Though stories abound about how freshly minted lawyers have been having trouble finding work recently, Laurel Bellows, the president of the American Bar Association, says she's hopeful: "I want them to stay in the practice of law," she said. One solution she proposes is to have younger attorneys team up with older lawyers who have been forced into retirement by their firms.
Bellows, former president of the Chicago Bar Association, is head of The Bellows Law Group, a five-lawyer litigation and employment boutique in Chicago. As president of the ABA since August, she is focusing her one-year term on a range of issues, from human trafficking and cybersecurity to gender equality within law firms.
The National Law Journal, a Daily Report affiliate, sat down with Bellows on Nov. 16 for a question-and-answer session and then followed up with her by email. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
As ABA president, you've zeroed in on three initiatives: human trafficking, gender inequality and cybersecurity. What is the status of those programs?
We knew that we were going to take on the fight to eliminate slavery in sex and labor here in the U.S. We have to make Americans really angry and tell them we have slavery. We usually do model laws, and the states can tweak them as they choose. We hope to have a unified law signed on by the representative of all the states.
The reason it's important is because there aren't any [national] laws. It is a state-by-state approach. [But the ABA's is] a very national approach. Only the power of the ABA and the credibility of the ABA could convince the states to take this on.
We are getting the business lawyers engaged [in crafting] business-conduct standards [that can] clean supply chains of the use of slave labor. We are looking for voluntary action by the corporations of America. Let's eliminate the slave labor from anywhere in the supply chain. What if everyone had a one-page [handout] that said: "What are the 10 ways of identifying trafficking?"
We have slaves in our country in huge numbers. Atlanta and Seattle are your hubs. There is virtually no place untouched. The next part, we have lawyers who are training to take the profit out [of trafficking] by [bringing] civil RICO cases. Let's tighten penalties. If you're not afraid of going to jail, I think you are afraid of losing your profit.
Everyone has a different view of what equality means.
Women with children are not viewed the same way as a family man. A family man is dedicated and committed and dependable. He is the supporter of the family. How do we deal with that? Compensation committees are closed. Women are rarely represented on those committees.
We are tired of talking about bad news. We are working very, very hard on a model compensation policy for larger firms. It could be a 50-person firm or a 25-person firm. It will be a model compensation policy that will take the best out there and improve equity partnership.
How does a lawyer protect the intellectual property of [his or her] client?
It was very difficult for our [20/20 Hindsight] committee to suggest model regulations when nobody can protect [a computer system] against people who have the money and time to enter it. All we could do is say that you have a responsibility to use due diligence. [Firms] have spent a huge amount of money to protect their systems from becoming a path to other people's systems. At any level, you can spend millions of dollars.