Bill Bay, Thompson Coburn partner and American Bar Association president-elect nominee, gave a wide-ranging interview to the ABA Journal on his optimistic outlook for the nation’s largest association of lawyers. The interview, “Bill Bay, the ABA's President-Elect Nominee, Hopes to Attract New Lawyers to the Association,” was published on June 1, 2023.
Bay told the publication that, when considering the future of the ABA, he see its greatest imperative as welcoming lawyers home to a place that is familiar and comfortable, but one that evolves with the changing nature of the practice of law.
Amid what the ABA Journal characterizes as rapid shifts in the legal profession, an increasing numbers of new lawyers, young lawyers and other lawyers are not seeing their interests align with those of members of the association.
“They don’t see the profession and the association the way we see it, and we’re not going to convince them by repeatedly saying they must join,” Bay said. “But if we want to continue to be the voice of the profession, we have to be the home of the profession. And if we’re going to be the home where every member feels welcome, we’re going to have to adapt and change.”
Bay said that he intends to focus on helping the ABA better meet the needs of the legal profession, but cautioned that changes should not compromise the association’s mission and goals. They can, however, promote the evolution of its methods, structures and even traditions.
“In thinking about broad principles, it’s to simplify and transform [the ABA] to meet the needs of new generations, rethink some of the things we’re doing or how we do them, listen and understand the myriad of member interests and then share resources to facilitate member connections,” Bay says.
Bay was selected as the ABA’s next president-elect nominee by the association’s house of delegates nominating committee at the ABA midyear meeting in February of this year. He will face an uncontested vote by the full house at the ABA annual meeting in Denver this August.
Mary Smith, the current president-elect and first Native American woman in the national role, will begin her one-year term as president at the close of the ABA’s annual meeting. Smith would pass the gavel to Bay after the 2024 ABA annual meeting in Chicago.
In the interview, Bay said that he believes his work has prepared him to lead the ABA, which he reiterates is facing “a critical time.” While all bar associations have a vital role to play in their communities, he says the ABA’s role is more important than ever for one simple reason.
“The world gets smaller every day,” he told the ABA Journal. “When I first started practicing, I traveled to federal and state courts within 10 miles of my office. Now I travel and practice in many places, as do the vast majority of lawyers.
“Change in practice requires a more robust and active national voice, and that’s the American Bar Association.”
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