ABA President-elect Patricia Lee Refo. Photo by Mitch Higgins.
ABA President-elect Patricia Lee Refo was recently reminded of the influence of lawyers in founding the country, she told the House of Delegates on Tuesday at the annual meeting in San Francisco.
As a native Virginian, Refo paid close attention to the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the first elected legislature, the original 22-member House of Burgesses. Nearly half of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were trained lawyers, she said, while more than half of the members of the Constitutional Convention were lawyers.
“Every lawyer in this House today and every lawyer in America shares that extraordinary heritage,” Refo said. “Our professional ancestors literally formed this great nation. Since then, lawyers of every political stripe have led us in the causes of civil rights, human rights, equality in all its forms, criminal justice reform and a multitude of other justice issues.
“And through your work in this body, and in the bar associations and lawyer groups you represent, you stand up to defend liberty and pursue justice every day.”
Refo told the House of Delegates that her job for the next year is to support ABA President Judy Perry Martinez and already has plans to travel with her to the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project in Harlingen, Texas, later this month.
“I can’t think of a better way to tell the public who we are as lawyers, because lawyers are the ones who ensure that people’s rights and civil liberties are protected,” Refo said. “Due process and the rule of law have no meaning if there are not lawyers to enforce them.”
Refo said she is energized by the future of the ABA. The association has tools and resources for all lawyers, judges and law students, she said, and its 3,500 entities continue to work on topics of wide interest across the profession.
The ABA will continue to fight for the rule of law and protect the independence of the judiciary, she said. It will also continue to fight for access to justice, promote diversity and inclusion, champion lawyer wellness and defend liberty.
In closing, Refo encouraged every person in the room—members and staff—to get at least one person to join the ABA by the midyear meeting in February. She told them to think of a person and make a note or calendar entry to contact that person as soon as possible.
“When you get that new member, if you’re so inclined—and I mean this—send me an email and tell me about your membership successes, and if you get turned down for a reason that you think the ABA can and should address, send me that email, too,” she said.
Refo said that making the new member-value proposition a success is “the personal job of every one of us.”
Refo will begin her year as president-elect at the close of the annual meeting, and her 2020-2021 presidential term will commence after the 2020 ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago.
Follow along with our coverage of the 2019 ABA Annual Meeting.