By: Denise M. Champagne//August 13, 2013
By: Denise M. Champagne//August 13, 2013//
New York attorney James R. Silkenat is wasting no time in getting to work on a national legal agenda as the new president of the American Bar Association.
The corporate partner of the New York City office of Sullivan & Worcester LLP, according to ABA reports, announced a series of initiatives, beginning with increasing access to justice and a lack of jobs for new attorneys.
His one-year term began Monday when he accepted the gavel from outgoing President Laurel G. Bellows at the ABA’s annual meeting in San Francisco.
To get started on his key goals, Silkenat created the Legal Access Job Corps to address the unmet legal needs of disadvantaged communities and a surplus of lawyers in many parts of the country. He hopes to possibly link the two by having new attorneys begin their careers working for the poor. Finding funding to pay the attorneys will be a major challenge.
Silkenat would like to replicate programs, such as one in South Dakota where the government is funding young attorneys on a temporary basis to work in remote areas of the state that do not have lawyers.
He said the University of Miami School of Law has created a jobs program that places recent law school graduates in public agencies, public interest organizations and judicial chambers in Florida and other parts of the country for six months. Participants receive $2,500 a month and must attend weekly professional development sessions.
Another challenge is whether similar programs could be set up on a national basis or in other parts of the country. The task force will be looking for those answers.
To get things started, according to the reports, Silkenat has appointed three co-chairs: Allan J. Tanenbaum, general counsel and managing partner at Equicorp Partners LLC in Atlanta; Eric T. Washington, chief judge, District of Columbia Court of Appeals; and Patricia D. White, dean and law professor, University of Miami School of Law.
The goal is to have the task force issue recommendations in the fall for possible consideration by the House of Delegates at the midyear meeting in February in Chicago.
Also on Silkenat’s agenda are looking at immigration reform, election laws, gun violence. In addition, he talked about the impact of the $350 million cut to the federal judiciary last year and the upcoming 14 percent reduction in October as part of the federal budget sequestration.
Among the many people congratulating Silkenat was New York State Bar Association President David M. Schraver, speaking on behalf of the state association’s 76,000 members.
“Few people have come to the ABA presidency more qualified or better prepared to serve than Jim Silkenat,” Schraver says in a NYSBA release. “Jim is an extraordinary attorney and an extraordinary leader who will work tirelessly for the betterment of the legal profession and society as a whole.”
Schraver, a partner in the Rochester office of Nixon Peabody LLP, and Silkenat, who is also active in the state bar association, have already begun working together with the state bar leadership and its ABA delegation to address issues such as gun violence, human trafficking and the future of the legal profession.
“The legal community faces many challenges in the next year, including budget cuts in our courts, a re-examination of our legal education system and an increasing demand for legal services for the poor,” Schraver said. “As it has in the past, the American Bar Association will be called upon to play an active role in addressing these and other challenges.
The New York State Bar Association hosted a reception for Silkenat on Monday evening at The Moscone Center West in San Francisco where the annual ABA meeting took place Thursday through Tuesday.
“I am privileged to serve as president of the New York State Bar Association at the same time that Jim Silkenat serves as president of the American Bar Association,” Schraver said. “I have known Jim for many years. He is as courteous and generous as he is knowledgeable and capable. He will make a great president of the American Bar Association. We wish him all the best.”
Silkenat is the 21st New Yorker to lead the 410,000-member ABA and the first since Robert MacCrate in 1987-88. MacCrate is senior counsel at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP in New York City.
Silkenat, a life fellow of the American Bar Foundation, will serve as president until the next annual meeting in August 2014 in Boston.
Silkenat focuses his practice on international joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions, privatizations, project finance transactions (in developed and developing countries) and private equity investment funds.
He has substantive industry experience in energy, hotels, manufacturing, transportation and telecommunications.
He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and of the American Law Institute, has served as a fellow in the U.S. State Department Scholar/Diplomat Program and was a fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
In 2000, he received the Outstanding Alumni Award for Career Achievement from Drury University and in 2007 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the ABA Section of International Law.