Stephen N. Zack's big summer

This is turning out to be one memorable summer for commercial litigator Stephen N. Zack of Boies Schiller & Flexner in Miami. In August he became the first Hispanic president of the American Bar Association, and in September he was named "Lawyer of the Year" by the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA).

"It's an incredible honor to be recognized as Latino Lawyer of the Year by the HNBA, and hopefully it will draw attention to what the ABA is doing to increase access to justice within the Hispanic community," Zack told Super Lawyers. "Hispanics are now over 20 percent of the American population and the largest minority in our country, but make up only 3 percent of our profession. ... We need to move quickly. Unless our profession mirrors our population, ultimately society will lose respect for the rule of law."

As for gaining the presidency of the ABA back in August, Zack says, "As a 14-year-old in 1961, fleeing Cuba with my family and then being taken off a plane by the Cuban equivalent of the KGB and put in a cell, the last thing I could have imagined was one day becoming president of the American Bar Association. I have a special appreciation for the ABA's mission because to me the loss of liberty is not theoretical, it's real.

"There are three critical issues topping the agenda under my watch. First, access to justice. The financial crisis in America has devastated our judicial system, with 80 percent of this nation's poor people not being able to afford a lawyer. But, the problem goes further. Court budget cuts are closing the doors to our courtrooms for all Americans. That simply cannot happen. When people are locked out of the justice system, they lose faith in it.

"Second, a task force is working on getting civics education back into schools. When polls show Americans know the judges on American Idol better than those on the U.S. Supreme Court, there's a problem.

"Lastly, American lawyers need to improve the profession's disaster planning, so that if the worst happens, we can continue to serve clients and protect the rule of law. What would happen if habeas corpus was suspended? Or thousands of lawyers and judges had to evacuate their offices, as happened during Katrina? We have to be prepared for the unpredictable.

"When a justice system is weak, society doesn't recognize the need for lawyers and anarchy ensues. The ABA is responding strongly to ensure a strong justice system and legal profession far into the future."