As I walked around and chatted with attendees at the New York City Bar Association’s annual Small Law Firm Management Symposium last Thursday, I was reminded of something. For all the recent talk about the increasing difficulty of taking the Big Law career path, and about how some law school graduates are forced to hang out their own shingles, a lot of lawyers go the solo or small-firm route by choice.

Call me Exhibit A. I’m small and I’m proud. The firm where I work has eleven lawyers, which, granted, is much bigger than a solo operation, but it’s much smaller than a lot of the firms I come into contact with and go up against on a daily basis.

Veronica Escobar and Debra Raskin

One lawyer I spoke with, Veronica Escobar, seems delighted to have her own practice in Elderlaw and Trusts & Estates. She previously worked in government, and her experience in providing protective services for abused and neglected children gave her the litigation experience she knew she would need when she went solo. Veronica impressed me as someone who practices law for the purest of reasons, to help people, and I loved how she described the practice areas in which she’s worked. “The common denominator is people dealing with crises,” she said, adding, “Trusts & Estates is Elderlaw’s older sibling” and “Family Law and Trusts & Estates are kissing cousins.”

As I walked among the exhibits in the Reception Hall, I was happy to see the fantastic services—tech and others—that have sprung up to level the playing field in the legal profession. (Also, pens and stationery! If you are giving away pens or mini-flashlight tchotchkes, you have my full attention.)

Casemaker’s Jim Corbett and the City Bar Library’s Ron Mirvis.

One of those services, Casemaker, is a remarkable legal-research resource that can be used as an alternative to LexisNexis and Westlaw. The best part of Casemaker, for our purposes, is its marketing strategy. It partners with bar associations like ours. If you join the City Bar, you get Casemaker for free as a member benefit. This benefit alone makes City Bar membership irresistible.

Of course, with City Bar membership you get much more, as was clear from an afternoon panel at the symposium. Arlene Bein, the City Bar’s Director of Membership and Marketing, described many of the benefits of membership, including free and discounted CLEs, career development and networking programs, and the opportunity to serve on committees that work to help shape the law and educate the profession and the public.

City Bar Marketing and Membership Director Arlene Bein and LRS Director George Wolff.

Ron Mirvis, the City Bar’s Senior Reference Librarian, described why our library is among the best practitioners’ libraries in the nation. And George Wolff, who directs our Legal Referral Service, made a compelling case for Bar Association members to apply to be on the panel to receive referrals in the areas of the members’ expertise. In the past ten years, LRS work has generated $130 million in counsel fees.

As George explained, LRS receives a percentage of those fees—which in turn funds activities of the Bar Association to benefit its members. Lawyers on the LRS panel pay that percentage only when they have been paid for the referred case, an efficient marketing strategy in comparison to advertising where there is no assurance that the expense will yield results.

Last, but not least, Alla Roytberg, Director of the City Bar’s Small Law Firm Center, described other benefits for small firms and solos. These include the Virtual Law Firm service we have recently implemented which provides lawyers with a mailing address—a fine one if you ask me: 43 West 43rd Street—as well as a ‘suite number’ for receiving mail and the option to add a ‘212’ telephone number to get messages.

Alla Roytberg, Director of the City Bar’s Small Law Firm Center.

The Small Law Firm Center also schedules access to meeting rooms and offers other practice necessities, all right here at the City Bar.

Last Tuesday, I participated in one of Alla’s best creations, the Small Law Firm Center’s Mentoring Circles. I was impressed with the energy and mutual support among the participants, grouped by practice area, who discussed substantive issues unique to their specialties and nuts and bolts matters such as finding forms online. One participant pointed out the advantage of these in-person meetings in contrast to listservs and the like: In person, you know who is listening and you can be sure you are not posing questions to your opposing counsel. Score one for the real world.

All in all, call me biased, but I took two things away from last week: there’s never been a better time to be a small practitioner or a member of the New York City Bar Association.

Debra L. Raskin is President of the New York City Bar Association.

 

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“Lawyers Without Rights: Jewish Lawyers in Germany Under the Third Reich,” an acclaimed international exhibit, is on display in the lobby of the New York City Bar Association at 42 West 44th Street through November 20th.

The idea for the exhibit, which is sponsored by the German Federal Bar and the American Bar Association, was conceived in 1998, when an Israeli lawyer asked the regional bar of Berlin for a list of Jewish lawyers whose licenses had been revoked by the Nazi regime. “The regional bar decided not only to research a list of names but also to try to find out more about the fates behind all those names,” said Axel Filges, president of the German Federal Bar, which is that country’s major bar association with approximately 166,000 members. “Some were able to leave the country after the Nazis came into power, but very many of them were incarcerated or murdered. The non-Jewish German lawyers of those days remained silent. They failed miserably, and so did the lawyers’ organizations. We do not know why.”

