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Oral History Program

In 1974 the Board of Directors of the American Bar Foundation authorized the organization of an Oral History Program for the purpose of assembling a historical record about the legal profession and the organized bar. During the following two years Olavi Maru of the American Bar Foundation conducted over fifty interviews with a group of legal professionals that included Lewis Powell, Dallin Oaks, Geoffrey Hazard, Jr. and A. James Casner as well as a number of former and current officers of the American Bar Association.

Many of the interviewees had been active in ABA affairs as early as the 1930s and witnessed watershed events not only in ABA history, but American legal history in general. Drawing on their long history of service in key leadership positions, the interviewees offered their opinions regarding the ABA's influence on public policy and the federal judiciary, insights not found in traditional documentary histories. Members of the Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary described the process by which nominees to the Supreme Court and lower federal courts were scrutinized. Some interviewees helped defeat Franklin Roosevelt's Supreme Court "packing" plan in 1937 while others worked to secure passage of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. In addition to these celebrated events, several interviews illuminate the nature in which the ABA sought to influence federal legislation through its Washington office.

Many of the subjects discussed in these interviews resonate to this day. Like American society in general, the legal profession experienced profound conflict during the 1960s and early 1970s.

Debates over specialization, certification, group and prepaid legal services, and advertising divided the organized bar. These initiatives were all designed to achieve the same goal: to bring quality legal services to middle class Americans. Beginning in the 1930s, the legal culture of the United States had become increasingly complex for the average person to navigate. While the federal government had provided legal assistance to lower income Americans by the 1960s, the organized bar assumed responsibility for educating middle America on their rights before the law and in retaining effective legal counsel. However, the particular strategies that were to be implemented to achieve this goal generated much controversy. Nearly every interviewee is asked his opinion concerning these issues.

In addition to investigating the personal histories of the interviewees, Maru sought a deeper understanding of how the American Bar Association governed itself and the manner in which it exerted its influence outside the organization. Specifically, he investigated the nature in which the House of Delegates, the Board of Governors and the President interacted to craft long term policy and how the institutions of the ABA carried them to fruition.