02/22/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 02/22/2021 17:57
The American Bar Association House of Delegates approved about 30 wide-ranging measures at its Feb. 22 session, including a resolution that urges the federal government to implement programs to assist law graduates and law students experiencing financial hardship due to their student loans.
The ABA House of Delegates, seen here at a past meeting, met virtually to debate policy resolutions concerning a variety of key legal issues.
ABA photo graphic
The one-day meeting of the 597-member ABA policy making body, known as the HOD, concluded the virtual ABA 2021 Midyear Meeting, which began Feb. 17. The policy proposals, which were typically approved by overwhelming margins, enable the ABA to lobby legislators and file amicus briefs in these policy areas.
Advocates for the student loan modifications in HOD Resolution 106C said that even before COVID-19 slowed the U.S. economy, many young lawyers struggled with their student loans given the legal profession's uncertain job market and their high student debt. Studies have shown recent law graduates carry an average of about $145,000 in student debt, while last summer the National Association for Law Placement reported that 49% of the law schools surveyed stated employers had rescinded employment offers and many other offers were pushed into 2021.
The new policy recommends extending loan repayment terms, allowing either refinancing or transferring of obligations to federal from commercial programs, and authorizing suspension or forgiveness of student loans in certain situations. A companion resolution that urged Congress to amend the U.S. bankruptcy code to ease restrictions on how student loans can be discharged in bankruptcy proceedings was withdrawn by the sponsor, the Young Lawyers Division, because of objections raised by other ABA entities.
As a help to some recent law graduates taking the bar exam, the House approved Resolution 105, which urges that the bar admission authority of each jurisdiction allow test-takers to bring menstrual products in opaque rather than clear containers, and recommends relaxing other restrictions now in place. Each jurisdiction develops its own rules and guidelines, and restrictions regarding menstrual products were cited as posing additional pressures and challenges to test-takers.
Two other new policies are geared to help lawyers and law students better manage their well-being and family life, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Resolution 300A encourages stakeholders in the legal profession to make resources accessible that advance well-being. Resolution 300B seeks government and other entities to provide adequate funding to ensure access to fair, affordable and high-quality childcare and family care as well as other resources for school-age children.
During debate, two measures drew verbal opposition, but both passed. Resolution 101A urges that governmental entities allow specially trained facility dogs to assist victims and vulnerable witnesses in any stage of the criminal justice system. It passed 202-135. Resolution 107C asks the Department of Defense to declare that HIV status alone should not disqualify a person for military services. ABA military-oriented entities sought to delay its passage to strengthen the resolution, but it passed 237-117.
Other resolutions approved by the House include:
The House also approved a change in its Rules of Procedure to add the requirement that future resolutions must advance one or more of the ABA four goals. Unified state bar associations, among others, had raised concerns about past HOD resolutions for lacking focus and being non-germane to the practice of law.
HOD action on all measures can be found here. Only proposals adopted by the House constitute association policy.