The exhibit has been shown in more than 40 cities in Germany, more than a dozen cities in the U.S., and in other countries around the world.

For more about the exhibit, click here.

 

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Kings County District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson was the featured speaker at the New York City Bar Association last Wednesday at a panel that explored the causes of, and remedies for, wrongful convictions.

Kings County DA Kenneth P. Thompson

DA Thompson discussed the accomplishments and challenges of the Conviction Review Unit he established in fulfillment of his campaign promise. Addressing a large, engaged audience that included several exonerees whose convictions his office had moved to vacate, along with Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck and other interested parties, Thompson described the problem of wrongful convictions that he inherited, and how his office is working to revisit cases and prevent similar problems in the future.

Thompson’s speech concluded a lively, and at times emotional, roundtable discussion on wrongful convictions, including those associated with retired Detective Louis Scarcella in Brooklyn. The panelists, including defense attorney Ron Kuby and New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer, analyzed the root causes of the problem and the need for systemic reform.

Ron Kuby, Anthony Yarbough and Steven M. Cohen

Recent  exoneree Anthony Yarbough described the 15-hour interrogation he endured as a teenager after reporting that his mother and sister had been murdered, and described his bewilderment at realizing that he was the prime suspect in the case.

Rebecca Freedman, of the Exoneration Initiative, explained the rigorous process her team uses to sift through thousands of innocence claims. Steven M. Cohen spoke from his perspective as a former prosecutor and defense attorney about the inherent challenges of any conviction review process.

Jim Dwyer and Rebecca Freedman

The panel, “A New Look at Old Convictions,” was moderated by Dorothy Heyl of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley and McCloy, and presented by the City Bar’s Criminal Law Committee, chaired by Sharon McCarthy, along with the Government Ethics and Criminal Advocacy Committees.

UPDATE: Watch a video of the panel below:

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The New York City Bar Association’s Executive Committee has conveyed to Andy Barovick its dismay at his careless use of offensive and inflammatory language in a recent tweet regarding Sheriff Christopher Moss. While noting the tweet was written in his private capacity, we stressed that such language in no way reflects our core values and runs counter to the City Bar’s continuing efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in the legal profession and in society as a whole. We trust that Mr. Barovick will be mindful of these concerns going forward.

 

UPDATE: November 11, 2014 – 3:45 p.m.
Andy Barovick has resigned as Chair of the Medical Malpractice Committee. To read his letter of resignation, click here.

 

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The New York City Bar Association’s Judiciary Committee has evaluated candidates running in the November 4th general election for Supreme Court and Civil Court in Bronx, Kings, New York, and Queens Counties.

In examining candidates for the judiciary, the Committee seeks to determine whether the candidate possesses the requisite qualifications for judicial office, such as integrity, impartiality, intellectual ability, knowledge of the law, industriousness, and judicial demeanor and temperament.

The Committee advances two ratings: Approved and Not Approved.  Candidates rated Approved have affirmatively demonstrated qualifications necessary for the performance of the duties of the court for which they are being considered.

Bronx County

Supreme Court

John A. Barone Approved

Civil Court (Countywide)

Brenda Rivera Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that she possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which she is a candidate
Harry Hertzberg Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate
Civil Court (2nd District)
Lizbeth Gonzalez Approved
Robert Siano Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate

 

Kings County

Supreme Court

Kevin R. Bryant, Sr. Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate
Matthew A. Doheny Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate
Anthony R. Caccamo Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate
Lara J. Genovesi Approved
Dennis W. Houdek Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate
Kathy J. King Approved
Evelyn J. Laporte Approved
Kenneth Schaeffer Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate
Philip J. Smallman Approved
Wavny Toussaint Approved

Civil Court (Countywide)

Joy F. Campanelli Approved
Vincent F. Martusciello Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate
Civil Court (2nd District)
Cenceria P. Edwards Approved
Civil Court (3rd District)
Rosemarie Montalbano Approved
Civil Court (6th District)
Sharon Clarke Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that she possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which she is a candidate
Civil Court (7th District)
Lizette Colon Approved
Civil Court (8th District)
Andrew S. Borrok Approved

 

New York County

Supreme Court

Kathryn E. Freed Approved
Milton A. Tingling Approved

Civil Court (Countywide)

Arlene P. Bluth Approved
Louis L. Nock Approved
Civil Court (8th District)
Jose A. Padilla, Jr. Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate
Civil Court (10th District)
J. Machelle Sweeting Approved

 

Queens County

Supreme Court

Thomas Benedetto Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate
John F. Casey Not approved by reason of the candidate’s failure to affirmatively demonstrate that he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which he is a candidate
Anna Culley Approved
William V. DeCandido Approved
Ronald D. Hollie Approved
Leslie G. Leach Approved
Carmen R. Velasquez The Association could not complete a review of this candidate

Civil Court (Countywide)

Mojgan Cohanim Lancman Approved

Civil Court (1st District)

Joseph Esposito Approved

The NYS Office of Court Administration has posted its annual non-partisan voter guide for judicial candidates, at http://www.nycourts.gov/vote/. The guide lists all state-paid judicial candidates on the ballot in each county, as furnished by boards of elections. Candidates were invited to provide a personal statement and basic biographical information.

