Posted Aug 01, 2013 09:20 am CDT
What a year it has been. In the past 12 months, we have watched unsettling events, including the constitutional crisis that pushed Egypt into turmoil, the civil war that continues to destroy families in Syria, and terrible bloodshed in Connecticut, Boston and elsewhere.
At the same time, we have seen the sustaining power of human resilience as demonstrated by the millions who rallied for solutions to violence against women in India after the brutal gang rape and death of a 23-year-old woman. And we were jubilant when human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa in Zimbabwe was released from prison as demanded by people around the globe—including the American Bar Association.
Lawyers are different folk. We are trained to think differently. The concepts of liberty and justice are on our minds. Obviously, lawyers are not the only people who want to change the world, but we may be the only ones who recognize that lasting and just change must be consistent with the rule of law.
I have come to realize that without lawyers, the fight for justice would have been lost long ago. We have a sacred duty and responsibility to continue what at times may seem an uphill battle.
We lawyers are problem solvers. We give people hope; we give people their lives back.
We speak for those who would otherwise have no voice. We serve our communities, we represent the law and we are the key to a just society. Even as our attention is turned to struggles abroad, there is no shortage of issues that could alter the path of justice here at home.
During my time at the helm of the ABA, we mobilized against modern-day slavery within our own borders. We worked to eliminate gender discrimination in our profession, and we confronted significant national security and economic questions about the cyberwarfare confronting our nation and cybertheft threatening our clients. We lobbied successfully to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act with substantive improvements, along with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. We continue to advocate against the diminution of the attorney-client privilege. And the effort continues to fund our courts at the federal, state and local levels.
This is only a small sample of what we have accomplished in a year. The entities, directors, general staff and members of the ABA have made incredible strides. Your work is proof of how much we can accomplish when we work together.
Gone are the days when working as a lawyer was a one-discipline, one-time-zone, one-dimensional career. At the ABA, we are working hard to help all lawyers—from veteran practitioners to newly minted law graduates—find their way in this rapidly changing economy and profession.
But some things will never change about being a lawyer. Fundamentally, lawyers matter.
We matter because we are trained observers of the human condition and skilled advocates for positive change. We are compelled to speak against unfairness and act against injustice.
That is the role of lawyers. Every time an attorney stands to represent a defendant in court, every time a lawyer refuses to divulge privileged information, every time the justice system seeks to hold an individual accountable for a crime—lawyers show that they matter.
It has been a wonderful year. Thank you for the honor of leading the ABA. I leave you in the capable hands of incoming President James R. Silkenat, who will continue the great tradition of our association as a place for every lawyer. The ABA will always be where lawyers can develop their skills, network for business and build lifelong relationships. The ABA is the place where the passion of lawyers is harnessed for the defense of liberty and the pursuit of justice. Our ABA will always be the place where lawyers are inspired by the reality that we matter.