Remarks of Lewis Tesser, NYCLA President Annual Meeting
May 29, 2014
Thanks to the past NYCLA Presidents in attendance—Ann Lesk, Michael Miller, Craig Landy, Bob Haig, Klaus Eppler, Catherine Christian, Arthur Field, Stewart Aaron, Steve Hoffman, and Dave Robertson. All of you have been most generous with your advice and I am most appreciative. Welcome Judges Price, Belen, McKay, Sonberg, Heitler, Bloom, Crane, Madden, and Kelley. Welcome Sam Braverman of the Bronx Bar Association; NYCA’s staff, including Executive Director Sophia Gianacoplos and Counsel Marilyn Flood; members of my firm, Greg, Irwin, Anand, Janessa, Tim, Anne and Omar; my family and friends; my wife Marjorie, and Shauna, Jason, Ben and Randy; and please welcome my mom and Marjorie’s mom – both named Doris.
There are those who are no longer with us—Judge Baer, Judge Rubin, and Dad.
A while ago, I was working on our strategic plan. It was a thrill for me to meet with so many of you and channel NYCLA in such an interesting way. The proposals that I have made to our leaders that I would like to talk about for a few minutes grew out of our discussions. These ideas are yours—not mine. Most everyone here has volunteered to play an important role as we move forward and I am deeply appreciative.
Profound changes are influencing important aspects of NYCLA’s life.
The aging of the baby boomer population, the needs and expectations of the millennials (lawyers born after 1980), the scarcity of entry level law jobs, the trend toward concentrating in a particular type of law, the increase in the number of lawyers in mid- career transition, and changes in technology are altering the face of lawyering in New York. The new World Trade Center and the Fulton Transportation Center, each one block from NYCLA, will soon house millions of square feet of Class A commercial space, hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail space, a hotel and a conference center. Many more lawyers, non-lawyers and businesses will be proximate to NYCLA on a daily basis.
What can we do as an organization to move forward in a time of change and maintain NYCLA’s special brand while satisfying the interests of our members?
Sarah L. Sladek, Consultant to Bar Associations said, “The days when people joined something just to join are over. Now people join in order to solve a set of problems they have-and they renew because you’ve helped them solve those problems and made them feel engaged and positive.”
Executive Board member Dan Wiig will be spearheading our membership efforts that many of you will be participating in, including initiatives with government and non-profit attorneys, led by Past President Catherine Christian; partnerships with niche bar associations, led by Board member Diana Sen; initiatives to increase NYCLA’s partnership with law schools and law students, led by Tatiana Vargas; initiatives to increase working relationships with law firms, led by Adrienne Koch; and those to work with in house counsel, led by Rich Friedman.
We’re also engaging in a very exciting new initiative, led by Eliza Rosenthal, a leader of NYSBA’s GP Section, and we’re very happy to have her on our team as well. Retaining membership relies much on the membership experience. Eliza will chair “Club NYCLA” focusing on creating wonderful experiences for our members. We will have a members’ lounge, on the first floor, where members, during a court break or otherwise can come and charge their electronics, read the Law Journal, and meet other members. Many of us don’t have a University Club where we can entertain guests—there are numerous very good restaurants close to NYCLA- we will be exploring relationships with these restaurants where you and your guests can be welcomed in a special manner. We will be investigating promoting member affinity groups- veterans, LGBT, and movie or sports aficionados. We are exploring networking programs and social events with non-lawyer organizations.
We wish Dan and his teams much success as they explore these new opportunities.
Steve Lessard, our Treasurer and Finance Chair and Carol Sigmond, our President-Elect and Foundation President, will be focusing on NYCLA’s financial well-being. NYCLA has recently revamped its dues structure and converted to annual renewals. We will be exploring and working on team discounts to firms and in-house counsel, and multi-year discounts.
We are also going to explore another opportunity to increase our membership and our dues revenues. There are thousands of paralegals and other groups who might enjoy the privileges and opportunities that an auxiliary NYCLA membership might afford. Past President Jim Kobak will be leading a Task Force to consider the feasibility and wisdom of expanding our membership categories in an auxiliary capacity to others.
