NYCLA President Adrienne B. Koch Remarks at 2024 NYCLA High School Essay Contest

NYCLA President Adrienne B. Koch Remarks
NYCLA 2024 High School Essay Contest

NYCLA Home of Law
June 20, 2024


Good afternoon, everyone – and welcome to the New York County Lawyers Association’s Home of Law. 

This event – where we announce and honor the winners of our annual High School Essay contest – is a proud NYCLA tradition.  The ten finalists we recognize today were selected from hundreds of submissions from all over New York City.  That’s really something to be proud of.  And let me add as well that reading these essays reaffirmed my own pride in our New York City public schools.  Those schools actually figure prominently in my own family.

My Dad went to Brooklyn Tech, like some of you.  My Mom went to Bayside High.  My husband and son both went to Bronx Science. I’m an outlier because I went to high school during the brief period when, for reasons outside of my own control, we lived in Westchester.  Please don’t hold that against me. 

I’m going to say more about the essay contest in a moment, but first I want to say a little bit about the NYCLA itself. We are one of the largest local bar associations in the country – and we were the first bar association in the world to accept attorneys regardless of their ethnicity, religion or gender. That’s been true since our founding in 1908 – which was a time when it wasn’t necessarily popular to be that inclusive. We’re proud of that history, and we continue to live it: diversity and inclusion will always be a big part of who we are.

This essay contest reflects another of NYCLA’s core values: civic education.  And I want to offer special thanks to Marian Burnbaum, Chair of the Law Related Education Committee, who’s done so much for NYCLA and the Committee. We also thank Larry Carbone, Program Chair of the Essay Contest, as well as all of the other members of the committee and everyone else who participated in reading and evaluating the essays. Marian and Larry have worked tirelessly on this contest for years, and NYCLA is grateful for their leadership of this really important program.

We’re also grateful to the Justice Resource Center and its executive director Debra Lesser for working so closely with us in this particular endeavor.  They do really great work, and we’re so fortunate to partner with them on this.

This contest is named for judge Richard Lee Price, so I want to tell you a little bit about him too. He was a champion of civic and law related education.  But his work wasn’t only support and advocacy – he actually taught a high school course called Law for the Lay Person.  The course helped students learn about legal issues through role-playing and mock trials.  

Judge Price also received the American Judges Association’s highest award for education, and the New York State Bar Association’s highest award for public service.  And he worked on NYCLA’s Law Related Education Committee for probably more years than most of us can remember. We still miss his compassion, his intellect, and his wisdom.  How fitting, though, that we give these awards in his name.      

This year’s essay topic asks whether the government’s banning of books violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  I had the privilege of actually reading the finalists’ essays – all of which answered that question with a pretty confident “yes.” 

Where they differed, though, was on how they got there. 

Some focused on the governing Supreme Court precedents, discussing those complex analyses with truly impressive skill. Some focused more on the history and consequences of book banning, both here and around the world. Some worried about the impact that what amounts to a government-sponsored narrowing of the range of people’s thought could have on the future of a society in which We the People are sovereign. Some opined that to the extent that certain content might be unsettling, it’s better to address and discuss it openly than to relegate it to some kind of “black market.” But what the essays all shared was thought, creativity, and a genuine appreciation for social and historical context. 

So now I want to say this to the students.

I’m so proud of all of you, I really am. 

The rule of law is fundamental to a free society, and it’s vital that all citizens learn about our rights and duties and how the law helps our society to function.  I really encourage you to continue this study – even if you don’t ultimately make law your career (although I hope that some of you will).

There’s another thing you all excelled at here, which is also vitally important: writing.  Writing is an essential skill for lawyers, but we lawyers are not alone in that respect.  The ability to write clearly and persuasively will greatly benefit you in virtually any profession. If the privilege of standing on this podium comes with some license to offer advice, one piece of it would be to keep honing your writing skills. 

Okay, enough.  I know you’re all anxious to move things along and get to the final results of the contest – and so far today you’ve all shown another really important trait that will stand you in good stead as you move forward in life: patience. 

Thank you for that, for being here today, and for participating in our contest.  You’re all winners!