April 4, 2011

Q and A with ABA President Stephen N. Zack

ABA President Steve Zack gave his perspective on being the first Hispanic American President to Section of International Law Membership Officer Marcelo Bombau:

Q: How long have you been an ABA member?

A: I joined the ABA back in 1972, at the same time I got involved with the Florida Bar’s young lawyers and with the ABA TIPS section. When you join a bar, getting involved with a substantive section and with young lawyers are smart ways to ensure you get the most out of your membership. I made friends then who are still close to me today, and I learned a great deal about leadership, networking, and building a practice.

Q: You have accomplished many things as ABA President. Of which accomplishment are you proudest?

A: That’s like asking someone to say which child he loves the most, but several important issues are getting needed attention. First, we’re bringing a national spotlight to the many ways our justice system is at the breaking point, and raising awareness of how poorly funded our state court systems are. Second, as the ABA’s first Hispanic president I’m proud to see the ABA building new bridges to that community, and doing more to grow the percentage of Hispanics within the legal profession. Third, the ABA continues to make all the right moves strategically. With a new web site, aggressive lobbying and great leadership by Executive Director Jack Rives, the association’s value, vision and voice have never been stronger. We speak for the American legal profession at home and abroad, and do it very effectively.

Q: Do you feel a special responsibility as the first Cuban-American ABA president?

A: The loss of freedom in my lifetime is not theoretical to me, so our role as defender of the rule of law and the justice system is a personal, passionate cause. 

Q: What advice would you give to new lawyers today, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds?

A: All new lawyers should recognize that there is always a need for good lawyers, but most of the legal needs in this country are more Main Street than Wall Street. Pursue a career that enables you to do what you love, help people, and better your community.

Q: Do you have any account or experience that highlights how your cultural perspective helped you become even better at your job?

A: The night in my life, nearly 50 years ago, when I was detained by the Cuban equivalent of the KGB as my family tried to flee the country, left its mark on me forever. I didn’t know if I would go free, or ever see the rest of my family again. That feeling of helplessness and being wronged drove an interest in what is right--in justice--and led me to become a lawyer. All lawyers are at their best when pursuing justice and protecting their clients.

Q: What goals do you have for the remainder of your year?

A: To carry through the important work of protecting the courts, maintaining independence of the professional, and ensuring “Equal Justice Under Law.” Those words, carved in marble above the United States Supreme Court, are a promise to the American people that is not being kept. Access to justice is becoming a luxury that's out of reach for the poor, working class, middle class, and small businesses. The problem is getting bigger and more serious by the day. That must change.

Q: What do you see as the ABA’s long term diversity goals?

A: It’s simple: the legal profession must reflect the society it serves. We are not there yet and there’s a long way to go, given that Hispanics now make up more than 15% of U.S. society but less than 5% of all U.S. lawyers. The numbers are equally bad for other minority groups. America's global reputation is as a melting pot: its lawyers should demonstrate this. A diverse profession keeps the justice system connected to the people.

Q: What would you most like to be remembered for during your presidency?

A: I hope to be remembered for continuing the ABA’s tradition of speaking truth to power. There are so many threats to the system that are reaching a tipping point: we can’t fight for the rule of law overseas while losing it here at home. The ABA as an organization is committed to working on every front to preserve our justice system. Doing so requires civic education, so Americans recognize and appreciate the special role courts play in our system of checks and balances. It requires raising public outrage that the promise of equal justice under law is in danger of becoming a platitude rather than a reality because of lack of access to justice. The resulting outcry will help set civic education, legal aid and court funding as priorities. Years from now, let’s hope that, due to sustained leadership from the ABA lasting far beyond any one ABA presidency, the current justice system crisis will be a brief, unhappy chapter in U.S. history.


We’ll always have Paris

Few cities in the world are as iconic as Paris, France. Images of landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triumph, and the Louvre (with or without the modern glass pyramid, depending on your personal preference), are inextricably linked with the mystique of this famous location. Happy travelers to this unparalleled destination perhaps have more tactile memories of a perfectly flakey yet moist croissant, a rich and flavorful café au lait or even a delightfully bubbly glass of champagne!

Those of us who were fortunate enough to attend the 2010 Fall Meeting of the ABA Section of International Law have not only returned with lasting recollections from the many sights of our gracious host city but also from the outstanding programming that was presented during the course of our visit. One such program was the panel presentation sponsored by our very own Diversity Committee entitled, “Cultural Competency in a Global Arena: Diversity, Equality and Inclusion for the International Lawyer.” Designed to equip international legal practitioners with the cross-cultural communication skills requisite to successfully navigate the various challenges of a global practice, this presentation offered the opportunity to hear from speakers uniquely poised to offer guidance and wisdom from various perspectives. 

