Much-criticised US first lady Hillary Clinton received a rapturous welcome from the ABA at its Florida convention.
Speaking at the Fellows of the Young Lawyers dinner, where she was awarded for her work on children's rights, she made a strong plea for the retention of government funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the country's only body which ensures free access to justice for the poor.
Leading Republicans in the House of Representatives have sought to cut the LSC's annual budget of around $300 million to zero in two years. Their plan has been out-voted, but cuts in the budget of up to $50 million are still in the offing.
Clinton, who has been heavily criticised for her alleged involvement in the Whitewater fraud, but who first rose to prominence in the ABA as a campaigner for women's issues, praised the ABA for campaigning for the LSC.
She said: “All of us who are lawyers need to speak more often about what it means to be a lawyer and what it would mean to our profession if we didn't have lawyers who were prepared to work full-time as legal aid lawyers so that people of all incomes and from all levels can have access to justice.”
She said her first job after leaving law school in Little Rock, Arkansas, had been to set up and run a legal aid clinic, an organisation which relies heavily on funding from the LSC.
“No experience was more important to me than my time as a legal aid lawyer. Now legal aid societies and the LSC have become part of American life. Last year the Legal Service programme helped five million people with illegal evictions and child support cases. Funding for the LSC has been slashed by a third and now there is a proposal to stop lawyers making private donations to legal aid.”
One US legal journalist commented: “The ABA is about the only forum where Hillary Clinton is still welcomed in this country. She was morale boosting here.”
US lawyers have been under attack for what is seen as a rise in litigation and excessive fees.