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I Wish I'd Known - James Silkenat

James R Silkenat

I Wish I'd Known - James Silkenat

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Although this will now sound like a cliché, I wish I had known in law school how vital the organized bar would be to my future. Serving as president of the American Bar Association, I get to see how the ABA helps young lawyers (indeed, lawyers of any age) across the country strengthen their legal careers.

It was nearly four decades ago when I was talked into joining the first ABA delegation to China as the token young lawyer. Just before I left, I hastily became an ABA member for the first time. Thanks to the ABA, that trip launched my involvement in international law and my career as an international corporate attorney.

The rewards I reaped from the organized bar did not end there. It was through the ABA, and my local and state bar associations, that I began a lifelong commitment to public and community service—something that I emphatically urge every lawyer to do.
Through the opportunities made available to me by the organized bar, I had a chance to participate as a leader in my community. In turn, numerous professional opportunities opened up for me. While the pro bono work in which I participated did not provide a financial return, the networks I was able to build as a result of that work have paid dividends throughout my career.

My involvement in the organized bar has continually reminded me that, as a lawyer, I have a special responsibility to protect those who most need protection and to insist on a fair and impartial justice system that is responsive to all of the members of our society, not just to those with power, money, and privilege.

Knowing what I do now, I would have joined the ABA as a law student. Particularly now, as law students and young lawyers face an increasingly competitive job market, it is important to realize that you don’t have to go it alone. The ABA and other elements of the organized bar provide a life raft of camaraderie, networking, professional development, and support that is so essential to a successful legal career.

So my advice to you is: Join me—as a member of the ABA or any state, local, or specialty bar. You will be glad you did.