As a French major who considered pursuing a career in the Foreign Service before deciding on law school, I was excited to attend the Rentrée, which I would translate as the “Opening of the Paris Bar,” in early December. And, as I complete this column, I am heartbroken and my thoughts are with the people of Paris at this incredibly difficult time.

The Rentrée is an annual event put on by the centuries-old Paris Bar Association that combines continuing legal education with a celebration including bar leaders from around the world. A highlight of the celebration was a rhetoric competition among a dozen recent law graduates who had been chosen for their oral presentation skills, and a nice twist involved the prize: a year of supported pro bono work representing indigent criminal defendants.

I met with solicitors and barristers from the UK. Of concern to them was the recent transfer of lawyer regulation and discipline from the organized bar to government regulators in England. Paris lawyers discipline themselves in a large courtroom in the Palais de Justice, where some 20 of them hear allegations against their fellows. No First Department disciplinary committee for them.

As I walked through the Palais de Justice, I reflected on the growing interconnectedness of the global legal community, and on the part we as City Bar members play in it with all of the international work we do.

In the last several months alone, the City Bar and the City Bar Justice Center have been visited by delegations or individuals from Bangladesh, China, Japan, Malaysia, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Spain seeking insights on how we deal with justice issues for application to their work back home. In November, I welcomed the president of the German Federal Bar Association, along with German government officials, to the German Bar’s exhibit (co-sponsored by the ABA) that we hosted on the persecution of Jewish lawyers and judges during the Nazi era.

With sixteen committees devoted to international affairs, our members must be among the world’s most traveled lawyers. Committee members with global expertise collaborate on reports and programs, often with multiple committees collaborating, each committee bringing its particular knowledge to ensure the end result reflects a rich set of perspectives.

There’s not room in this column to mention all of the great international-themed work that has taken place at the City Bar over the past few months. But as an illustration of how attuned our programming is to the issues of the day, I commend our Committees on Environmental Law, International Environmental Law, and our Task Force on Legal Issues of Climate Adaptation for their program “Leading by Example: State and Local Governments as Catalysts for Action on Climate Change” (co-sponsored by the New York State Bar Association’s Environmental Law Section and the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University).

The program, timed to coincide with the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit in September, featured a keynote address by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who was joined on the program by the director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency; the Director of the California Office of Planning and Research and a Senior Policy Advisor to Governor Jerry Brown; the former Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection; and the Mayor of Boulder, Colorado. That same day, the City Bar and the Sabin Center co-hosted a public conversation at the City Bar on climate change with the presidents or prime ministers of seven Pacific Island nations.

The next month, another timely panel covered the issue of the growing numbers of migrants seeking refuge in Europe after escaping the effects of climate change, armed conflicts, religious persecution, and economic adversity. The panel, which featured government officials and academics from Italy, Brazil, and the Seychelles, was a true cross-disciplinary effort, produced by the European Affairs Committee with the European Union Studies Center at the Graduate Center at CUNY and co-sponsored by the Committees on the United Nations, Foreign and Comparative Law, International Human Rights, International Law, Middle East and North Africa, Immigration and Nationality Law, and the Council on International Affairs.

City Bar committees have written letters on a range of human rights and rule of law issues to leaders in China, Uganda, Egypt and Swaziland, among others, and have urged the United States government to use its power to achieve human rights objectives, such as eliminating the use of child soldiers.

The City Bar’s Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice has been tremendously active as well, often working with our committees on various projects. The Committee on International Environmental Law and the Vance Center drafted a letter to the United Nations urging that its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) incorporate ambitious targets and substantial support for the reduction of toxic pollution, a leading cause of death in the developing world. Five Association committees further joined in a letter  urging UN Member States to make governance a stand-alone goal in the Sustainable Development Goals and throughout the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

The Vance Center has also been busy in Brazil, where the Brazilian National Truth Commission presented its final report to that country’s President on December 10th, International Human Rights Day. The report recounts the human rights violations against the Brazilian people during the military dictatorship from 1964 to 1988 and lists hundreds of public officials, including military officers and former presidents, allegedly responsible for them. The Vance Center’s work with civil society and state institutions in Brazil in support of the Truth Commission over the past year included a City Bar program bringing together members of the Truth Commission, the Brazilian government, and NGOs. In addition, the Vance Center organized delegations that made two visits to Guatemala and followed up with reports addressing serious concerns over the country’s justice system and judicial appointment process.

