JULY 20, 1999

Mr. President, Madame Attorney General, and other honored guests:

Early last Fall, the President gave me a task. He saw that our nation was making progress in its quest for racial healing, but he wanted to do more to quicken the pace of positive change. Despite a booming economy, the creation of millions of new jobs, low inflation, and an exceptionally low crime rate, the President was concerned that many racial and ethnic minorities in this country were not truly thought of as a part of the American whole. These concerns led him to launch the Race Initiative, and also led him to ask me to convene a group of lawyers to discuss what lawyers might do to speed our nation's search for equality and for One America.

It is my honor to report to you, Mr. President, on the progress that has been made since last Fall. I brought together an ad hoc group of 15 or so individuals, all of whom are seated here in the front row, who would serve as a planing committee and brain trust for the task you had given us. The Presidents of the American Bar Association, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, National Bar Association, Hispanic National Bar Association, Native American Bar Association, the co-chairs of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, and a few other key individuals began meeting in my office monthly to discuss what lawyers could do to facilitate racial justice.

Ideas took shape and flew; thoughts quickly progressed into concrete plans. And I was startled by the energy, wisdom, and dedication of this group at every turn. An internet LISTSERV was created to handle the huge email traffic between the group; conference calls began taking place weekly, and then soon they were daily. This was a monumental effort, and one that required the closest of coordination and understanding. In the end, this teamwork produced a plan of action - a plan that concentrated on the unique talents lawyers can bring to solving everyday problems that face Americans.

For the fact is, lawyers aren't just a bunch of people in the courtroom. Our planning committee felt that lawyers- all lawyers-- can bring a host of other skills besides courtroom advocacy to the effort to further racial justice. The transactional lawyer who puts deals together might set up financing for an inner-city revitalization project. A litigator's experience with settlement negotiations might provide her with the insight necessary to begin a dialogue between community leaders and law enforcement representatives on issues such as racial profiling and excessive use of force. An in-house corporate attorney might put her talents to use in helping a minority-owned business succeed. A lobbyist might use his connections to develop ways to improve financing of local schools. The list is as endless as lawyers are creative and innovative in applying their talents. I am proud of the work that our group has produced and we all thank you for the opportunity you have given us to help make this nation more just.

It is now my distinct pleasure now to introduce someone who has capitalized on that notion, and is living proof that lawyers can make a difference in this quest, Mr. William McBride. Mr. McBride is chairman of Holland & Knight, and has spent an enormous amount of time making sure that his law firm can do everything it can to help create One America.