FOR THE NEXT several days, Baltimore will have more than its share of legal eagles, as the American Bar Association convenes its mid-year meeting here. The ABA, long regarded as one of the ultimate old-boys establishment groups, is now under the leadership of its first woman president. When Patricia Cooper Ramo, 53, left law school, few law firms were hiring women. Today women lawyers still face unjust obstacles in many firms, but they are a major presence in the profession.
Under Ms. Ramo, the ABA is addressing a number of issues related to women, such as domestic violence and the difficulties women face in climbing the ladder in large law firms. More important, it is also grappling with problems facing the country's justice system as a whole.
At this meeting, the ABA is announcing a new initiative to provide help for judges, lawyers and others involved in high-profile trials who suddenly find themselves in the glare of public attention. No doubt Judge Lance Ito is only one of many people who wish, in retrospect, they had been able to call on a task force of people who had already been through such a grueling experience.
On Sunday, the meeting will focus on the federal judiciary, looking at the nomination process and the often-rocky road to confirmation, as well as examining what kinds of challenges the judiciary will face in the next century and whether those challenges will affect the skills and temperament needed in 21st century judges.
Another topic of great concern to the legal community is the fate of the Legal Services Corporation, the government agency that puts legal services within reach of people who could not otherwise afford a lawyer -- often the working poor. The LSC has become a favorite target of conservatives, but Ms. Ramo and other members of the ABA plan to continue their passionate defense of an agency that provides access to our system of justice, as well as an avenue for lawyers to contribute pro bono services.
Lawyers have a vested interest in keeping the legal system in this country strong. But then, so do the rest of us.