Michael Greco, President, American Bar Association
by Nikki LaCrosse
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<<"I've learned from my travels in the last couple of years that the one lament that lawyers younger and older have is that it is becoming harder—there are more obstacles—to their doing the public service and pro bono work that they expected to do when they became lawyers," Greco says. "So the Renaissance initiative is addressing that lament; and more than that, we are finding ways to persuade the decision makers in law offices across the country about the need to free up more time so lawyers can develop more public service and pro bono work."
The commission is chaired by Washington, DC, attorney Mark Agrast and has Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and former special counsel to President Kennedy, Theodore Sorenson, as active honorary co-chairs. Greco feels that pro bono work offers immense benefits to all the parties involved. "It's a wonderful development thing for young lawyers to represent people in need. They develop their skills, develop a very strong sense of community involvement and helping other human beings." Greco continues, "So, it's good for the individual lawyer. It's good for the law office to make the morale higher. The lawyers in the firm are serving their community. It's good for the profession because we all feel better when we know we are doing things to enhance society's needs. Certainly, it's in the interest of the public that will be receiving that pro bono help."
Greco has also appointed a taskforce called Access to Civil Justice. "Seventy to eighty percent of the legal needs of the poor on the civil side go unaddressed year after year," Greco notes. "And that's after all the pro bono work that lawyers do and the funding from the government." He goes on to add, "The state of affairs is that we are not doing right by the poor of our country. We even have above the Supreme Court entrance in Washington, 'Equal Justice for All.' That's what we stand for. But when you look at the reality of it…the needs of the poor aren't being met."
Despite the issues he sees in the current U.S. legal system, Greco indicates that it is applauded overseas. "I've been doing a lot of traveling as president of the ABA. In country after country where I go, the respect for what the American lawyers and judges do is immense," Greco says. "There is a great deal of admiration for American lawyers and judges and our legal system. And the ABA is the voice that speaks to lawyers all over the world."
Greco has been active in the ABA for most of his legal career. He earned a B.A. from Princeton and a J.D. from Boston College. After a federal clerkship in D.C. and a fellowship in Italy, he returned to Massachusetts to begin private practice and joined both the Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) and the ABA. In 10 years, he was the president of the MBA and began to get very involved in the ABA. He has been on several important ABA committees, including the ABA Task Force on Terrorism and the Law and the ABA Standing Committee on Law and National Security, and he even chaired the Standing Committee on Federal Judiciary and the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities.
Greco knew early on that he wanted to be a lawyer. Born in Italy in 1950, he spent the first seven years of his life in war-ravaged Europe. After his family moved to the U.S., it became clear to Greco that lawyers held an important place in molding society and providing stability to governments and countries.
In private practice, Greco has been a successful trial lawyer for more than 30 years, specializing in the areas of business, employment, and real estate law. He has been a partner in the Boston firm of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham, LLP, since 2003 and was a partner at Hill & Barlow, where he practiced for 30 years before the firm closed in 2002.
Another topic that Greco is dedicated to is the separation of powers in the government. An ABA poll and the Terri Schiavo case in 2005 reaffirmed his decision to form the Commission on Civic Education and the Separation of Powers. The poll, which concluded about two weeks after he became president, stunned him when it revealed that 40 percent of people polled did not know there were three branches of government; 22 percent thought that the three branches were Republican, Democrat, and Independent; and 40 percent misunderstood judicial responsibilities, thinking, for example, that judges can declare war.
"That was after the Terry Schiavo debacle, in which members of Congress were criticizing state court judges and enacting law to take the case from the state courts to the federal courts. And when the federal courts decided it the same way as the state court, then the federal judges were attacked by Congress and others across the country." Greco remembers. "And I thought, 'Holy smokes!' There is such a lack of knowledge and understanding about how our system of government works that the ABA has a role here to educate people, and that's the purpose of our commission on Civic Education and the Separation of Powers."
How to keep judges and courts safe from attacks by special interest groups or individuals is one answer that Greco hopes the Commission will come up with. "In a democracy, we all have the right to speak out," Greco says, "But the whole system will collapse if we say, 'That judge decided that case on that hot-button issue wrongly, so let's get rid of him or her.' That creates disrespect for the judiciary, creates instability in our most important branch of government of the three."
Greco hopes that his Commission's findings will sound a note of warning to those who want to influence the courts. "It is irresponsible for members of one elected branch to attack the judiciary and threaten impeachment or the withholding of salaries or resources. It's irresponsible because it cuts right to the heart of our government and our democracy. And I'm hoping that those members of the legislature will think twice about continuing those efforts and instead look at how judges can be protected to do justice and to be fair and impartial and not have to toe any ideological lines that people want them to toe."
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