I look forward to seeing all of the international projects our association and others around the world will take on in 2015 and beyond. Here’s to the global bar and the crucial work that lawyers do to improve the world as it continues to get smaller and more interconnected.

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

 

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The New York City Bar Legal Referral Service has launched a new websitecitybarlegalreferral.org — designed to make requesting a screened and qualified lawyer simple and worry-free. In addition to the general public, lawyers are encouraged to send family, friends, and potential clients who they cannot help to the website or to call 212-626-7373.

Here’s some of what’s new:

  • If you are using a phone or tablet, the website will automatically reformat and resize to ensure that it is very easy to read and navigate, and will look great no matter what you’re using to browse.
  • A revised Request a Lawyer Referral Form, which makes it even faster and more convenient to get a referral.
  • Improved search functionality to make it easier to find what you are looking for.
  • Success Stories about individuals who found the right lawyer.

In addition, the New York City Bar Legal Referral Service has a new logo, and the site still has in-depth articles on common legal issues and details about all of its services.

“We are excited to make it easier than ever for people to find the right lawyer for their needs, and we will continue to refine and innovate to match the public’s needs,” said George D. Wolff, Executive Director of the New York City Bar Legal Referral Service.

Feedback on the new site and any other suggestions are always welcomed by the New York City Bar Legal Referral Service through their Contact Form.

 

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The New York City Bar Association has evaluated candidates recommended by the New York State Commission on Judicial Nomination for appointment as Associate Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, to fill the vacancy created by the mandatory age retirement of Judge Robert Smith.  The Association uses a three-tiered rating system to rate the candidates: exceptionally well qualified, well qualified and not well qualified.

Updated December 29th:  Due to a tabulation error, a previous version of this blog showed Rowan D. Wilson as “Well Qualified.” In fact, he was found to be “Exceptionally Well Qualified” as indicated below.

The following are our ratings of the seven candidates:

Kathy H. Chin – Well Qualified

Hon. Eugene M. Fahey – Well Qualified

Hector Gonzalez – Well Qualified

Hon. Erin M. Peradotto – Well Qualified

Mary Kay Vyskocil – Well Qualified

Rowan D. Wilson – Exceptionally Well Qualified

Stephen P. Younger – Well Qualified

The Association’s Executive Committee extensively reviewed the background and qualifications of the candidates.  Representatives of the Association’s Executive, Judiciary and State Courts of Superior Jurisdiction Committees interviewed each candidate and, for all candidates, reviewed their writings, investigated their background, and interviewed judges and lawyers familiar with the candidates.  After considering the candidate’s intellectual ability, knowledge of the law, integrity, impartiality, judicial demeanor and temperament, the full Executive Committee then considered whether to rate each candidate “well qualified,” “not well qualified” or “exceptionally well qualified.”

This three-tiered rating was adopted by the Executive Committee in May 2007.  The criteria for each rating are as follows:

“Well Qualified”:  Consistent with the term “well qualified” as it is set forth in describing the Commission’s mandate in Judiciary Law Section 63(1) and in Article 6, Section 2 of the Constitution: candidates “who by their character, temperament, professional aptitude and experience are well qualified to hold such judicial office.”

“Not Well Qualified”:  Candidates who may be competent lawyers or judges but, in the judgment of the Executive Committee, do not meet the requisite standard for “Well Qualified” in one or more of the constitutional and statutory criteria of “character, temperament, professional aptitude and experience.”

“Exceptionally Well Qualified”:  Candidates who are exceptional to the degree that they are superior to others who are “well qualified.”  This rating should be given as an exception and not the norm.

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

 

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As you read this column, the City Bar’s Executive Committee is reviewing the candidates for the upcoming vacancy on the New York Court of Appeals caused by the mandatory age retirement of Judge Robert Smith. We will be conveying our views on the candidates to the Governor later in the week. This seems like an appropriate time to discuss the Association’s procedure for evaluating candidates for the Court of Appeals, the United States Supreme Court, and the state and federal courts in New York City.


Courts in New York City

By far our most extensive work evaluating candidates for judicial office is conducted by our incredibly productive Judiciary Committee. The Committee evaluates candidates for the broad array of state and federal courts based in New York City. In the normal course of a year, the Committee may review as many as 100 candidates.

