President's Message

Service Is our Theme

Lawyers Have Insights for At-Risk Youth; Bar Retirees Have Talent, Vitality to Spare

Posted Sep 24, 2006 5:21 AM CDT
By Karen J. Mathis

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Think back. What originally attracted you to the practice of law? For many of us, it was the desire to do good.

This is what I love about people in the legal profession. We serve because it is our nature.

Service is what drew many of us to the law. It is the guiding principle behind what we do from the bar and from the bench.

Service is the theme for this bar year. It is through ser­vice that each of us becomes better, stronger and more val­uable to the world around us. When we serve, we are more productive members of our communities. We are better protectors of our legal system. We are better citizens.

This is a complicated time in America, and a complex time in the lives of lawyers. But whether we prosecute or defend, draft legislation or help clients comply with it, we serve the legal sys­tem, and through it, our country. Our training and work prepare us to serve others.

The American Bar Association prepares us, too. The desire to serve the profession is what brought many of us to the ABA: We recognized that membership in the association offered an ideal way to improve the legal profession and our country’s justice system.

This year, we will recognize and support, encourage and build upon the association’s tradition of service. The ABA will reach out to both ends of our nation’s age continuum through two exciting initiatives: Youth at Risk and Second Season of Service.

As lawyers and judges, we can use our unique skills and vantage point to play a new role in helping our nation’s most at-risk youth. America’s youth are our most important asset--our future is in their hands. Yet many young people face problems that are getting wider, deeper and more complex.

We see this in the growth of girl gangs and the dramatic rise of adolescent girls in the juvenile justice system, in foster children released to the streets at age 18 with little preparation for life, and in the failure of courts and schools to assist difficult-to-parent children and status offenders such as truant students.

We can also work to creatively address a time of fundamental change in our profession: the retirement, over the next 10 to 15 years, of 400,000 baby boom-era lawyers. That represents nearly half of all practicing lawyers in Amer­ica, and a large percentage of our judges, law professors and senior partners.

What’s more, these retirements are a potent source of volunteer time and talent. Like baby boomers in other fields, lawyers are re­inventing retirement, and many of us are wondering what we will do with “the rest of our lives.” Statistics suggest that as many as 40,000 lawyers a year will begin entering “active retirement.” If each retiring lawyer gives 50 hours of volunteer service, one workweek for a typical lawyer, we will soon have a 2 million-hour resource for good each year!

Scouting Ways To Help

Already, we are under way. this summer, the ABA formed a partnership with the Girl Scouts of Chicago. Together, using volunteer lawyers as trainers, we have developed an eight session program that teaches young girls about violence prevention and about possible careers in the law and justice fields. The girls selected to participate are from troops in some of the city’s most at-risk neighborhoods. We hope to roll out a national program with the Girl Scouts in Miami at the 2007 ABA Midyear Meeting.

We’ll also continue the association’s outstanding work in promoting the rule of law. This month, the ABA will host a presidential conference on the rule of law, co-sponsored by the International Bar Association. This two-day event will be held in Chicago in conjunction with the IBA’s fall meeting and the ABA’s Section Officers Conference. Participants will look at issues of human trafficking, women’s rights, economic development, corruption, independent judiciaries, the media, corporate responsibility, the environment and public education.

We are privileged to be America’s lawyers. It’s our time to “pay it forward.”

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