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ABA President-Elect Silkenat Tells of Plan to Create Legal Job Corps

Posted Aug 7, 2012 11:58 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss and James Podgers

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James R. Silkenat.
Photo by Kathy Anderson.

ABA President-elect James R. Silkenat told of a plan to create a legal job corps to match unemployed lawyers with underserved communities during a speech to the ABA House of Delegates on Tuesday.

Silkenat, who becomes ABA president in 2013, said there is a need to find meaningful jobs for lawyers and to make sure all parts of society have access to legal assistance. “Access to justice is more than just a catchphrase,” he said.

Silkenat told the ABA Journal that the job corps would operate in both cities and rural areas. A few law schools have tried to implement the idea, he said, but “the ABA is the only party that can put it together nationally.”

During the speech, Silkenat outlined a range of priorities, including improving diversity in the profession and increasing ABA membership. He also talked about three hot-button issues: the death penalty; the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision finding that corporations have a First Amendment right to support political candidates; and legislative efforts to control gun violence.

He asked these questions:

• Is the need for retribution so all-encompassing that society can overlook errors in the death penalty process? The ABA’s stance in favor of a moratorium should be adopted more widely, he asserted.

• Is free speech following the Citizens United decision so one-dimensional that we allow our leaders to be chosen based more on the money they raise than the policies they endorse?

• Is it necessary to allow guns in our universities and public parks to maintain Second Amendment rights? Can’t we provide common-sense protections from assault rifles and unlimited sales of ammunition? Maybe lawyers can lead when legislators have failed to do so, he said.

In the ABA Journal interview, Silkenat acknowledged the political sensitivities of issues related to guns and the Second Amendment. “Gun violence is the way we are looking at this. We need to make sure the ABA has all the facts on the issue right from the beginning,” he said. But in seeking new approaches to the issue, he said, “Lawyers are the ones who can develop ways to make that happen.”

“Lawyers have always had a special role to play in U.S. society,” he said during his speech. “Lawyers make a difference; we make a difference.”

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