New ABA president pledges to work on legal jobs, access to justice

CHICAGO (Legal Newsline) -- James Silkenat, a partner in the New York office of Sullivan & Worcester, took office Tuesday as president of the American Bar Association.


The ABA held its annual meeting in San Francisco. It wrapped up Tuesday.



Silkenat, who is a member of the law firm's corporate department, will serve as the association's president until the close of its meeting next August.


Silkenat said he plans to help develop a Legal Access Job Corps, which will seek to address the country's growing unmet legal needs and the underemployment of recent law graduates.


"Instead of looking at the dearth of jobs and the large number of unmet legal needs as two separate silos, we will find ways to match young lawyers who need practical job experience with disadvantaged clients who need legal assistance," the new president said.


Silkenat said the ABA also would continue its advocacy for proper funding of state courts. He also warned about the consequences of sequestration on federal courts.


Sequestration refers to a set of automatic federal spending cuts put into law by the Budget Control Act, signed by President Barack Obama in August 2011. The legislation raised the debt ceiling and was intended to put pressure on Congress to come up with a longer term plan for deficit reduction.


The $1.2 trillion in budget cuts, which were triggered March 1, will be spread over nine years and are equally divided between domestic and defense-related spending. The cuts are set to end in 2021.


For the remaining fiscal year 2013, the spending reductions are about $85 billion alone.


In May, the U.S. Judicial Conference asked the White House for $73 million in emergency funding to address what it calls "critical needs" resulting from the cuts.


The emergency funding would replace only a small portion of the $350 million in funding reductions imposed upon the federal courts by sequestration.


Sequestration "particularly imperils the delivery of effective legal representation to poor people accused of federal crimes," Silkenat said, noting that "the $350 million reduction in the federal judiciary's budget for fiscal year 2013 has resulted in an 8 percent cut to the network of high-quality federal defender offices around the country.


"It has forced the layoffs of many experienced lawyers who have devoted their professional careers to the underappreciated and underpaid work of representing indigent federal defendants," he said.


"This is a deep embarrassment for a nation grounded on the rule of law."


Silkenat has been a member of the ABA's House of Delegates -- the policy-making body of the association -- since 1990.


A frequent author and lecturer, he is the editor or co-editor of 14 books and author of more than 100 articles on legal and justice system issues. His books include: "The Law of International Insolvencies and Debt Restructurings," "The Imperial Presidency and the Consequences of 9/11: Lawyers React to the Global War on Terrorism," and "The ABA Guide to International Business Negotiations."


In his legal practice at Sullivan & Worcester, Silkenat helps coordinate the firm's international business practice and concentrates on the areas of project and infrastructure finance, banking, securities law, mergers and acquisitions, and corporate law.


A native of Kansas City, Silkenat received his undergraduate degree from Drury College in Springfield, Mo. He earned his law degree from the University of Chicago School of Law, and a master of laws in international law from the New York University School of Law.


The ABA, founded in 1878, is a voluntary bar association of lawyers and law students.


From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

More Stories