just makes you a better citizen.”

Bass attributes her own success at her firm to leadership and mentoring – those around her challenged her intellectually, brought her in on major decisions and encouraged her to take on tough cases and grow as a young lawyer.

“For me it was always about the gratification that the work I do is intellectually challenging and helps, at its core, to solve a client problem,” Bass said.

Bass has mentored young lawyers for years and has supported the ABA’s mission since she became an attorney.  She has lectured extensively on rules of procedure and evidence, expert testimony, creditors' rights and foreclosure issues, rainmaking, professionalism, and women lawyer issues.

“We’re honored to host ABA President Bass at Tulane,” Meyer said, “and extremely proud that two of our own, Judy Perry Martinez and Dona Renegar, are leading the national and state bars in making a real difference for the profession and society.”