by Tom Gordon
The American Bar Association is cracking down on voices for change within its membership, including threats to the continuing existence of its Center for Innovation and wholesale changes to the Center's board that appear designed to neuter it. This crackdown came to light in conjunction with the ABA's cancellation of a piece that I co-authored for the Center for Innovation, which was scheduled to be published this week. Bob Ambrogi has throughly reported the story here.
I recommend reading Bob's whole piece, but in summary, here's what happened. I co-authored an op-ed with Maya Markovich of the Justice Technology Association arguing that allegations about poor and/or fraudulent service from the legal app DoNotPay demonstrate the need for nuanced regulation of legal service providers rather than the current system where restrictions on the unauthorized practice of law prevent most consumers from getting legal help from any service provider—good or bad.
The piece was scheduled to appear in the ABA Center for Innovation's biannual innovation trends report. The Center for Innovation has been one of the few places within the ABA that seems to understand the reality that the average American has no access to legal help because of the profession's refusal to permit innovation. The rest of the ABA must have realized this, though. It plans to purge the current board of the Center and appoint new board members loyal to its party line of steadfastly opposing any change to the status quo. In addition, the threat of budget cuts or even closure of the Center has made its staff and board understandably cautious about doing anything that might upset its ABA overlords.
As a result, the Center decided to pull the plug on our piece. Fortunately, Bob has agreed to publish the piece on his blog. The main issue here is not one op-ed, though, but the forces that prevented its publication.
The op-ed is, in Bob's words, "a short and relatively mild opinion piece arguing in favor of regulatory reform." One might think that an organization whose mission includes advancing the rule of law would welcome open debate about how we can better provide the protection of the law to all Americans. Instead, the ABA's behavior resembles that of governments that are trying to do away with the rule of law, including purges of those who raise difficult questions and censorship of discussions of important issues.