By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times Communities
CHICAGO, IL, July 6, 2013 – In the second half of our interview, Laurel G. Bellows, President of the American Bar Association (ABA) and Founding Partner of Bellows Law Group PC, shares recent and upcoming events related to anti-human trafficking efforts. In the first half of our interview, Laurel shared her passion for the cause and the ABA’s current projects, including the ABA Task Force on Human Trafficking, the ABA Fortune 100 Report, and the ABA’s “Voices for Victims: Lawyers Against Human Trafficking Tool Kit.”
Holly Smith: Laurel, please share any recent speaking events.
Laurel G. Bellows: Recent speaking events have included the John Marshall Law School Dean Fred F. Herzog Memorial Lecture in Chicago, focusing on human trafficking. Herzog, who left his native Austria when Hitler seized control, was a long-time champion of human rights.
I also spoke on human trafficking at the third annual Human Rights Summit hosted by the ABA’s Center for Human Rights. The summit surveyed the ABA’s activities and explored the legal profession’s unique potential to advance human rights globally.
Judges have become involved in our effort, and I recently gave a statement for a panel discussion on “Human Trafficking: How We Can Make a Difference,” presented by the National Association of Women Judges and the ABA’s Task Force on Human Trafficking. The panel was an outreach and education program for judges, civil attorneys, prosecutors, law enforcement, and other allied professionals to begin to work together to eliminate human trafficking.
I also had the honor to speak before the National Association of Attorneys General and the Conference of Chief Justices on uniting our state’s top lawyers and judges to stomp out trafficking in our nation and other crucial topics, including the funding of our justice systems and cybersecurity.
Holly Smith: Can you tell us more about your concerns for funding and cybersecurity?
Laurel G. Bellows: The ABA continues to emphasize our fear, not simply concern, about the destruction of our justice system caused by underfunding, both at the federal level and the state level. As we lobby for federal-court funding in our Capitol, we must also be talking about state-court budgets, which still only make up 2 percent of a state’s budget. Adequate court funding is an issue that the ABA is fighting state by state.
We are also very concerned about cyberattacks, which are probably the greatest short- and long-term threats to the financial and physical security of our country. The ABA is very concerned about protecting our lawyers’ and our clients’ confidential information. We are in the process of developing a cyber-response guidebook with practical cyberthreat information, guidance, and strategies for lawyers and law firms of all sizes. The guidebook will also establish what legal responsibilities and professional obligations are owed to the client. The book will provide strategies to help law firms defend against a cyberthreat and how to respond if breached. We expect the ABA Cybersecurity Guidebook — A Resource for Attorneys, Law Firms and Business Professionals to be released in August.
Visit www.ambar.org/cybersecurity for more information.
Holly Smith: Please share any recent awards or experiences.
Laurel G. Bellows: I am proud to be the recipient of the Women of Legacy Award from Powerful Women International and the 2012 ATHENA International Leadership Award, presented to leaders for achieving professional excellence and for assisting and inspiring women to realize their full personal and professional potential. This year marks significant equality-related anniversaries: the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, the upcoming 50th anniversary of the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. This is a time to celebrate our progress and remind ourselves of the work yet to be done. I have had the privilege to work alongside the ABA’s Commission on Women in the Profession and the ABA’s Task Force on Gender Equity to combat gender inequities in our profession and promulgate specific action steps to eradicate bias.
As for experiences, it has been an extraordinary honor to serve as the ABA’s president this year. I am proud of all the outstanding work that the ABA volunteers and staff have done, and continue to do, to advance the legal profession, protect our justice system, and improve our nation.
Holly Smith: Can you tell us more about the ABA’s Task Force on Gender Equity?
Laurel G. Bellows: The ABA’s Task Force on Gender Equity and Commission released the ABA Toolkit for Gender Equity in Partner Compensation in March. The tool kits were mailed to 120 major state and local bar presidents-elect and executive directors. We have also sent a message to the major women’s bars through the National Women’s Bar Associations. The tool kit outlines how to build fair compensation systems and how to implement them effectively. By the end of this summer at the ABA’s Annual Meeting, the ABA Gender Equity Task Force will release three more work products targeting three separate audiences: law firms, women lawyers, and general counsel. More information about these publications and more of the Task Force’s activities is available at www.americanbar.org/genderequity.
Holly Smith: Please share any upcoming events.
Laurel G. Bellows: I will serve as moderator for the panel “Combating Human Trafficking: Collaborative Solutions” at the fourth World Justice Forum in July in The Hague, Netherlands. The World Justice Forum is a global gathering designed to build and strengthen thriving communities by engaging business, government, civil society, academic, and other leaders to develop practical, multidisciplinary programs to strengthen the rule of law. During this panel, survivors will talk about their experiences, the services victims need, and what can be done to free them and prepare them for new lives.
Holly Smith: What has been your greatest achievement or most meaningful moment while advocating against human trafficking?
Laurel G. Bellows: Since undertaking this journey, I have been inspired by the numerous members of the legal profession and various stakeholders who have joined me in our shared mission to eliminate modern-day slavery in our nation. We have received an overwhelming response. We are opening people’s eyes to a crime, a human rights violation that happens next door, on the next block, or in the next town. We have also received many offers of assistance. People want to get involved, and we are encouraging lawyers and non-lawyers to step forward.
Holly Smith: What message about human trafficking or human rights do you most want to communicate to the public?
Laurel G. Bellows: Together, we must fight injustice in all its forms. The time is now to take a huge leap forward and stop our silence about the abuses that persist in our country. We must become the eyes and ears that give trafficking victims a voice.
Everyone has a role. The best way to get involved is through an experienced agency or organization that has assisted victims and is knowledgeable about the dynamics of trafficking. Many in the public have offered to donate time or money to the cause. Many of our collaborating organizations do not have enough funding to do the critical work they are doing to save lives. We are happy to help them every step of the way.
Holly Smith: How can the public help with your plight?
Laurel G. Bellows: Go to our website for more information and resources — http://ambar.org/trafficking. Anyone can take action — corporations, lawyers, and members of the public.
Also, through the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline (888) 373-7888; you can find local resources and organizations with experience in safely helping victims of trafficking, and you can learn how to identify victims. You can donate time or money to these local organizations, many of which are often underfunded.
Holly Smith: How can people reach you or your organization for questions or more information?
Laurel G. Bellows:
Visit our website: Ambar.org/trafficking.
Watch our video: Voices for Victims.
My email: Abapresident@americanbar.org