President's Message

Legal Access Job Corps will be a main priority for the coming year


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Photo of James R. Silkenat by Marc Hauser.

The coming year for the American Bar Association is an important one. We need to build on our strong foundation of programs, projects and leadership, most recently under the guidance of my predecessor, Laurel Bellows.

One of the ABA’s great challenges is to balance our responsibilities to serve our members and to protect and enhance our justice system. These goals are not mutually exclusive, and we are not doing our best unless we give direct attention to both.

The ABA’s sections, divisions and forum committees provide outstanding CLE, publications, and other programs and resources, including numerous opportunities to connect with lawyers from across the country and throughout the world. Such benefits of membership are why many of us joined the ABA in the first place: to learn our craft more fully and to gain greater competence as lawyers.

But our vocation is not just a job. We belong to a profession that is a key part of our democracy and a free society. We are officers of the court, and our justice system is central to the challenges we face as a society.

On many issues, the profession is in substantial agreement. We know the severe impact of budget cuts on state courts. A truly independent and fully functioning judiciary is central to everything we do as lawyers.

We know that legal education in the United States is the best in the world, but that it has to evolve to meet the many changes affecting our profession and society.

We know that women and minority lawyers face unfair hurdles in promotion and pay, and that our profession—to a large extent—does not look like the public we serve.

We know that access to justice is more than just a catchphrase. The Constitution guarantees it, but our justice system does not fully deliver it. Our profession’s long-standing and extensive support for the Legal Services Corp. and for more effective pro bono representation are important strategies to bridge the gap between legal needs and access to justice.

Though we have found substantial common purpose in a number of areas, we have not yet reached agreement on a host of issues involving our laws and justice system that are at the center of many of our nation’s troubles.

Even if we are not yet of one voice on these issues, lawyers can and should play an important role and make a difference on some of the most urgent and stalemated issues we face as a nation. Legal expertise throughout the ABA and elsewhere informs the debate and helps shape our nation’s policies on immigration, on gun ownership and gun violence, and on election law.

It is our duty to continue to expand the ABA’s unique and valuable contribution to the national discussion in these areas so that we can find better solutions. That is what lawyers do.

A main priority this year, one that meshes the ABA’s responsibilities to serve our members and to enhance our justice system, will be to identify ways to match underemployed lawyers with the unmet legal needs that exist all across our country. Our effort, known as the Legal Access Job Corps, will require the balancing of many interests and concerns, but it is an important one for the ABA to pursue.

Let me close with a word about the value of an independent legal profession and independent bar associations. In my legal practice, I have seen how other countries suffer when lawyers and judges are subservient to the government. I have observed the consequences when no national bar association provides the collective intellectual and moral muscle of lawyers and judges who insist on equal justice for all.

The ABA has helped provide our country with a justice system that, with all its problems, is the envy of the world. We can be proud of what the ABA does. With our commitment to fulfilling our full role as lawyers, we can help our country fulfill its promise to all its citizens.

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