American Bar Association President Comes to Law School by Justin Steele

Mr. James R. Silkenat visited the law school yesterday on request from the Student Bar Association, Law Review, Mental Health Law and Policy Journal and the Public Action Law Society. Mr. Silkenat is the current president of the American Bar Association. Despite being the president of the ABA Mr. Silkenat is also a partner at the New York based law firm Sullivan and Worcester and a part of their corporate division. Mr. Silkenat has had a long and distinguished record of service at the ABA. Before his election by the ABA House of Delegates last year as the Association’s President-Elect, he was a member of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession and the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession. He also served as Co-Chair of the ABA Solo and Small Firm Leadership Coalition.

Yesterday, in the historic courtroom, Mr. Silkenat addressed the students, faculty, and some of the Memphis legal community on the progress and initiatives that the ABA is pursuing. Currently, the ABA is initiating the theme of the right to vote for this years Law day on May first. Mr. Silkenat believes that it is every American’s right to vote and current legislation being passed which requires more identification and more stringent rules at the polls to vote, is merely a political move to limit votes and voters. Most importantly, the president spoke and was asked about his views on different educational problems that have arisen in the last several years. To be more specific, Mr. Silkenat spoke on: concerns on the cost of legal education, the practice readiness of graduating law students, the length and breadth of study in law schools, the ranking of law schools, and whether the ABA has done the right thing for the legal industry by accrediting more law schools in the current job market.

One student asked Mr. Silkenat if he thought the ABA was being responsible by allowing more schools to reach accreditation while the legal industry was already so saturated with lawyers. To which Mr. Silkenat responded that he does not want ABA to pull up the rope on institutions that want to enter the legal education market, but only to set the standard and allow schools to reach it. As for the number of graduating lawyers entering the market, Mr. Silkenat believes that the problem is not too many lawyers but rather, the lawyers graduating are not going into the fields that are wide open. One of these fields is the area of public interest work, helping the poor or less fortunate in a community receive legal advice that is affordable. Because of the lack of lawyers willing to do free or reduced work for the less fortunate in a community, Access to justice has become a very a large issue for the ABA and not an issue that can be expressed or explained in a few paragraphs.

All in all, it was a good explanation of the future goals and initiatives that the ABA is concerned about and working toward.

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