All of these efforts are consistent with a plan of increasing membership and dues from membership. Additionally, it is more urgent than ever to focus on non-dues revenue opportunities such as the upcoming 100th Annual Dinner and 225th Anniversary of SDNY.
There are numerous businesses which service the legal profession—stenographic companies, translation services, document shredders, predictive coders, insurance brokers, appellate printers, to name just a few. NYCLA’s 9,000 members are of interest to these vendors. Steve Lessard, board member and Scott Berman are going to lead a group thinking creatively about exploring how we can develop opportunities with these vendors.
I congratulate our President-Elect Carol Sigmond on becoming President of the NYCLA Foundation. The Foundation is NYCLA’s fund raising arm—and Carol has exciting proposals to help NYCLA as we further our fund-raising.
We wish Steve, Scott, Jim, and Carol much success in your efforts.
An important measure of NYCLA’s resources, energy and health is the well-being of our committees. They assist NYCLA in its governance by providing advice and helping to coordinate events. They study issues, write reports, conduct CLE and other programming, thus helping NYCLA perform its professional functions and publicize its activities. NYCLA’s committees also provide an important pool of potential NYCLA leaders and help train such individuals for leadership.
New York City has approximately 75,000 lawyers. As the open and inclusive bar association, with no restrictions on joining our committees, NYCLA is the natural home to lawyers who can profit from committee membership. Our Secretary, Megan Davis, and her team will be reaching out to non-members who concentrate in fields in which one of our 60 + committees can provide opportunities for new members. We wish Megan and her committee much success as they proceed with this critical mission.
Many lawyers, especially the younger generation of lawyers, no longer use books in the same way to conduct legal research. Regardless of whether law books will go the way of the 8 track tape player, it is indisputable that the manner in which lawyers research is dramatically different than the ways lawyers have done it in the past.
Former President Stewart Aaron has agreed to continue chairing the Library Committee at this critical juncture. He has been organizing our efforts to reduce unused and unneeded inventory. So far we have been able to discard thousands of linear feet of obsolete books. His efforts will enable us to lower our costs and open space for much needed meeting rooms. I’m excited to say that we have found a good home for thousands of linear feet more of our unneeded books on a library set at Steiner Studios in Brooklyn for an upcoming Spielberg Production.
Further, Stewart, along with many of you who have volunteered will be exploring ways to make our library a new-age information resource center whereby our Librarian, acting as a Legal Concierge, can assist our members with their research and with other resources—such as access to vendors who are willing to work with us to provide excellent and economical services.
Bar associations across the nation are struggling with the same problem of an expensive resource that was once critical but now, in many ways, is becoming anachronistic. The initiatives that Stewart and his team explore have the potential of setting a model for law libraries everywhere and we wish them every success as they engage in this ground- breaking exploration.
We have several committees and task forces focusing on Public Policy, including the Ethics Institute chaired by Sarah Jo Hamilton; the Pro Bono Committee chaired by Lisa Cleary; the Working Group on Mandatory Pro Bono Reporting chaired by Megan Davis; the Professionalism Task Force chaired by Ron Minkoff; and the Justice Center chaired by Greg Markel.
I have asked Executive Committee member Vince Chang to help me coordinate the work of these groups. We will seek to identify public policy areas on which NYCLA should focus, and working with the committees, develop and promote public policy positions.
Topics that have put forth as possible inquiries are voting rights, which have recently been affected by the US Supreme Court in the Shelby County case. Additionally, it is the 50th Anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and a perfect opportunity to plan events triggered by the Anniversary. Funding for Civil legal services for the indigent is a critical issue related to fulfilling the promise of Gideon and will be a ripe topic for exploration. Gun control is an issue on which NYCLA has already written an extensive report and perfect for follow-up.
Moreover, there are changes in the law of lawyering. In 2015, New York State will require all bar applicants to have completed 50 hours of pro bono service prior to admission. Lawyers are required to report their pro bono hours and monetary pro bono donations. This reporting, initially to be made available to the public—and seen as a pre- cursory to mandatory pro bono obligations—has been the subject of heated discussion.
