So back in 1878, 75 lawyers from all across the country had a collective seizure and somehow found themselves in Saratoga Springs, New York. While for many people, that many lawyers in one place at the same time would be the basis for a really good joke, for lawyers it of course meant that they needed to all meet and form an organization. This organization was the American Bar Association, and we’ve been desperately trying to free ourselves from the yoke of association ever since.
Of course, it immediately fucking transformed itself into the Evil Empire of the legal profession, insinuating its way pointlessly into the day-to-day life of the lawyer and somehow gaining the reins of power over entry into the fucking legal profession itself, despite having no real authority to oversee the practice of law fucking anywhere.
Yeah, this is one of those posts. Enjoy the ride.
What Is The American Bar Association?
First, let’s just get this out there: No lawyer is required to join the American Bar Association. It is an entirely voluntary bar, and there’s absolutely nothing that can make an attorney join except their own willingness to be a part of it. It does not regulate the legal profession like, say, your state bar association. It exists merely as an association of lawyers, law students, and “people who are interested in the law.”
What Did It Do?
Absolutely fucking nothing.
Back when it was formed, the ABA was supposed to be a professional organization for attorneys to join and help regulate the profession. The high-minded ideals was that it could serve as sort of a “master bar” for all of the state bars, implementing nationwide reforms and standards across the profession. You gotta understand, prior to 1878 the practice of law was sort of the Wild West. Lawyers would, most of the time, learn the law under a tutor, then take an oral examination at most before being admitted to the bar. This was called “reading law,” and the system had a bad habit of introducing people to the profession that had no fucking business practicing law in the first place.
For example, among the list of notable lawyers and judges from America’s past are:
John Wesley Hardin, an outlaw, gunfighter, and convicted murderer who literally learned the law while in prison for killing a Sheriff’s Deputy. Note: this man would have been a hell of a litigator. “Objection!” “I’ve killed men for less than objecting to my examination!” “…Withdrawn.”
Judge Roy Bean who had absolutely no legal training, demanded jurors buy drinks from him during recesses, and once stated that “homicide is the killing of a human being, however I can find no law against killing a Chinaman.”
Bill Howe, a man who may have been an abortionist in his native England that fled to America and became, with his partner Abraham Hummel, New York City’s leading defense firm, known for lying, blackmail, and bribery.
So, in 1878, it made sense that a bunch of lawyers wanted to band together to try and bring some repute back to the profession, as given the choice between reporting on guys like that or reporting on the honest, hard-working lawyers, it’s pretty damn clear which one the press of the 19th century was going to gear its stories towards.
By the way, if you want to read some more about this shit, go here for a pretty cool article about law in the Old West.
What Does It Do NOW, Though?
Still absolutely fucking nothing.
While the ABA does lobby in Congress and take divisive political positions, normally on the more liberal side of things (a welcome change from when it, you know, wouldn’t admit anyone who wasn’t white to their esteemed ranks), it really doesn’t serve much of a purpose. Ostensibly, it’s supposed to give lawyers education and networking opportunities, and foster the development of the legal profession. It also creates the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which states either adopt, edit, or don’t adopt as they damn well please, but even then it’s starting to fuck that up by sort of trying to restrict a lawyer’s right to say reprehensible things.
The main reason that the ABA is a toothless giant, though, is because it supposedly represents something that doesn’t actually fucking exist: the American Bar. There simply isn’t any such entity in this country. Our bars are state-by-state and court-by-court, not throughout the country. A person licensed in California has no ability to practice in Washington without being licensed there as well, and a person admitted to the Bar of the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia can’t just waltz into a federal court in Detroit and start arguing a case. The ABA has absolutely no power over practicing lawyers, nor does it have any means to enforce any of their positions, and really brings nothing to the profession outside of the lackluster discounts they offer on car insurance through their benefits (Seriously? Liberty Mutual?)
Oh, yeah, and it monitors law schools.
Well Duh, We Talked About This.
