Documents/ABADPE/3: Public Understanding

3: Public Understanding

Mobilize the resources of the ABA to promote public understanding of law and the legal profession.

Other Information:

"Lawyers are among America’s best educated and most active citizens. In addition to their specialized knowledge about the law, lawyers are well-informed citizens who seek to serve the common good. Many lawyers participate actively in their communities by sitting on civic boards and by volunteering their time and legal skills to community needs. Thus, lawyers are especially well-suited to lead and participate meaningfully in programs designed to enhance the public’s understanding of law and the vital role that law and the legal profession play in American society.In recent years, the American Bar Association has worked not only to advance the interests of its members, but also to serve the broader public interest. For example, in 1989, the ABA’s Task Force on Outreach to the Public re-emphasized the need to enhance public confidence in and support for the justice system through public education and related programs. And as recently as 1997, the ABA Commission on Separation of Powers and Judicial Independence recommended the need for vigorous public education programs to ensure public understanding of the justice system. Today, at a time when all membership organizations are aggressively seeking to secure their own base of support, it is essential that the ABA -- as an organization and through its individual members -- recommits itself to the work of public education that reinforces and strengthens Americans’ commitment to a law-based democratic society.Today’s legal profession is increasingly diverse, mirroring our nation as a whole. Fully 40 percent of students now enrolling in law school are women, and approximately 25 percent come from diverse racial backgrounds. Members of the legal community vary widely in roles, ages, experience, and areas of practice. They differ in the nature and location of their employment and with respect to the clients and/or publics they serve. And lawyers also have different levels of involvement in, and commitment to, the activities of the organized bar. Thus, the diversity of lawyers and their practices presents a challenge to the ABA, as the national voice for the legal profession, to inform and involve lawyers of all kinds in programs to enhance public understanding of the law. Yet this same diversity also offers the ABA a unique opportunity to reach, and better meet the educational needs of, historically underserved communities. As we prepare to enter a new millennium, the ABA Division for Public Education needs to identify creative new ways to engage the interest and talents of a diverse legal community so as to further the goals of public education. We must identify strategies to involve lawyers in meaningful ways and sufficient numbers in the design, implementation, and institutionalization of school-based and community-based educational programs. To do this, we must develop persuasive rationales that recruit new lawyers in the mission of public education. We must foster active partnerships with ABA sections, divisions, committees, and commissions so as to draw upon the substantive expertise and enthusiasm of our members in the advancement of public education. And we must create a variety of resource materials -- print, audiovisual, and Web-based -- to enhance the capability of lawyers to work effectively in partnerships with educators in classroom and community settings.