While I sometimes imagined a life in politics or on the bench, I cannot say I imagined as a young lawyer becoming president of the Illinois State Bar Association. I certainly did not imagine that my installation would be a historic first.
The significance of my role as the ISBA’s first African-American president is not lost on me. I still feel the pride that comes with the opportunity. But I am mindful that pioneers are remembered more for how they affected the landscape than for the mere fact they arrived first. With that in mind, I have taken my leadership responsibility to heart.
Our nation seems to have grown even more polarized since Law Day 2016. This has presented its own set of challenges. Our association has not shied from defending the judiciary and the rule of law and speaking out on behalf of adequate funding for the Legal Services Corp. I have also written and spoken about the implicit bias we all harbor and our need to be aware of its impact on the justice system. But I know that our association cannot, indeed should not, be unanimous in opinion and thought. I respect the views of those with whom I disagree and have striven to act accordingly.
Beyond that, this has been a typically busy year for the ISBA. Law students have been an important focus. I was privileged to represent the ISBA at law school orientation sessions at NIU, SIU and the U of I. We also created a council of Illinois law school deans to give the ISBA and the academy a joint forum for addressing issues such as adopting the uniform bar exam in Illinois and increasing opportunities for experiential learning for law students.
Back at the Springfield headquarters, we renovated our 50-year-old building, making it more accessible and accommodating to members and visitors. And we are preparing to launch a new online public lawyer directory, a practice management web portal and an online community platform that will enable our members to better collaborate and communicate. All of these features are either rolling out as you read this or will debut soon.
This Law Day, I will be reflecting on the importance of our Constitution, our Bill of Rights and our long, proud history of judicial independence. I encourage all lawyers to do the same and to remember the words of 17th century philosopher John Locke, which are as true today as when they were written: “Wherever law ends, tyranny begins.”