Shut the fuck up, man. I’m trying to lay down some knowledge on you, and here you are all “Lah dee dah, I’m a lawyer/law student!” By the way, if you’re a law student and getting this attitude, make sure to forward me your resume. I like you. You got gumption, kid.
Anyhow, the primary purpose of the American Bar Association these days is to regulate law schools and provide them with accreditation so they can graduate students that sit for the bar exam. Graduates from an ABA accredited law school can sit for the bar in any of the 50 states. The idea here is that having one body, supposedly concerned with the legal profession, regulate law schools ensures quality educational standards and standardization in applicant and acceptance pools that ensures each state will have lawyers that all rise to some level.
Of course, as I’ve talked about in the past regarding Charlotte Law, and specifically regarding the ABA itself, they’ve done a pretty piss poor fucking job of this. However, that’s all just opinion and shit, right? I mean, who am I to say that the ABA has misused, abused, and been negligent in the usage of their power to monitor law schools, I’m just some shitheel lawyer who clearly doesn’t like the ABA. It’s not like they were charged with violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act given their monopolization of the legal education process in the United States.
We all totally know they were charged with violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act for their monopolization of the legal education process in the United States. Funnily enough, that information doesn’t appear in the “About Us” section of the ABA’s website. I really wonder why.
Still, I Was Told I Should Become a Member.
No, dipshit. No. Stop. Go to the person who told you that and kick them square in the fucking balls.
First, dues after your first year run from $143 to $457 per year, depending on how long you’ve been in practice. If you can’t think of a better way to spend $143 than sending it off to the ABA every year, send it to me. I’m paying out of pocket for this goddamn site and I haven’t monetized it at all, you’re very fucking welcome.
Second, there are no real fucking benefits to this. Each and every one of the things that the ABA lists as being a “benefit” of membership is something you’ll receive from your local or state bar association, membership in which is much more fucking helpful for your career, networking, and future than membership in the ABA will ever fucking be. When was the last time someone called your office from the “ABA Referral Line”? It doesn’t fucking happen.
Third, the discounts fucking suck. There’s not a single discount on that fucking list that makes it worth paying an annual membership due, and a lot of them are the same discounts you can get from joining AAA, your state bar, or walking down the street and joining the local Legion post under a “Sons of the Legion” membership based on your grandfather’s military service. Hell, the last one may even get you clients.
They don’t even offer free legal research tools, unlike damn near every single state bar in the country.
It’s just. Not. Worth. It.
Well, What’s the Downside?
Other than the fact that the ABA is taking political positions that you may not agree with, or the fact that you’d indirectly be supporting the monopolization of legal education, or the fact that you’re going to be rubbing elbows with fucking muggles if you join the ABA? Not much, other than the fact they’re going to rape the shit out of your email inbox every goddamn day for the rest of your life with updates you don’t really want. Shit, it’s your money, you want to blow it, go right ahead.
By the way, that “Muggles” shit? Not a snide way to refer to law students. ABA membership is open to fucking everyone, including non-lawyers. This means that somewhere in this country there’s an asshole walking around flashing an ABA card as proof that he’s a lawyer when really he couldn’t brief his way out of a brown paper bag…which, come to think of it, doesn’t prove he isn’t a lawyer. Hell, he could possibly be an ABA Committee chairman for all I know. In either case, is that who you want to be associated with?
Muggles and people that were charged with violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act because of how they managed their monopoly on legal education?
Is There An Alternative?
YES ASSHOLE. Join your local fucking bar. You know, the group of lawyers and legal professionals that exists solely in the area you primarily practice in, which holds events and provides you with CLE and networking opportunities while giving you better goddamn discounts and doesn’t seem vaguely like the fucking Empire from Star Wars! Take that $147 per year and mail it the fuck off to the offices of your local bar, which will let you meet members of the local legal community, build relationships that will turn into actual fucking cases, give you a chance to write on topics and serve on committees, and have it fucking mean something other than a line on your goddamn resume. You’ll get ten fucking times the returns from a small investment in the local bar than you will from ever being a member of the ABA.
Now, I got more depositions this week, so I got shit to do. BB, out.