Laurel G. Bellows of the Bellows Law Group P.C. views being an attorney as more than just a job, a fellow member of the American Bar Association (ABA) said.
Joseph G. Bisceglia of Jenner & Block LLP said Bellows believes lawyers are obligated to see that the legal needs of everyone get met.
"She has great sensitivity and interest in making sure there is complete access to justice, particularly for the underprivileged," Bisceglia said.
He said Bellows also shows "a great ability to motivate people."
These qualities make Bellows highly qualified to be the ABA's president, Bisceglia said.
And he said there was another reason to be pleased that Bellows now leads the largest voluntary bar association in the world.
"We're very, very proud of the fact that she's a Chicagoan," Bisceglia said.
Bellows began a one-year term as ABA president at the close of the group's Annual Meeting on Tuesday.
One initiative the ABA will pursue during her presidency is a campaign against human trafficking, Bellows said.
She said forcing people to provide labor or sexual services generally is not a one-time crime.
"You sell a gun once. You sell a hit of drugs once," Bellows said. "But if you capture a human being, you can resell their body infinitely."
U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Kendall will assist on the project, Bellows said.
She said Kendall will teach first responders — prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and police officers — how to distinguish trafficking victims who were forced to commit crimes from offenders who acted from their own free will.
Also, the ABA Task Force on Human Trafficking is working with the Uniform Law Commission to draft a model statute that criminalizes trafficking, Bellows said.
And she said the task force is developing standards of conduct to help businesses avoid obtaining goods or services from sources that use forced labor.
Another priority Bellows has set for her presidency is improving cyber security.
"Each day, government and private enterprise and individuals are the subject of cyber attacks, which can range from the amusement of an individual hacker to an attack by a nation state," Bellows said.
She said the ABA will explore what types of legislation and corporate policies will strengthen digital security without trampling on the right to privacy.
And she said the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 is examining how lawyers can protect their clients' confidential information when that information gets kept in electronic form.
During her presidency, the ABA also will continue its efforts to ensure that state courts have adequate funds, Bellows said. Those efforts will be led by William T. "Bill" Robinson III of Frost, Brown, Todd LLC in Florence, Ky., and Stephen N. Zack of Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP in Miami.
Robinson and Zack will implement recommendations made by the ABA Task Force on Preservation of the Justice System in a report that will be released within a few weeks, Bellows said.
Another initiative Bellows will pursue during her year as president involves promoting gender equity in the legal profession. Only about 16 percent of equity partners in law firms are women, and minority women are leaving firms in large numbers, she said.
She said the ABA will take steps that include drafting a model compensation policy for law firms.
Bellows said the ABA also will explore ways to better educate lawyers and will examine the association's budget to see that it addresses future needs.
Robert A. Clifford of Clifford Law Offices said he had no doubt that Bellows will succeed.
"Laurel will be an outstanding representative of the profession because she has a complete understanding of the organizational needs of the ABA as well as an appreciation of the nationwide issues impacting the legal profession," Clifford said.
Bellows, 64, earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania and then took a job with a small business. But she returned to school at the urging of her mother, Lois Gross.
"She was a strong believer in the importance of economic independence," Bellows said.
After graduating from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 1974, Bellows was hired as a trial attorney by the man who later became her husband.
Bellows said Joel J. Bellows "taught me everything I know about the practice of law."
Her husband also provided the support that allowed her to succeed, Bellows said.
"He taught me to fly, but he was always there with a safety net," she said.