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ABA President and UF Law grad Stephen N. Zack delivers Marshall M. Criser Distinguished Lecture

Stephen Zack

Stephen Zack unveils his portrait as the fifth UF Law graduate to become American Bar Association president. (Photo by Joey Springer)

By Roberta O. Roberts
Student Writer

There have been plenty of great lawyers in American history.

These include lawyers who wrote the Constitution, lawyers who wrote the Declaration of Independence, lawyers who saved our nation and lawyers who fought for civil rights, a fact that the speaker made everyone aware of.

"How will this generation of lawyers be remembered?" asked Stephen N. Zack (JD 71), American Bar Association president and this year's Marshall M. Criser Distinguished Lecturer.

The lecture series started at 2 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8, in the Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Classroom, followed by the ABA presidential portrait unveiling. The lecture series was started in 2007 and Zack is the third lecturer in the series. Justice John Paul Stevens and Justice Clarence Thomas were previous speakers.

Zack's lecture focused on the future of the legal profession and what this new generation of attorneys will have to face once they graduate.

"The law will change more in the next 10 years than in the last 200 years," he said.

According to Zack, UF Law graduates will practice law from every corner of the country and of the world via virtual law firms.

"The client will insist upon it," he said.

Zack also said globalization is playing an increasing role in effective, transformative legal practice. Lawyers will have to be familiar with the way laws vary from country to country and how these legal nuances can be applied to practicing law back home.

"You need to decide in which direction our profession will go," Zack said. "But there is a greater challenge for you, and that is whether you will preserve the justice system in this country because as we are fighting to establish rule of law around the world, we are dangerously close to losing in our own country."

Protecting the judicial system was a major point of Zack's discussion.

"Shakespeare said 'kill the lawyers first' because Jack the Butcher wanted there to be anarchy in England. He should have said 'kill the justice system first' because without a justice system, there is no need for lawyers," he said.

When Zack was 14 and still living in Cuba, "the first evidence we had that we would lose our liberty was the attack on the judiciary."

According to Zack, in the state of Florida, one half of one percent goes to fund the state's entire justice system, including victim assistance, public defenders and court personnel.

"They say they want the best and the brightest on the bench, but you have to pay for it," he said. "Our justice system is not a line item…It is up to this generation to make sure that this doesn't happen."

Zack said that what he likes to call "the Facebook and face lift generations" need to talk, learn and give the best to each other.

To current and future alumni, he said, "We were given the most powerful weapon [available]: a law degree…it means that you were given the ability to right a wrong wherever you are."

Zack ended the speech with a personal anecdote about when he left his native country at age 14. On the night his family left Cuba after the military came into his grandfather's shop, he asked his Russian grandfather if he felt bad.

"'I do, I do,'" he said. "'I worked my whole life to achieve all this and now it is all gone. But I feel good about one thing. I feel good about the fact that I'm going to the United States. Yes, I will be an immigrant, but I will never be an immigrant again because if the United States falls, I will have no place to go.'"

"It is up to this generation to make sure that the United States always stays strong," Zack said.

After his speech, Dean Robert Jerry spoke briefly about the previous four UF Law ABA presidents and unveiled Zack's presidential portrait. It was hung on the wall, marking Zack as the fifth Gator ABA president, more than any other law school in the last four decades.

Zack said he was honored to be on the same wall as the previous ABA presidents.

Wilbert Vancol, 3L, thought the event was very motivating and inspirational. "I appreciate the fact that he spoke about the significance of being a lawyer and what it entails."

As Dean Jerry said, "maybe one of the students in this room will some day be on this wall."