Our distinguished panel of presenters included: (i) Sara Sandford, the current Chair of the Diversity Committee, whose extensive experience representing Japanese companies and individuals in their business activities in the United States and conversely, advising U.S. clients concerning business activities in Japan, Canada and other Pacific Rim countries provided a rare glimpse into the complex differences between doing business in Asia and the U.S.; (ii) Sharon Jones, a lawyer by training and a highly successful diversity consultant who likewise had spent time working with Japanese business clients during her career, was able to provide additional valuable insight into the distinctions between cultural customs and mores in Asia and the U.S.; (iii) Martin Pradel, a partner with his prominent Paris firm who, in addition to receiving the esteemed local recognition of Secrétaire de la Conférence des Avocats au Barreau de Paris, has participated in numbers delegations on behalf of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) defending the liberties of those persecuted in countries such as Guinea, Turkey and Tunisia; and (iv) Kee-Yoon Kim, an associate with a well respected independent French law firm, who like Mr. Pradel, is also a past recipient of the honor of Secrétaire de la Conférence des Avocats au Barreau de Paris and was able to provide her valuable insight into the complex world of a young attorney with an international law practice. The program was moderated by Diversity Committee members Sandra Yamate, the Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession and Jennifer Hilsabeck, Counsel with Lewis & Roca LLP.

As advertised in the program materials, the panelists and active audience participants engaged in a rousing discussion of the importance of maintaining a high level of sensitivity when dealing with business contacts, clients and colleagues whose national identities, religious beliefs and cultural norms are far different from one’s own. As the program progressed, the discussion ventured into such intriguing subjects as the manner in which many countries around the globe track (or rather, purposely do not track) diversity statistics, to the various, and often malleable, definitions of “truth” around the world, including the implications of its less than clear definition in various legal representation and negotiation scenarios. Some of the most insightful and stimulating elements of this discussion developed as a result of audience members asking probing questions while sharing their personal experiences as context. It was this deep level of interaction amongst the panel members and program participants that allowed for an honest and frank discussion of diversity focused topics such as bias and cultural intolerance in an open forum rarely explored.

For those of you reading this who were unable to join us in Paris, we hope this brief discussion of our meaningful time together during the program has inspired you to join our Diversity Committee in its future endeavors. In addition to monthly conference calls where active participation is welcomed by attendees, the Diversity Committee sponsored a presentation at the 2011 Spring Meeting in Washington, D.C., and will do so again during the 2011 Fall Meeting in Dublin, Ireland. For more information please refer to the right hand column of this newsletter.

Welcome to the first edition of the Diversity Committee’s newsletter!  We consider this to be a wonderful next step in the Section’s continuing efforts to promote diversity within the Section and the international legal profession.  This newsletter will aim to include a variety of articles and announcements of interest on the topic of diversity, such as:

  • Reports on diversity seminars, programs and initiatives;
  • Announcements from our Committee, the Section and the greater ABA on diversity issues;
  • Academic articles on diversity-related topics; and
  • Portraits of Section members – as inspiration and to offer our readers concrete examples of how diverse our membership really is.

One of our Diversity Committee's goals is to make sure that all members of our Section have an opportunity to get involved and contribute their ideas and views to the mix, as the Section does its work. Our Section's members are diverse. They serve in a variety of capacities in the greater legal community, as representatives of government or non-governmental organizations, corporate counsel, advisors, private practitioners, law students and legal scholars. They represent an array of perspectives on the practice – some are retired and others newly admitted members of the bar.  A significant percentage of the Section's members come from outside the United States; 90 countries are represented. They bring a wide array of experiences, ethnicities, religions, cultures and perspectives to our Section.  Members can meet individuals from around the globe at any Section meeting or program and we aim to provide access to all who are interested.

Through our meetings, other communications and this newsletter, we seek to promote and celebrate the diversity that is represented in our Section. Our Section’s members have an incredible opportunity to make a difference in the global legal community by sharing ideas in a variety of legal contexts, whether in pursuit of a Rule of Law initiative or improving cross-border commercial transactions, whether helping reunite families or reduce nuclear proliferation, and whether our efforts affect one person or the world. Better ideas and innovations can be developed when we all take part in finding the solutions.

We also want to reach out to students to help them consider practicing law in an international context. We are developing curricula, as well as participating in Pathways programs as part of this effort. Programs take place periodically in many regions. If you are interested in serving as inspiration to the next generation, let us know. We can make sure you are informed when a program is planned near you.

If you wish to be involved with our Committee, please feel free to sign up.  You can do so by going to our webpage.  Just click on the link in the right hand corner which says, “Join the Diversity Committee.”

We expect to be publishing our newsletter quarterly and welcome contributions.  If you have something you would like to share, please contact Sandra Yamate at We welcome comments, feedback, suggestions and contributions, alike!

Thank you and enjoy,

Sara Sandford, SIL Diversity Officer


Diversity, Inclusion and the European Multinational Corporation

For several decades, American multinational corporations have used their leverage as large corporate clients to promote a business case for diversity among American law firms and lawyers. Indeed, the demand for diversity is a common business imperative for the largest American companies. European multinational corporations doing business in the US are not strangers to this but far less attention has been paid to their efforts to promote diversity among their lawyers (or not). Join us for a discussion with representatives from some of the largest European multinational corporations to learn about how they deal with the American emphasis on diversity and what they are doing in the diversity and inclusion arena.

“Lessons from Europe: Dealing with Diversity Directives in a Global Environment”
SIL Fall Meeting, Thursday, October 13, 2011 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm

Questions or comments?
E-mail us at
Sandra Yamate, Editorial Contact;
Sara Sandford, Diversity Officer;
Angela Benson, Director of Membership;
or call 202-662-1000

American Bar Association, Section of International Law
740 15th Street, NW   •   Washington, DC 20005   •   202-662-1660 -