« Veep, S5E6 | Main | Is Marital Trust Overrated? »

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

So, What Exactly is the ABF?

Thanks to Sarah and Howard for re-inviting me to post about the American Bar Foundation (ABF). Many PrawfsBlawg readers may already know what the ABF is and what it does, but since I became the new ABF Director back in the fall, I’ve learned not to take anything about the ABF for granted. So, let me begin by describing what exactly the ABF is.

Since I’m a historian, let me start with a brief history. The ABF was founded in 1952 by the American Bar Association (ABA) to be an independent research institute for the empirical study of law. The founding fathers (and they were unsurprisingly all men) were leading ABA members, including then ABA President Robert G. Storey. They all believed the organized bar ought to have a research affiliate that studies issues relevant to understanding how the law works on the ground.

But more importantly they also believed that the American legal profession had a public duty to help improve the “machinery of justice,” as they put it. And one way to do that was to create a research center dedicated to the objective and independent study of law, legal institutions, legal processes.

Over time, the ABF has become one of the premier research institutes for the empirical and interdisciplinary study of law. Although it is often confused as being a part of the ABA, the ABF has consistently been an autonomous and impartial research institute. Since I’m also a tax law scholar, let me point out that the ABF is a 501(c)(3) non-profit; whereas the ABA is a 501(c)(6), which means it is a non-profit “commercially-oriented” organization. The ABA, as the official voice of the American legal profession, is permitted to lobby government and engage in political activity, whereas the ABF is not. Contributions to the ABF are also tax-deductible, but those to the ABA are not.

More colloquially, most people who know something about the ABF often describe it in a number of ways. For some, it’s a kind of law school without law students, or something akin to think-tank focusing on law. Think of it as a cross between the Russell Sage Foundation or the Institute for Advanced Study and the Rand Institute for Civil Justice. Given our roots in the legal profession, the ABF is not quite a pure science research institute, but neither is it purely an applied ABA “lawyer’s workshop.”

Like the other research institutions mentioned above, the ABF has a research faculty that consists of a group of full-time researchers, mainly social scientists and legal scholars, and a group of joint-appointees from Chicago-area schools. This group of research faculty conducts empirical and interdisciplinary research on law, writ large. In my next post, I’ll describe in greater detail some of the classic and recent ABF research projects.

Posted by Ajay K. Mehrotra on May 31, 2016 at 07:22 AM in Blogging, Life of Law Schools | Permalink

Comments

Post a comment