Note: To ensure the thoroughness and integrity of the ratings process, the City Bar cannot comment beyond what is provided herein.

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A first edition of The Federalist, signed by the “Treasurer of the American Revolution”; a 1783 letter from George Washington on the evacuation of British soldiers from New York City; a 1735 copy of the Charter of the City of New York printed by Peter Zenger; and a note signed by Benedict Arnold in 1779, around the time he considered becoming a spy for the British, are just a few of the items from the library of the New York City Bar Association to be auctioned by Doyle New York in November.

The first set of items from the City Bar’s collection will be featured as part of Doyle New York’s auction of Rare Books & Autographs on November 24, 2014, with additional items to be offered in the spring and fall of 2015. In all, there will be close to 1,000 lots of what Doyle describes as “important Americana from the Colonial and Federal Eras through the Western Expansion.”

The City Bar’s decision to auction these materials was based on consideration of the condition and quantity of these historic items. “While we have treasured all of the one-of-a-kind books and materials that have come to our library over the past century and a half, the City Bar’s focus is on serving the legal profession, and we cannot give these volumes the type of care they will continue to need,” said the City Bar’s Library Director, Richard Tuske, who began working in the Association’s library in 1972. “Making a number of these works available for auction will better lead to their preservation.”

Doyle states that the City Bar’s collection contains a number of examples so rare that they have never appeared on the market, with others having been off the market for over a century. Among the items of note are Northwest Territory – Maxwell’s Code, the first book printed in Ohio, which guided western expansion into the Northwest Territory and which Doyle calls a “noted American rarity”; Hawaii Constitution & Laws; The General Laws and Liberties of the Masachusetts Colony; The Lawes of Virginia Now in Force; and Laws of the Territory of New Mexico.

The City Bar will host a viewing reception in its library on November 12th, and Doyle New York will host an exhibition on November 21 – 23. Private previews are available in advance by appointment with Doyle (info@DoyleNewYork.com; 212-427-2730). The auction catalogue for the November 24, 2014 sale will be available in early November.

View auction details on Doyle New York’s website here.

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I recently had the opportunity to accompany Lisa Pearlstein, who leads the City Bar Justice Center’s Legal Clinic for the Homeless, her colleague Fiorella Herrera, and two pro bono volunteers on a visit to the Justice Center’s monthly legal clinic at the Children’s Rescue Fund House East, a homeless shelter for families.

Many of these families are comprised of single mothers and their children, and my first impression was how little had changed since I worked as a legal services attorney in Chicago thirty years ago. Some twenty years ago, Conrad Harper, one of my predecessors as president of the New York City Bar Association, wrote a column in the 44th Street Notes entitled “Homelessness.” Among other things, Conrad lamented that it had become fashionable to complain about the visibility of the homeless and “to endorse energetic efforts for removing the destitute from heavily trafficked areas. It is easier to blame the victims than to help them,” he wrote.

Today, in comparison to prior years, the homeless are mostly out of sight, having been moved off the streets and into shelters. But a shelter is not a home. Today, the homeless population in New York City has soared to record levels not seen since the Great Depression. Over 56,000 people slept in New York City homeless shelters in July, including 23,979 children; families comprise 75% of the homeless population.

In the face of these daunting statistics, the City Bar Justice Center and other legal services organizations do what they can, which is quite a bit considering the difference they make in the lives of homeless families whose benefits are cut off, often in error. In the last five years, the Justice Center and its partners, including WilmerHale, Reed Smith, Alston & Bird, Herrick Feinstein, Hunton & Williams, Citigroup, and Columbia and NYU Law Schools, have won 99% of their cases against New York City’s Human Resources Administration (HRA) at administrative fair hearings and forced the agency to restore thousands of dollars in Cash Assistance and SNAP (food stamp) benefits to homeless families so they can feed and clothe their children while in shelter. The Justice Center has honored with Jeremy G. Epstein Awards for Outstanding Pro Bono Service several volunteer attorneys for their work on the project: Ross L. Hirsch of Herrick, Feinstein LLP; Ann Kramer of Reed Smith; Ben Kusmin of Cooley LLP; Mara Byrne of Citigroup and Matthew W. Mamak of Alston & Bird LLP.

