NEW YORK -- Bathed continually in television lights and strobes, accompanied by camera crews and autograph collectors as doggedly as by her security guards, praised from every podium by lawyer after lawyer after lawyer, Attorney General Janet Reno spent the weekend enrapturing the American Bar Association.
With few celebrated male lawyers around this year, with a triumphal appearance by Justice-to-be Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and quite possibly with the bar group's first female president on the horizon, the ABA convention now under way at a constellation of hotels in midtown Manhattan has been an affair to remember for women.
But it is Ms. Reno, the first woman to head the Justice Department, who has been the undeniable star of the proceedings. Over two days of receptions, speeches, and encounters in the corridor, she has wielded the same combination of bluntness and folksiness, openness and humility that has charmed the nation. But before her fellow lawyers, she added some new and ingratiating ingredients.
She thanked them for teaching her, invited them to stop by the Justice Department, praised them repeatedly for doing what she called "wonderful things for their nation, their state, their communities." Never, she said, was she so proud to be a member of the association.
Whatever criticism she sent their way was gentle -- less faulting them for what they had failed to do than urging them to aim even higher and do even better, particularly on behalf of the nation's children.
"I love lawyers," she declared with gusto. Once the applause subsided, she added, "And nothing can make me madder than lawyers: lawyers who are indifferent, lawyers who don't care about others, lawyers who are too preoccupied with themselves."
The lawyers' responses to Ms. Reno contained no such caveats. They gave her still more of what she called "the approval and gushiness" that had been lavished on her in the last four months.
Children, perhaps for the first time since the days of Robert F. Kennedy, asked an attorney general for her autograph. Admiring lunchtime listeners fought with waitresses for scarce floor space to give her standing ovations. From lectern after lectern, people said Ms. Reno needed no introduction, then introduced her effusively.
One speaker, Cory Amron of the ABA's commission on women in the profession, called the attorney general "unflappable in situations where others would be shaken, accountable where others pass the buck, visible and accessible where her predecessors were not."
Neal Sonnett, head of the ABA's criminal justice section, was equally laudatory.
"All of us who believe in the administration of justice, who believe that the justice system is on a fast track to collapse and needs desperately to be improved, who believe in fairness and the Bill of Rights and constitutional liberties, are as happy as any human beings could be that she serves us as attorney general of the United States," he said.