Annual Meeting

Outgoing ABA president touts job corps and efforts to address immigration, gun violence


James Silkenat addresses the House of
Delegates. Photo by Kathy Anderson.

In his end-of-term speech to the House of Delegates Monday morning, the ABA’s outgoing president James Silkenat detailed a long list of efforts by the association in the past year. These included his signature effort to fill unmet legal needs with work by new, underemployed lawyers; efforts to address the immigration crisis; working to confront the continuing tragedy of school shootings; trying to preserve the confidentiality of lawyer-client privilege in the face of the National Security Agency’s surveillance efforts; and pushing back against election campaign attack ads targeting candidates who happen to have represented unpopular clients as attorneys.

Noting recent crises in Gaza, Ukraine and on our southern border, Silkenat said there are “many injustices and no shortage of stories about human misery.” But there are some signs of progress, and “the association can make some headway on some of them.”

Silkenat also touched on another of his biggest concerns when he took office last August: gun violence, particularly at our schools. As he spoke, a large map of the U.S. was screened behind him, with markers for each school shooting since the tragedy at Sandy Hook in December 2012. There have been 74 of them since then.

An emotional Silkenat, choking up and eyes tearing, said, “If your town or city is not on the map and you want it to stay that way, then you as a lawyer and leader in your community need to do something.” The House of Delegates gave this the strongest applause of his speech.

Silkenat’s main project for the year, the Legal Access Job Corps, has begun to spread with efforts by state and local bars, law schools and others. He offered one example of a creative response: successful legislation in South Dakota for recruiting young lawyers to work in rural areas with significant legal needs.

The Legal Access Job Corps launched an ABA catalyst grants to support innovative programs, with funds going to six bar associations and law schools.

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