Q&A with incoming ABA President Stephen Zack

Miami lawyer Stephen N. Zack, a partner in the national law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner, was elected as president-elect of the American Bar Association in August 2009 — the first Hispanic American to achieve that distinction. 

Zack is finishing a one-year term as president-elect before taking office as president in August 2010 at the ABA’s Annual Meeting in San Francisco. 

The son of a Cuban mother and American father, Zack is focused on promoting civics education, the importance of inspiring a new generation of lawyers and ABA programs that advance access to justice for everyone in the United States. In addition, he will work to create a commission on Hispanic rights.

Q: When someone says, “The First Hispanic American nominated to the ABA’s Highest Office,” what do you think and how do you feel?

“I think that it is a great privilege and opportunity. We are the largest minority in America, and the fastest growing minority. Fifty thousand Hispanics will be turning 18 in the next 18 years.”


Q: You are currently a practicing lawyer at a national firm in Miami. How has this past year been as president-elect of the ABA and still practicing?

“It’s what I’ve done for a long time. It’s part of my DNA to be involved in this area. I love the law, and I really like lawyers. It’s been challenging, but really rewarding. There have been wonderful people who have offered their assistance.”

Zack, who grew up in Cuba, has practiced law for more than 35 years. He intends to work with other bar associations to develop a pilot program for an American Bar Academy to teach students about everything from making an opening statement to understanding the Bill of Rights. The goal is to eventually enroll a small group of students — half of which would be minority students — from every high school in the United States to participate in an educational program over the President’s Day holiday weekend. Zack called on members of the ABA to get involved.

“Every last one of us will go in and teach these students. We can’t wait.  We will begin to reach out to a new generation,” said Zack, in a statement from the ABA.


Q: As president-elect, what are some issues you are focusing on?

“Civic education is extremely important. The cost of legal education has really spiraled out of control. It is problematic on a lot of different levels. And the cost is particularly difficult for minorities. The ABA currently has nine full time lobbyists in Washington, D.C., on behalf of loan forgiveness measures.

There is also something very wrong with law students unable to find jobs, and 80 percent of poor people not having access to have lawyers. There is definitely a misconnect there.

Disaster preparedness and the response from the legal profession is also a priority. We learned this with Katrina when we found that lawyers couldn’t come in and help. We see what happened in Haiti. We see what happens in this country, but also in other countries.”

In his speech to the House of Delegates, Zack said he would focus on “two critical areas” of the legal profession – civics education and the high cost of legal education. He said these issues and the programs and strategies to address them would have “an impact on the profession and on future generations.”

In addition, Zack said he is determined to push for a renewed focus on teaching civics education in the classrooms of America so that students truly understand why we have three separate branches of government. 


Q: You’ve served as chair of the ABA’s House of Delegates and became an active member of the ABA after completing your law degree. What is it about the ABA’s mission that has kept you so involved over the years?

“I think it is essential that the ABA be the spokesperson for our profession and speaks on behalf of people that have no voice to speak out against injustice.”

Prior to his selection as president-elect, Zack served from 2004-2006 as chair of the ABA’s House of Delegates, the 555-member body that debates and votes on issues that become official ABA policy. The chair of the House is the second highest elected office within the association.

At the ABA, Zack has a long record of service. 


Q: What do you feel you are bringing to the ABA’s Highest Office? What do you hope people will say about ABA President Stephen Zack during your term, and once it is complete?

“I am hopeful that the ABA will be looked at as the authoritative voice of the legal profession for all Americans. I hope lawyers themselves will believe that the ABA has helped them be better lawyers and better serve our society. Our primary focus is on code of ethics so that the facts of law can be a profession and not just a business.”