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It is my great honor to serve as the 129th president of the American Bar Association during what promises to be a momentous year for the legal profession and our country. Our plate is more than full. The legal profession and society at large face a dizzying array of challenges and opportunities, from preserving the attorney-client privilege to expanding opportunities for women and people of color. Of the many pressing issues facing us, I will focus on three presidential initiatives that I believe are central to the goals of the ABA and its mission of serving the public and the profession: leading a “Renaissance of Idealism” to revitalize the public service mission of the profession; enhancing civic education on the separation of powers and the importance of an independent judiciary; and expanding access to civil justice for the disadvantaged and poor. We will address other issues, to be sure, but I believe that these are the most pressing priorities facing us. The tradition of service to others has defined the legal profession from the earliest days of our nation and it continues to do so today. But lawyers now face new challenges and pressures that make it more difficult for many-especially our younger lawyers-to fulfill the time-honored role of lawyer as public citizen. Scores of thousands of lawyers throughout America provide pro bono legal services and engage in wonderful public service activities that benefit our communities in countless ways. They embody the idealism of our profession, they make us proud and I salute them. It is in this spirit of public service that I am calling for a Renaissance of Idealism in our profession. I want to help reinvigorate and re-energize our commitment to pro bono and public service work, to enable even greater numbers of our lawyers to honor that commitment-and then nurture and expand it for generations of lawyers to come. To help me implement this initiative, I have appointed the ABA Commission on the Renaissance of Idealism in the Legal Profession. U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Theodore C. Sorensen, former legal adviser to President John F. Kennedy, have agreed to serve as honorary co-chairs of the commission. Mark D. Agrast of the Center for American Progress in Washington is the commission’s working chair. The outcome of this initiative will be a challenge to the profession-a challenge that will inspire us to make changes that will benefit all lawyers, the profession, and the American people. Addressing unmet legal needs The need for a Renaissance of Idealism in the legal profession has never been greater. It has been reliably documented that between 70% and 80% of the legal needs of poor people in this nation go unaddressed year after year. In order to address these persistent unmet legal needs, I have appointed a distinguished ABA Task Force on Access to Civil Justice. Howard H. Dana Jr., associate justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court and former member of the Legal Services Corp., is chairing the task force. This group will examine efforts to expand access to justice to the nation’s poor, with a particular focus on the very successful and expanding work of state-level access-to-justice commissions that the ABA helped to launch several years ago. I will also ask the task force to consider the idea of a defined right to counsel in certain serious civil cases. In the 1962 decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that under our Constitution, an indigent caught up in the criminal justice system must be provided a lawyer before he or she may be imprisoned behind bars of steel. But 43 years after Gideon, we have not yet recognized such a right for poor Americans facing equally serious civil legal problems-problems that they cannot address without the help of counsel and which threaten to imprison them in chains of poverty or discrimination. My third major initiative will focus on the need to enhance civic education on the roles and responsibilities of all three branches of government, particularly the importance of an independent judiciary to the rule of law. The greatest democracy the world has ever known has survived only because of the rule of law. And make no mistake-without an independent judiciary, and an independent legal profession, there will be no rule of law. For that reason, I have appointed the ABA Commission on Civic Education and the Separation of Powers. Soon-to-be retired U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley will serve as honorary co-chairs of the commission, which includes leading educators, retired judges and legislators, and lawyers. The commission will undertake several national outreach efforts, including programs in public schools throughout the country. Its working chair is Robert H. Rawson Jr. of the Cleveland office of Jones Day. An equally important component of the separation of powers initiative will be a redoubling of the legal profession’s commitment to protecting the independence of the judiciary. Recent attacks on the judiciary-both rhetorical and physical-and unwarranted and dangerous legislative proposals that infringe on the autonomy and jurisdiction of the courts are serious threats to our democracy that must be countered by all members of the bar. We will work closely with bar associations throughout the country to respond to threats to the judiciary, and to promote dialogue and respect among the three branches of our government. I look forward also to building on the outstanding contributions of my distinguished predecessors and good friends Robert J. Grey Jr. and Dennis W. Archer to improve our jury system and promote greater opportunities for women and people of color in the law. And I look forward to working with the lawyers of America to advance the cause of equal justice for all. American lawyers have the idealism, the capacity and the commitment to serve the public and advance the noblest purposes of the legal profession. If we devote the time and energy to honor our idealism and our commitment, we will accomplish great things for the American people and our society. I invite all lawyers to join in the ABA’s important efforts and initiatives during the coming year. Michael S. Greco is the incoming president of the ABA. He is a partner in the Boston office of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham.

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