Main Street ABA combines member outreach, mentorship and visits to Boys & Girls Clubs
These words of St. Augustine, the 4th-century Christian philosopher, carry great wisdom, even in today's world and specifically for the president of the American Bar Association.
As my term approaches its halfway point, I have traveled the world, from Bermuda to Beijing, but I have not lost sight of the fact that it is the American Bar Association.
As part of my Main Street ABA initiative and as a way to fulfill the ABA goal of serving membership, I have committed to visiting at least two states a month where ABA leadership has not had the opportunity to visit recently. There, I speak with members of the local bar associations and law schools. I am proud to say that I have surpassed my goal. In fact, since I began my quest during the 2014-15 president-elect year, I have visited bar associations and law schools in more than 30 states, including Mississippi, where I was told that no ABA president or president-elect had been in 23 years and Portland, Oregon, where no sitting president had ever been.
By meeting fellow lawyers in their communities and listening to their opinions and concerns, I have developed a greater understanding of the many issues affecting our legal profession.
To build a pipeline for succeeding generations of lawyers, we must inspire young people. The Bible tells us to whom much is given, much will be required. Lawyers have a responsibility to give back, and that is why these Main Street ABA trips include visits to local Boys & Girls Clubs.
Growing up, I did not have a full appreciation for the ability of lawyers to make a difference and have an impact. I knew I wanted to do something meaningful, but the only lawyers I knew about were on TV. Being a lawyer was never something I considered until I was exposed to the possibility in college.
At every Boys & Girls Club I visit, there are young women and men yearning to do something important with their lives. But it can be difficult to aspire to be something you don't see. My aim is to open the windows they need to view new opportunities.
To help our youth see the diversity of our profession and to meet working lawyers, I have been inviting young lawyers and law students to join me for these Boys & Girls Club visits. These young lawyers and law students act as role models and mentors for the youths we meet. Many of the young lawyers walk away changed, too, and continue to work with the youths.
Three young ladies from the Boys & Girls Club of Houston joined me at our midyear meeting in Houston last year, meeting judges, lawyers, legal profession leaders and law students. When they first arrived, not one had any interest in the law. By the end of the day, they wanted to know what classes they needed to take in college to prepare for legal careers.
During our annual meeting in August, about 45 young people from the James R. Jordan Club in Chicago came to the ABA House of Delegates meeting to witness my inaugural speech and to meet with some of our wonderful young lawyers. It was a great experience for everyone.
I want my travels to broaden horizons, including my own. I want lawyers to know that the ABA cares deeply about all of its members. I want to see things in a new way. Instead of reading just one page, I want to read the entire book.
I will continue my outreach and travels and connect with as many members and young people as possible.
As the writer Susan Sontag once quipped, "I haven't been everywhere, but it's on my list!"
• ABA members can follow Paulette's progress through an interactive map at http://bit.ly/ABAPresTravel.
This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: "'Oh, the Places You'll See’: Main Street ABA combines member outreach, mentorship and visits to Boys & Girls Clubs."