Last summer- Stewart, Barbara, and I met with Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. Shortly after there was a moratorium on public reporting. Barbara appointed a working group, chaired by Megan Davis. This group is working hard and Barbara devoted months of her Presidency to the issue. Points of contention appeared to be irresolvable but on Tuesday Judge Prudenti spoke to us and we specifically identified some of these points of contention. More importantly, we are delighted that Judge Prudenti articulated that the Courts were open to hearing from us and open to make adjustments in the rule.
We are particularly gratified that the Court selected NYCLA as a venue to articulate the willingness have a dialog and to continue to work with NYCLA. We welcome Judge Prudenti’s overtures and will meet again with the Chief Judge. We will be informed by the Working Group and will be guided by the Board
The goal is to be part of the solution of achieving robust voluntary pro bono in New York. Our sincerest thanks to Barbara, Megan, and the working group.
Our congratulations to everyone who has volunteered to work on our policy initiatives—your work is the critical work that we do on behalf of those in need of the help of an organized bar.
Programs are an essential component to add value to existing members and as a draw to new members. Vice President Mike McNamara has a very ambitious agenda of interesting programs including a Speaker Series of News Makers led by Past President Michael Miller.
Let me digress for a second: Harris, why did you become a lawyer? Xxx says, “Xxxx.” We ask that at all the CLE’s—Never once did someone say he or she became a lawyer to rip off their clients. Typical reasons are xxx. As a demographic, lawyers are good people. Lawyers become lawyers for good reasons.
Even more troubling is that recently it’s been politically fashionable to bash judges and lawyers publically. Our rapid response team- chaired by Barbara Moses counters such attacks. But also, recall elections overturn lawful decisions made by courts and legislatures. Legislatures are in deadlock. Frequently, politicians turn to polarizing tactics and try to over-simplify what is usually a very complex set of problems. What can all this accomplish but to devalue the rule of law in the public eye?
To paraphrase a song- if you were to say: Law- what is it good for? What would be the answer? Absolutely nothing? Really?
No, absolutely not! Law and the Rule of Law plays a critical role in helping balance the various competing interests of an increasingly complex world. Judge bashing and other caricaturizing of the legal process disrespects the fabric that holds society together.
We will hold a series of conferences, to be spearheaded by our Vice President Michael McNamara, which will discuss the value of the rule of law in balancing security and freedom—the exact discussion called into play in cases which review the scope of the NSA’s powers. But it is not just the government; private companies are tracking your web-searches-and selling the information. Shopping malls are recording your license plate.
This issue can be polarizing—people are asked to choose. Some say, well, I have nothing to hide, let them listen in; I want to be safe. Others say, what right does the government have to monitor my private discussions. As though it is all one way or the other—in fact, we all want to be secure and we all want to have liberties. In fact, most of us want to search the net or go shopping but we also want privacy. It is a balancing act; one thing the law is excellent at is such balancing—and we want to dramatize how valuable the rule of law and how valuable lawyers are in this balancing process.
We are talking with the DC Bar about doing coordinated conferences which should receive spectacular publicity.
Marketing and Brand Equity:
Finally, I’d like to spend a minute addressing NYCLA’s brand equity. Marketing advisors, especially our own Toni Valenti, tell us to focus on ways to enhance our brand. Luckily—what a brand.
NYCLA is the Open, inclusive, progressive, small democratic bar association.
NYCLA has extensive pro bono activities, forums and other public programs. We are active in legal reform and public policy initiatives. We submit amicus briefs. We have excellent CLE and other programs and some very vibrant committees. We are positively portrayed in the media. NYCLA helps us be the lawyers we wanted to be when we started.
It is an enormous honor to be passed the baton of the stewardship of this stunningly unique association at this challenging time.
As a collective, NYCLA, with its revenue, membership manpower, and professional staff can continue to provide resources to lawyers that they cannot afford or obtain on their own.
As a multi-faceted group, we have expertise in a diverse range of legal concentrations, and, through committees, programming and focused involvement, we can continue to study, teach, write, lecture, advise, and promote reform in the legal and general communities.
As a club, we can continue to provide benefits to our members and help them take pride in and feel good about themselves, their profession, and NYCLA.
Executive Committee; Board; Staff; Committee Chairs; Committee Members; those working on Membership, finances, programs, library, policy, administration other volunteers; and friends of NYCLA.
Thank you all