Ads by Google Ads by Google

ASBA elects new slate of officers while working to recruit more students to the law

American Samoa Bar Association officers

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The American Samoa Bar Association (ASBA) recently elected new executive officers to coordinate the association’s annual activities and help accomplish their mission to promote justice, the rule of law, and the interests of the legal system.

The new executive board members were selected at the annual ASBA election meeting held on May 9, 2024 and include President Mitzie Jessop-Taase, Vice President Aaron Thomas, Secretary Julia Furlong, Treasurer Lornalei Meredith who is also the outgoing president, and Delegate at Large James McGuire. 

The American Bar Association (ABA) Representative is Sharron Rancourt.

The constant challenge faced by the Territory’s Judiciary for some time now is getting enough attorneys to work here, and efforts have been ongoing by successive ASBA boards to solve this problem.

But the problem still exists.

Responding to questions on the issue posed to him via email, the newly elected ASBA Vice President Aaron Thomas stated that the problem seems to stem from students historically not having had enough exposure to the idea of going to law school, or working in the legal field generally. 

And getting the few students who did go to law school and graduated to come back to the Territory to work, is also a related issue because potential salaries off-island are always going to be higher than here.

Thomas was quick to point out that this was his own personal understanding of the problem, and that his views do not necessarily reflect the views of the rest of the ASBA officers or membership generally.

For non-Samoan attorneys, he suggested incentives like the laid-back lifestyle, the opportunity to make a relatively big impact on local legal issues and the chance to experience a completely different culture and environment, as selling points to attract them to work here.

For local students who have graduated from law school, he reasoned that the strongest point to focus on was their sense of loyalty and love for their parents and family, and encourage them to give back to the community they were raised in, by returning to serve despite much higher remuneration packages off-island.

Asked if the high cost of an American lawyer's education which involves four years of college and three more years of law school was another contributing factor, he stated that students considering a career in law should be aware of those costs.

"But the costs should not stop them from pursuing their passion," he pointed out. "Moreover, there are multiple programs to help law school graduates manage their educational debt, especially for those that choose to work in the government or non-profit sector."

The question of whether the government should invest in the future of these students by providing scholarships or funding to help with their tuition, was also posed to the ASBA vice president.

But he clarified that while it sounded like a reasonable option, he had no say in such proposed policies.

However, he revealed that this important issue had been discussed before in their meetings under the previous board, and they had all agreed that ASBA should improve its educational outreach programs for local students.

“A few strategies we discussed include having local attorneys attend one or more Career Fair or similar activities in schools to inform, educate and encourage students to consider a career in law,” he said. “We also discussed running a Mock Trial Competition for local high school students tentatively in the Spring of 2025.

“We might also try a Moot Court Competition, which is similar to Mock Trial but relies more on legal research and writing. This is something I particularly enjoyed in law school. If this eventuates, it probably won't happen during the 2024-25 school year.

“Finances permitting, we may look at scholarships for local students to fund some level of college education related to the legal field. A good functioning legal system needs more than just attorneys, we also need stenographers, paralegals, investigators, etc.

“And establish a close working relationship with the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) Pre Law/Political Science Faculty and collaborate on various activities to promote, motivate and prepare students who aspire to pursue a career in law on what they can expect as they begin their educational journey off-island.”

Members of ASBA and the ASCC Political Science Club get together for a group photo at the conclusion of the Mentoring Event hosted by ASBA to celebrate Law Day on May 1st at the DDW Beach Cafe. [photo: ASBA fb page]


This collaboration strategy manifested itself on May 1st, 2024 thanks to the efforts of the previous ASBA executive board.

The first day of May according to Wikipedia, Law Day is officially recognized in the United States as a day “to reflect on the role of the law in the foundation of the country and to recognize its importance for society.”

The American Bar Association (ABA) website defines Law Day as an “annual commemoration held on May 1st to celebrate the rule of law and cultivate a deeper understanding of the legal system.”

The theme of this year’s Law Day is “Voices of Democracy” and it recognizes that in democracies, the people rule.

To commemorate this special day, ASBA hosted a Mentoring Event at the DDW Beach Cafe, to meet and greet prospective law students.

Outgoing ASBA President Lornalei Meredith told Samoa News that they were very pleased with the great turnout that evening, which included members of the ASCC Political Science Club.

“We hope those in attendance are encouraged to take up a law career and to one day be members of our American Samoa Bar Association,” Meredith stated. “We definitely could use more attorneys, especially more local attorneys to help with the continuity in the progression of our laws, and to increase access to justice in American Samoa.”

She stated that the feedback they have received has been very encouraging with ASCC Political Science lecturers describing the event as “an amazing learning experience” for their students.

ASBA Vice President Aaron Thomas acknowledged outgoing President Meredith and board members for the successful event and stated that the newly elected board will endeavor to continue their efforts so that more local students will pursue college education related to the legal field.

President Jessop-Taase is currently off-island and is expected to return in time for the association’s next meeting.