James A. “Merk” Merklinger ’88 realized at an early age the importance of advocacy. Born with Tourette’s syndrome, which causes involuntary tics, he began addressing issues for people with disabilities as a teenager. He didn’t really consider the law, however, until he interned with Port Folio magazine in Virginia Beach, Va., during Interim his junior year.
“The editor of the magazine was an attorney,” says Merklinger. “He told me if I go to law school I’ll never suffer from it. The education will never harm you.”
Merklinger, who played football at Wofford and sang in the Men’s Glee Club, was active in Tourette syndrome support groups. He also was interested in business and how a strong economy benefits social systems by creating opportunities and lowering the crime rate. A career in the law seemed the natural next step, and using his law degree as a volunteer for the Tourette Association of America gave him additional opportunities to successfully lobby Congress and sit on a panel that led to the inclusion of Tourette syndrome in the Children’s Health Act.
Now Merklinger is the president of the ACC Credentialing Institute, formerly general counsel for the Association of Corporate Counsel, a worldwide trade association for more than 43,000 in-house counsel in 10,300 corporate legal departments in 85 countries.
“In-house counsel are engaged in everything from litigation to contracts to immigration work,” he says. “There’s the potential for a lot of diversity in the legal work you are responsible for in a corporate setting.”
Most recently Merklinger and the ACC have been developing a global certification program, and he was in Dubai establishing a memorandum of understanding with the Dubai Judicial Institute to collaborate on educating the world about the Dubai legal system and to offer a training program for attorneys and judges in the country.
“Dubai wants to be recognized as the business gateway to the Middle East. Since it does not have a lot of oil, it decided to become very pro-business. Dubai determined that to have a strong business environment it needed to have a strong legal profession,” says Merklinger.
Merklinger says everything he does links back to the liberal arts educational experience at Wofford.
“I never undersell the value of a liberal arts education,” he says. “I work with people all around the world from the most amazing backgrounds. I have had to be sensitive about the call to prayer in Riyadh when scheduling meetings, be able to select a good Malbec for dinner in Buenos Aires and even plan an escape from China during the Tiananmen Square massacre. The ability to learn many different topics and adjust as needed to any given situation is a significant benefit of a liberal arts curriculum.”
By Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington '89