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The ISBA and Issues of the Day
From the beginning, the ISBA has addressed the most important issues confronting our profession. We continue to do so.
I am a member of the Saturday Night Live generation. I was in high school when the show started in the mid-70s, an avid viewer in college and law school, and have been an occasional watcher since. A few years ago, a show opened with a sketch in which Steve Martin took that evening's host to a club-like setting where former hosts congregated. Dressed in smoking jackets, sitting in overstuffed leather chairs and surrounded by mahogany, the former hosts relived their glory days, no doubt keeping a close watch on the hosts that follow.
As the 136th ISBA president, I have often thought about the 135 who went before and all they did to bring this association and our profession to where it is today. I consider our past leaders' collective accomplishments and how they guided us through remarkable periods in our profession's (and nation's) history.
And yes, I am mindful of what they would think (or, for those still with us, are thinking) about the current generation of bar leaders and what we are doing to keep the ISBA strong and help it protect the profession's core values, meet members' needs, and make a difference in the greater community.
When the Illinois State Bar Association was organized on January 4, 1877, it was resolved that the Association was formed "to cultivate the science of jurisprudence, to promote reform in the law, to facilitate the administration of justice, to elevate the standard of integrity, honor and courtesy in the legal profession, to encourage a thorough and liberal legal education, and to cherish a spirit of brotherhood among the members thereof." Our predecessors undertook so many ISBA endeavors that brought life to this grand purpose. While there are far too many to count (or recount), here are a few that left an indelible mark.
The first step was to address the crisis that led to the ISBA's founding - the failure of the state to create the appellate court provided for in the 1870 constitution. Because of the profession's need for a statewide voice in this crisis, the ISBA was established.
Just six months after our founding, and with significant involvement from the ISBA, Governor Shelby M. Cullom signed the law establishing appellate courts and organizing them into four districts. This was the first time the ISBA collaborated with the other fledgling bar association of the time - the Chicago Bar Association (established in 1874) - on a matter of great importance to the profession. That cooperation continues to this day as the two associations work together with the supreme court on the Shaping the Future of the Illinois Courts conference coming up in April.
Another important milestone was the decision by the ISBA at its 1879 Annual Meeting to admit women to honorary membership. The first honoree was the legendary Myra Bradwell, whose husband, James B. Bradwell, later served as ISBA president. Almost a century later, Carole Kamin Bellows became our first woman president, and with it the first woman to lead a state bar. Since then we have done much to make the Association and its leadership more reflective of society at large - most recently by creating two at-large seats on the Board of Governors to be filled by those from underrepresented groups.
The ISBA has also been an important forum for the exchange of ideas. We have been addressed by national figures such as Theodore Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson, Roscoe Pound, Clarence Darrow, and John Foster Dulles, to name a very few. We have fostered debates leading to action on topics such as standards for admission to the bar, legal education, written jury instructions, supreme court consolidation, judicial and other constitutional reform, the death penalty, civil rights, judicial recall, military preparedness, character and fitness examination for lawyers, the need for a world court, mandatory continuing legal education, merit selection of judges, and professionalism. Whenever a matter of significance has affected our courts or our profession, the ISBA has addressed it.
Only time will tell whether our current work will measure up to our predecessors'. However, a look at the issues we have addressed in recent years shows that current leaders share the passions of those who went before. Recent ISBA initiatives have dealt with limited scope representation, juvenile justice, social media, the role of politics in judicial selection (and the need for revised judicial disqualification standards), court funding, the need for affordable CLE, fighting against non-lawyer involvement in the practice of law, civil/marital rights, and legal education reform. Add to that the activities of our more than 70 standing committees and section councils, and you see the scope of our impact.
Our challenge for the future - as it has been in the past - is to continue the role we have played, do play, and need to play as the largest organization of lawyers and judges in the state in addressing the important questions of the time. In the words of Lincoln confidante and U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Davis, who led the ISBA in 1884, "Administrations may go and come. Stocks may rise and fall. Parties may win and may lose, and even fees may shrink...[b]ut the Bar Association manages to survive all these shocks...." With the benefit of hindsight, we see that in the years since Justice Davis was ISBA president, our Association has not just survived but thrived.
In three months, when I join the ranks of ISBA past presidents (taking a seat in one of our mythical overstuffed chairs), I will be grateful to have worked closely with so many of you this year. The Association is addressing the most important questions affecting our profession. May it ever be so.
A history of the ISBA's first 100 years appears in a series of articles published in the Illinois Bar Journal January through May of 1977. For a copy, contact Jean Fenski at email@example.com.