So my notes say that now I’m supposed to thank David for his kind and generous words, but thank you doesn’t even begin to cut it. I’m really overwhelmed.
To put that in some context, two days ago I celebrated my 30th anniversary with my firm. David and my partners Mark Walfish and Tom Lopez, who are also here this evening, were there for me that first day too. I often tell people that they raised me from a puppy. It’s really true: if I’m a good lawyer at all, I owe that to them. I’ll always be grateful to them and I’m so glad they’re here, together with my partners Ariel Weinstock and Tim Holland, and of course my husband, my rock, Craig Albert. Let me just say to all of you that your support means the world.
Before turning to my own remarks, I actually have a first official act as President: to present this certificate of appreciation to Vince. Vince, you’ve been both an outstanding leader and a wonderful colleague – and both of those qualities have been a tremendous gift to NYCLA and to us as your fellow officers. So would you please come back up here for a moment and let us applaud you again?
I’ll say a little more about Vince in a few minutes, because (as you know from the program) my second official act as President is to share some words with you tonight.
As you might imagine, I’ve been thinking about this moment a lot lately. To stand here in front of you, my friends and my community, and take this office – standing in the shoes of the likes of Charles Evans Hughes and William Nelson Cromwell – is the most humbling and awe-inspiring experience I can imagine.
I can’t begin to describe how thrilled I am to be trusted by you to help lead NYCLA on this next leg of its journey. And I’m doubly thrilled to be doing so with the officers and board members that you’ve elected tonight. Richard, Ron, David, and Jai are already among NYCLA’s driving forces; I can’t think of a team I’d rather be on than this one.
Tonight I take office as NYCLA’s 65th president, and the 6th woman to do so. And in doing that, I follow Rosalind Fink, Ann Lesk, Catherine Christian, Barbara Moses, and Carol Sigmond.
And as Carol pointed out to me, there’s historical significance in being number six: as of tonight, we can no longer be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Let me add parenthetically that I know that number 11 (that’s the one where we run out of fingers altogether) is out there somewhere, and I look forward to meeting her.
In a very real sense, I couldn’t be here without all five of those magnificent women. But in a much more literal sense there are two who really brought me here.
The first is Barbara Moses, who first encouraged me to join NYCLA and later recruited me to join the Board. The second is Carol Sigmond, who during her presidency invited me to join her Executive Committee and later encouraged me to seek office. I’m proud to call both of these women my friends, I’ll always be beyond grateful for their support, and I’ll never stop striving to give due honor to their confidence in me – and to pay it forward.
Tonight we do mark a “first”: it’s our first annual meeting in our new space.
No one could say that our path here was easy. It took courage to sell our beloved, historic building. It took vision to see that, much as we cherished those walls, our future was not inside them. And it took a whole lot of work to find space suitable for the NYCLA of today and tomorrow.
That courage, vision, and work spanned four presidencies – from Carol Sigmond, to Michael McNamara, to Steve Lessard, to Vince Chang. They were tireless and they were fearless.
And now here we are. In this new Home of Law that’s fitting – both physically and technologically – for a 21st Century bar association. We owe Carol, Michael, Steve and Vince a particular debt of gratitude for getting us here.
I want to say a few more words about Vince, who has ably led us for the last two years – two years that, let’s not forget, included not only the final leg of the challenges I just mentioned, but also the overarching challenges posed by the COVID pandemic from which we’re only just emerging.
When Vince took office, he said that NYCLA was poised to embark on years of opportunity and leadership in the ranks of New York’s bar associations.
He was absolutely right.
What he told you just a little bit ago is only a sampling of what NYCLA has accomplished under his leadership. Our voice has been loud and our impact has been palpable.
This is the context in which Vince now hands me the baton.
My goal is to keep moving us forward, because clearly we’re pointed in the right direction. And we will continue to be guided by the values that animate NYCLA’s mission statement.
Tonight I want to focus in particular on three of those values.
The first is diversity and inclusion.
As Charles Evans Hughes – NYCLA’s eighth president, and our nation’s 11th Chief Justice – said nearly a century ago, “When we lose the right to be different, we lose the privilege to be free.” Every one of us is different, and NYCLA will always celebrate those differences.
We were the first bar association in the world to accept attorneys without regard to race, gender or religion.
We were among the first to support same-sex marriage.
We went on record over a decade ago to urge that whenever a gender marker is required on an identity document, that marker should recognize the person’s lived gender, regardless of reproductive capacity or genetic makeup.
And today we continue to be on record opposing the barrage of recent assaults on the dignity of transgender people.
At NYCLA diversity doesn’t just live in its own lane; it’s a way of life and part of who we are in everything we do. And it will always be that way.
The second core value I want to talk about tonight is promoting the administration of justice – including by supporting a strong and independent judiciary.
