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Picture of William Johnston

August 6, 2023

Candidates Forum

ABA Annual Meeting

Denver, CO

William D. Johnston Remarks

Good morning!


Fellow members of the Nominating Committee, friends one and all. It’s a pleasure to be with you this morning in The Mile High City!


And it’s again a special pleasure to appear before you with Michelle and Jonathan.


I am sorry that my wife Mary can’t be with us because of family commitments in Delaware.


In New Orleans, I spoke with you about the critically important role of the House of Delegates as the policy-making body of the American Bar Association. True to that role, the next day, the House articulated certain new policy positions in adopting resolutions. In turn, President Enix-Ross was able to give voice to those positions, the ABA’s lobbyists were able to advocate them, and the positions could be  reflected in amicus briefs filed on behalf of the Association. None of this could have been done without the vitally important work of the House of Delegates.


During and after the Midyear Meeting, I had the pleasure of speaking with many of you.


I learned so much from our conversations. It was helpful to hear what you think is working well (and even very well) in the House, and also to hear where you think there may be room for improvement.


I visited with -- and had the benefit of hearing from -- state, local, and affinity bar association leaders as well as leaders of ABA sections, divisions, and forums. In meeting, for example, with leaders of many Western States bar associations, I gained a better understanding of the challenges that members of mandatory bar associations face, including in our House of Delegates. In meeting with leaders of affinity bar associations, I gained a better understanding of challenges that those bar associations face and of opportunities that the ABA has to collaborate with those associations. In meeting with leaders of ABA sections, divisions, and forums, I gained a better understanding of those entities’ needs, especially as ABA General Revenue Funding continues to diminish.


All of these conversations reminded me of why I became involved with bar associations and ABA entities in the first place: to be a member of a community, a community that makes a difference for its members and the broader society; to benefit from a sense of belonging to that community; and to partner with others in giving back (or paying it forward). After all, isn’t that what we are all about in the House of Delegates?


The helpful thoughts that I have heard from others throughout the country have reinforced for me the importance of at least four key areas of focus in the House, if I am fortunate enough to serve as your next Chair:

First, ensuring that every voice is heard in the House, especially the voice of young and early career lawyers. Embracing and celebrating diversity in all respects, including diversity of thought. And inviting meaningful debate.


Second, maximizing the experiences of members of the House – through meaningful House committee involvement (including leadership roles) and through assisting delegates in comfortably and confidently navigating meetings of the House (including accommodating delegates with disabilities).


Third, continuing to improve the operations of the House and abiding by the imperative that resolutions must advance one or more of the four goals of our Association.


And, finally, fourth, being attentive to the needs of the “Main Street Lawyer” and the clients of those lawyers – attorneys who practice as solo or small firm practitioners and who continue to make up approximately two-thirds of our profession.

So, what makes me the most qualified person to lead the House as your next Chair in pursuit of these key areas of focus, as well as the most qualified person to lead the House through whatever else may happen?


More to the point, what is it that has caused others to support my candidacy?


If you were in New Orleans, you heard my dear friend Joy Phillips, State Delegate from Mississippi, offer the wonderful introduction of me and my candidacy. In thanking her at the time, I told her that I probably should have just sat down after the introduction! For that matter, I should probably do so now.


But, if you will indulge me, here is a sampling of what my supporters have kindly pointed to in endorsing my candidacy and urging others to support me:

  • My more than 17 years of service in the House, with more than 8 years of service as State Delegate from Delaware and, in that capacity, service as a member of the Nominating Committee;
  • My service as Vice Chair of the Steering Committee of the Nominating Committee;
  • My service on four committees of the House, including Rules & Calendar; Issues of Concern; Resolution and Impact Review; and Technology and Communications (which I now chair);

My supporters believe that these areas of service have given me insight as to how the House works and how we, together, can get things done in the House. They point to what they describe as “quiet leadership,” “having an open mind,” and “being prepared.”


My supporters also point to my leadership experience as a state bar president, as President of the American Judicature Society, as Chair of the ABA Business Law Section, and as President of the American Counsel Association. They believe that these experiences have given me a valuable dual perspective that I would bring to serving as Chair of the House – being sensitive to the concerns of bar associations and of ABA sections, divisions, and forums (as well as Affiliated Organizations). My approach as a leader always has been – and always will be – to partner with those who came before me and with those who will follow me.


And my supporters point to my life-long dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion. They point to my work, even as a teenager, to bridge racial, ethnic, and other divisions. They point to my 24 years of service on the Delaware State Human Relations Commission, appointed by four governors of different parties and seeking to guard against – and address -- discrimination. They point to my service as Co-chair of my law firm’s Diversity Committee and to my continuing membership on that committee. Last, they point to my service as a member of two ABA Goal III entities, by presidential appointment – first the Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity and, for the past two years, the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. (I’m very appreciative that President-Elect Mary Smith has asked me to serve on that Commission for a third one-year term.)


Again, thank you, Joy and my other supporters, for your confidence.

* * *

The key to accomplishing the vitally important work of the House of Delegates will be to continue to partner with one another. That may sound like the obvious. But our challenge, our call to action, is to collaborate in the most positive way – to build on the best of past and present practices, and to always, always be open to new ideas. Together, we can be -- and must be -- positive “change agents.”


I am most grateful to those members of the Nominating Committee who already have endorsed my candidacy. If you haven’t yet done so, I hope I can earn your support. And, to all, I very much appreciate your consideration.


Thank you very much!

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