It’s true that in services for the homeless, there have been some positive trends to acknowledge. Today, for example, it’s possible for same-sex partners to stay together in a shelter with their children. But what are the prospects for significant systemic change? What are the chances that bearing witness to the scourge of family homelessness won’t once again fall to one of my successors as president of the City Bar in ten, twenty, or thirty years?

This may be a rare moment to seize for fixing the safety net for homeless families in New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio signaled his seriousness on the issue by appointing the former head of The Legal Aid Society, Steven Banks, as Commissioner of the Human Resources Administration. Given the view of the Coalition for the Homeless that the lack of affordable housing is the root cause of homelessness in New York City, and given the City Bar’s 2013 “Policy Recommendations for New York City’s Next Mayor” advocating  policies and programs that move people from homelessness into housing, it’s good to see that Mayor de Blasio reportedly will require that new residential buildings include affordable housing units. The City is also working with the State to create two new rental subsidy programs.

Having also urged the next Mayor to remove administrative barriers to families obtaining Cash Assistance and to end punitive welfare policies, the City Bar is pleased that Mayor de Blasio and HRA Commissioner Banks have already initiated reforms. These changes are designed to reduce the number of welfare case closings and reductions and make it easier for poor New Yorkers to access government benefits to which they are entitled.

The City Bar’s Social Welfare Law Committee, chaired by Peter A. Kempner, contributed to the mayoral report and hosted a program at the Association in which Commissioner Banks spoke about and answered questions regarding his first initiatives. HRA has invited the Justice Center and other legal services providers to participate in working groups with HRA Assistant Deputy Commissioners to formulate proposals to improve the system. Our Lisa Pearlstein is Co-Chair of the Applications Work Group, leading efforts to make it easier for mentally disabled, indigent New Yorkers to access public benefits and to eliminate unnecessary appointments, documentation requirements, and other barriers in the Cash Assistance application process. She is also pressing the City to reform specific policies and practices that lead to food insecurity in shelters and jeopardize the health and well-being of homeless children.

In the meantime, until we can get families into permanent homes and put the homeless shelters out of business, we all must continue to do what we can. Please volunteer with, or donate to, the Justice Center. As Conrad said so well twenty years ago, “In the long arc of life it is certain that we shall be touched as well by tragedy as by good fortune. We should help while we can before our own needs exceed our capacity to help others.”

Debra L. Raskin is President of the New York City Bar Association

 

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This fall marks the kick-off of the City Bar New Lawyer Institute (NLI), which is designed to provide recent law graduates with the training and skills needed to succeed in the early years of their legal careers.

The NLI is the first initiative to come out of the City Bar’s Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession, which issued a report last November on the legal profession and the “plight of new lawyers.” Specifically, the NLI is a response to the Task Force’s finding that the current legal education model does not always fully prepare new lawyers to enter the workforce.

Running from September through May, the NLI focuses on career development, practice management, practice readiness, training and skills. Each participant will be able to complete at least 16 CLE credits, half of the amount required for the first two years, and will have the opportunity to earn all 32 of the first two years’ required credits.

“The goal is to get these new lawyers as practice-ready as possible by helping them develop their skills, and by immersing them in New York City’s legal profession through mentoring and networking,” said Laurie Berke-Weiss, chair of the NLI Advisory Committee.

The 2014-15 NLI has 74 participants from nine law schools in the New York metropolitan area. Seven of those schools are sponsors of the program: Brooklyn Law School, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Columbia Law School, CUNY School of Law, Fordham Law School, Hofstra Law and New York Law School.  The NLI Advisory Committee worked with the New York area law schools in an effort to coordinate the program and promote it to students.

In addition to career and practice development training, the NLI includes a Speaker Series featuring leaders in the profession. The talks aim to give NLI participants advice on how to navigate, and be active members of, the legal profession, but are open to, and relevant for, all lawyers in New York City. On September 17th, Michele Coleman Mayes, General Counsel to the New York Public Library, spoke at the opening session. Other scheduled speakers in the series include NYC Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter on October 22nd and New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman on November 12th.

Aside from the focused curriculum of skills and CLE classes, participants will receive guidance on how best to handle specific legal issues and overall career development and planning. Particular attention will be paid to the needs of new lawyers who have not yet found their first position, with a view toward identifying options. It’s expected that completion of the program will make participants more attractive job candidates to potential employers and clients.

Mentoring opportunities include one-hour, one-on-one sessions with experienced attorneys based on practice interest. Attorneys who wish to volunteer for mentoring sessions should email Martha Harris.

The 74 participants have a diverse array of career goals, from law firm practice to public interest and even alternative legal careers.  A number are interested in starting their own practices, and the NLI has a series of programs in its curriculum to assist participants who are interested in that career path.

Participants are also given City Bar membership and are encouraged to utilize all the benefits the Association has to offer.

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