And here I want to take us back even further – to Alexander Hamilton, who wrote in the Federalist Papers that “‘there is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers.’”
Today, threats to judicial independence are emerging and growing worldwide, nationwide, and right here at home in New York. It’s no secret where NYCLA stands on this: we’ve been highly vocal in speaking out against these threats – and we’ve done so even when it hasn’t necessarily been the popular thing to do. And we will not stop. Because this is part of our history.
Historically, we’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with our judiciary to fight for increases in their salaries.
Historically, we’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with our judiciary to defend judges against unfair attacks in the media, to which they cannot respond because of ethical constraints that prohibit them from doing so.
Historically, we’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with our judiciary to object to efforts to decertify many of our most experienced jurists solely because of their age.
And we stand shoulder to shoulder with our judiciary now – in the face of a procession of threats to its independence.
That’s why – with enormous thanks to Michael Miller, who has provided help and inspiration for this and for so much of NYCLA’s most important work over the last several years – I’m pleased to announce the formation of a Task Force on Judicial Independence, to be chaired by our very own Vince Chang.
The Task Force’s work will not displace the kinds of responses we’ve been issuing in real-time – although it may assist with those. But its primary brief will include both a deeper study of recent attacks and threats against judicial independence here in New York and a broader study of the disturbing pattern of such attacks and threats that seems to be revealing itself – as I said, not only nationwide, but also abroad. And consistent with the civic education that’s another key part of NYCLA’s mission, the Task Force’s brief will also include the production of programming and other resources to help deepen public understanding of the critical importance of judicial independence.
This is an issue about which NYCLA will continue to raise its voice loudly and with conviction.
So I’ve spoken about two core values; let me turn to a third: the protection of individual rights.
Last year Vince convened a Reproductive Rights Task Force – as you heard, their terrific program received our Kobak Award earlier this evening. But there’s a lot more to do. Reproductive rights – including access to health care that in many instances can literally mean the difference between life and death for a woman – are under increasing assault across our nation.
That’s why I’ve asked the three chairs of that Task Force – Kate Aufses, Brittney Balser, and Margaret Sanborn-Lowing – to continue to lead it in a substantially expanded form that will address these ongoing assaults, not only with research and programming but also by providing whatever informational resources we can to try to help women in need.
As Margaret Sanger put it: “No woman can call herself free who does not control her own body.”
There’s so much more I could say about the way forward, but tonight I’ll just add a few words about the strength of the engines that keep NYCLA going.
Our marvelous pro bono projects, captained by Anthe Bova, continue to provide opportunities for members to meaningfully help thousands of New Yorkers.
Our programs, thanks to the tireless work of Bari Chase, continue to shine. On any day you can go to the website and see a list of what’s on deck that’s as long as your arm.
As I mentioned, our voice is loud: we issue impactful statements on current events, and we issue them quickly. For this, enormous thanks go to Toni Valenti and Azelia Cutts, who nimbly coordinate our media outreach.
Our committees – which also operate under the steady coordination of Toni and Azelia – continue to produce fantastic work. Over the last several months I’ve been meeting with our committee chairs to talk to them about their projects and to assure them of NYCLA’s full support – it’s been a really uplifting process and has me even more excited about what NYCLA has in store. To give you just a few examples:
Our Federal Courts Committee is putting finishing touches on an in-depth, 10-year retrospective of the work of the Southern District of New York.
Our Appellate Courts committee just launched a terrific pro bono program in partnership with the Appellate Division, First Department – it’s now featured right on the landing page of the court’s website. How great is that?
Our Justice Center is working on a project that will provide informational resources to criminal defendants and their families to help them better understand the process and their rights.
Our Center for Corporate Governance continues to produce meaningful programming, and has its own section on our website that includes all kinds of interesting content and commentary.
And the list goes on and on. It’s really marvelous what all these folks are doing.
Our events – the events that embody the spirit of collegiality that is in fact another of NYCLA’s core values – they’re back in full force. The next one is our Law Day lunch on June 1, sponsored by our Supreme Court Committee. I hope you’ll join us there.
And all of this continues to be guided by the steady hand of Sophia Gianacoplos (our Executive Director who somehow manages to do the work of an army) and Christina Andujar (who continues to be the go-to person for so much of what we do). Those two are magic. I’m literally convinced of that.
The long and short of it is: NYCLA is on fire. I’m thrilled to be taking the helm at this exciting moment, honored by the faith you’ve placed in me by putting me here, and committed to keeping that fire blazing.
Thank you all for attending our annual meeting, and for your support of NYCLA. For those of you attending on Zoom, I look forward to seeing you in person soon. For those who are here, I hope you’ll stay and join us for some refreshments!
 Quoting Montesquieu.