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special to the national law journal Alfred P. Carlton Jr., the 126th president of the ABA, is a partner in the Raleigh, N.C., office of Atlanta-based Kilpatrick Stockton. As i said in this space a year ago, it is a great time to be an American lawyer. And after traveling endless miles, meeting countless lawyers and engaging in dialogue with the press, the public and the profession almost endlessly, I remain convinced of this truth. The year has provided me with a marvelous experience, a great privilege and honor. It has, I believe, generated a personal perspective on our profession; I appreciate the opportunity to share it here. The dramatic events of the last two years have given our legal profession a new capability to speak to the American people. Americans are focused on the law, the courts and lawyers. We lawyers have an opportunity to respond. It is a challenge that I hope we meet. Society bestows upon lawyers, as members of a “learned profession,” an occupation that is also a state of being. Our lawyer persona is not readily left at the office. It follows us at all times wherever we go: On our children’s playing fields, in our civic clubs or at social or religious endeavors, we are inevitably branded. Today, this state of being offers us the unprecedented opportunity to enter into, and to lead, a dialogue with the American public regarding the issues that are shaping our 21st century existence. This includes maintaining a sensitive balance between the needs of national security and individual rights, reforming American business ethics through strengthened corporate-governance standards and making necessary adjustments to the American civil and criminal justice systems to assure Americans that we continue to address the promise of equal justice under law. The role of the bar Into this scenario steps the organized bar. It must continue its evolution from the elite, self-selected group of visionaries of the late 1800s to the open, representative democracies we find in organizations like the ABA today. It must look forward to the next 25 or 50 years and set a course that will maintain its relevance, and that will at the same time serve its communities. It must continue its evolution toward being a profession that is truly reflective of the society it serves while at the same time maintaining its independence. What has emerged before my eyes this past year is a snapshot of the legal profession at this moment. It is one reflecting a profession that is vibrant and changing, but that works very hard at maintaining its core values and professional independence. I have been at this-the organized bar-for more than 25 years. As I look back to those seemingly innocent and languid pre-fax-machine days, and then forward to today’s profession, I marvel at the differences and, at the same time, the sameness. And then I wonder where we might be 25 years hence-in 2028, when the ABA will be 150 years old. Lets face it, 25 years is not what it used to be. For most of history, 25 years was but a brief historical blip. However, with today’s accelerating pace of change -technological, economic and social-25 years has become an eternity. Let us hope, above all else, that in 25 years our profession will still be healthy and vibrant, holding dear to its founding principles but also adapting to an ever faster, changing world. Glimpsing the future To achieve this, one imagines the following in the year 2028: Our profession will have maintained and strengthened its professional independence. Lawyers are advocates, not gatekeepers. While serving the public interest, we do not serve regulatory and governmental interests. To this end, the ABA must continue to oppose those who would compromise the attorney-client relationship in the name of marketplace expediency, business necessity or some interpretation of national security. We will still be fighting for the independence of our state and federal judiciaries. The judiciary, it is to be hoped, will be stronger and more independent in the future than it is today. We must continue to address the alarming trend of partisanship and special interests affecting the process. We must make the case that judges are different and should be, as John Adams said, “subservient to none.” We will be continuing to address merging ethical issues unforeseen today and occasioned by our advancing, globalized society and its needs. We must continue to pursue our preoccupation with our profession’s ethics and the “alphabet soup” of ethics reform. We will be continuing to focus on improving access to justice for all Americans. It is to be hoped that we will have made real progress toward our goal by having embraced technology to enable us to serve the client better, by having continued to insist that government set access to justice as a legislative priority and by having continued our time-honored spirit of pro bono publico. While we will still be addressing the age-old problem of lawyer image, perhaps our efforts in successfully meeting today’s challenges, protecting fundamental American values and leading the debate, together, will have alleviated most of the public’s animus toward us. Finally, and most importantly, in 2028, our profession must be more racially and ethnically representative of the public at large. One of the real achievements of the organized bar over the past 25 years is the universal recognition within the profession that law is, after all, more art than science, which is why the profession’s ability to provide justice is dependent upon the experience, the perspective and the participation of all our citizens. Our profession must be reflective of the society we serve, lest we lose touch with fundamental American values. A milestone for ABA, profession In this regard, the ABA is crossing today a significant threshold in its own history of race relations, diversity and inclusion. My successor and good friend of many years, the Honorable Dennis W. Archer, will become the first lawyer of color to hold the highest office in this, the largest professional association in the world. This is a significant achievement for Dennis himself-a former schoolteacher, practicing lawyer, judge and mayor; a man born to modest means who has used his grace, candor, immense talent and strong work ethic to give so much back to the community and the legal profession. But more importantly, this is a significant achievement for the ABA, which was, for much of its history-as was much of America-intolerant and fearful of the diversity that is, after all, America’s greatest strength. And with that being said, I now turn to Dennis and hand him the baton and together we all enter a new day for our profession. Providence willing, I’ll see you at the ABA’s annual meeting a quarter of a century from now: 2028.

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