An important voice is too often absent from the work
of the organized bar the voice of government lawyers and the organized bar
is weaker because of their absence.
Government and public sector lawyers represent approximately
one-sixth of the legal profession, but only a small percentage participates in organized
bar activities. This is an important issue for all organized bars and for lawyers serving
in federal, state, county and municipal governments.
government leaders have failed to encourage the professional development of government
lawyers through bar work. In addition, some public law offices put so many restrictions on
their lawyers, through inconsistent and unnecessarily restrictive interpretations of
statutes and regulations by agency managers, that there is a chilling effect on bar
We see examples of government lawyers who must record and deduct from
their vacation leave every minute spent on bar activities, lawyers unable to use their
office fax machine for bar service, and lawyers unable to serve on any bar committee.
At the ABAs annual meeting in August, the House of Delegates
passed a resolution that could have a profound impact on this problem. The resolution
encourages governmental entities to eliminate barriers impeding public lawyer
participation in bar activities. It encourages government entities to permit government
lawyers reasonable time for bar-sponsored continuing education and other activities
promoting professional development and improvements in the justice system. And it
encourages them to allow public lawyers the reasonable use of office, library and
facilities for such activities.
The organized bar sets standards for the profession, provides
vehicles for the improvement of the law, and is a forum for educational programs to
improve skills required to function in the profession. Bars promote access to justice for
all, promote full and equal participation in the profession by women and minorities and
advance the rule of law in the world. These lofty goals will not be achieved if the public
sector is left out.
If bar associations are denied the benefit of public lawyer
participation, then an important voice is missing. Wouldnt the work product of a
committee established to study the ABAs Model Rules of Professional Conduct suffer
greatly without the input of public sector lawyers in such areas as pro bono
representation, revolving door standards and the so-called pay-to-play issues?
The organized bar must do all it can to lift the barriers preventing
government lawyers from participating and holding positions of leadership in legal
The full participation of public lawyers is vital not only to the
organized bar, but also to the individual public lawyer. Through participation in the bar,
public lawyers are able to enhance their legal education and professional development.
They have the opportunity to participate in pro bono activities and become better rounded,
more competent lawyers. They are able to work with their private sector colleagues to
address and resolve issues in a forum that is uniquely suited for such cooperative problem
If public lawyers are encouraged to take their seat at the
association table, all lawyers will benefit. The ABA House of Delegates resolution
was passed in the hope that this goal will be achieved.
William G. Paul is president
of the American Bar Asssociation.