President's Message

ABA's internationally focused entities provide education, professional connections

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Photo of James R. Silkenat by Marc Hauser.

My earliest involvement with the American Bar Association came about when the ABA put together its first delegation to the People’s Republic of China in the mid-1970s. The organizers wanted a young lawyer to participate. Because they knew me through my leadership in the New York bar community, they asked me to join the delegation.

Our series of meetings with China’s legal leaders and visits to the country’s legal institutions gave me a stimulating introduction to the ABA, especially its respected international scope. The ABA has been a vital part of my professional life ever since.

Nearly 200 committees and other groups throughout the ABA focus on global issues, including the Section of International Law, the association’s flagship international practice group. The ABA’s internationally focused entities provide education and professional connections for American and foreign colleagues in all practice areas.

Our international activities are a natural part of who we are and what we do. In our global society, virtually all U.S. lawyers come across international law issues. Business law, litigation and arbitration, labor and employment law, family law, estate planning, tax law and criminal law are just some of the practice areas that can easily include an overseas aspect.

One essential way that the ABA represents America’s lawyers is through our Task Force on International Trade in Legal Services. Clients want integrated, comprehensive services in the global business environment. The ABA therefore works closely with U.S. government agencies and foreign bar associations to ensure that American law firms can establish offices abroad, and that American lawyers overseas can associate with local lawyers and law firms. Likewise, new ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct ease the ability of foreign lawyers, often in collaboration with U.S. lawyers, to provide services to their clients in the United States.

The ABA’s international reach is also rooted in our goal to promote respect for the rule of law, both at home and throughout the world. In addition to the efforts of the Section of International Law and other ABA groups, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative works with in-country partners in more than 60 countries to build sustainable institutions and societies that deliver justice, foster economic opportunity and ensure respect for human dignity. The ABA launched rule-of-law projects in Central and Eastern Europe in the early 1990s after the dismantling of the Soviet Union. Our programs have since expanded to other regions of the world with the support of government and private donors.

The ABA also carries out its international advocacy through our Center for Human Rights. Key programs include the Justice Defenders Program, which provides pro bono assistance to human rights advocates around the world, and the Atrocity Prevention and Accountability Project, which backs efforts to hold perpetrators accountable for atrocities. In the past three years, these programs have provided about $1 million in pro bono legal assistance for more than 100 human rights advocates worldwide. They have also conducted education, dialogue and training in cooperation with the International Criminal Court and other groups.

The Center for Human Rights also provides research for “rule of law letters” sent by ABA presidents to foreign governments, expressing the association’s concerns about alleged intimidation, harassment or abuse of lawyers, judges and human rights advocates.

ABA members from Main Street to Beijing and beyond can be proud of the association’s global influence on behalf of lawyers and the rule of law. I encourage you to learn more about our range of international programs at and get involved in our activities. You will soon see, as I did when I began my career, that the ABA’s voice of America’s legal profession is a voice heard around the world.

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Global Partnership: ABA’s internationally focused entities provide education, professional connections.”

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