The Judiciary Committee is comprised of 50 members, diverse in ethnicity, gender, geographic area, and size of practice. This diversity gives the Committee knowledge of all the City’s courts and reflects various perspectives on the qualities judges should have to be most effective in those courts. In addition, each county bar in the City appoints three members to sit on the Committee.

The Committee’s mission is to determine if the candidate being reviewed holds the necessary qualifications to become a judge, such as integrity, impartiality, intellectual ability, knowledge of the law, industriousness, and judicial demeanor and temperament.

The first step in evaluating judicial candidates’ credentials is to request that they complete the Judiciary Committee’s Uniform Judicial Questionnaire, which seeks detailed information regarding their legal experience, education, and employment. Attorney candidates are asked to provide statements of the types of trials they have handled over the past ten years as well as a list of their ten most recent trials and contact info for lawyers, judges, and adversaries who are familiar with the work of the candidate. Candidates who are already judges are asked to provide their most recent opinions, a list of their last ten trials with the contact information of the attorneys involved, and a list of lawyers who appear before them frequently.

Once the candidate returns the questionnaire, the Judiciary Committee names a subcommittee, composed of one Judiciary Committee member who acts as chair, one member from the appropriate court committee of the Association, and a member from the relevant county bar association’s judiciary committee.

After receiving a copy of the candidate’s questionnaire, the subcommittee investigates the candidate by conducting telephone interviews with a substantial number of references, adversaries, and other appropriate contacts, reviewing the candidate’s major written work, undertaking online searches, inquiring of the relevant disciplinary agencies, and interviewing the candidate about his or her interests in, and qualifications for, serving in the judicial office the candidate seeks. Once the subcommittee has completed its investigation, it prepares a report for the full Committee outlining the subcommittee’s findings and recommending whether to find the candidate qualified (or “Approved”) for the position in question. The Committee meets with the candidate to develop its own impression and explores issues the subcommittee has discovered during its investigation.

Once the Committee has discussed and debated the merits of the candidate, members vote a finding of either “Approved” or “Not Approved.” A determination of “Not Approved” means that the candidate failed to affirmatively demonstrate that s/he possesses the requisite qualifications for the court for which s/he is a candidate. Candidates found not approved but who receive 25% of the vote or four votes may appeal the Committee’s decision to the Executive Committee.


New York Court of Appeals

The Executive Committee evaluates the up-to-seven candidates recommended to the Governor by the Commission on Judicial Nomination to fill each vacancy on the Court of Appeals. In doing so, the Executive Committee works with the Judiciary Committee and the Committee on State Courts of Superior Jurisdiction. A subcommittee is formed for each candidate that consists of one member each from the Executive Committee, the Judiciary Committee, and the State Courts of Superior Jurisdiction Committee. The subcommittee’s reviews are similar to those described above for the Judiciary Committee. The subcommittees then report their findings to the Executive Committee, which adopts one of the following three ratings for each candidate:

Well Qualified – Consistent with the term “well qualified” as it is set forth in describing the Commission’s mandate in Judiciary Law Section 63(1) and in Article 6, Section 2 of the Constitution: candidates “who by their character, temperament, professional aptitude, and experience are well qualified to hold such judicial office.”

Not Well Qualified – Candidates who may be competent lawyers or judges but, in the judgment of the Executive Committee, do not meet the requisite standard for “Well Qualified” in one or more of the constitutional and statutory criteria of “character, temperament, professional aptitude, and experience.”

Exceptionally Well Qualified – Candidates who are exceptional to the degree that they are superior to others who are “well qualified.” This rating should be given as an exception and not the norm.

In evaluating a candidate for Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, the

Executive Committee should consider that the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals is also the Chief Judge of the State of New York, and the oversight and administrative powers and responsibilities that accompany this position.


United States Supreme Court

The Executive Committee also considers the qualifications of the President’s nominees to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. A subcommittee of members of the Executive Committee and the Judiciary Committee extensively reviews the candidate’s writings and other publicly available information, conducts a large number of interviews of individuals familiar with the candidate’s work, and seeks an in-person meeting with the candidate. The subcommittee reports its findings to the Executive Committee, which rates the nominee in one of three categories:

QualifiedThe nominee possesses the legal ability, experience, knowledge of the law, intellectual and analytical skills, maturity of judgment, common sense, sensitivity, honesty, integrity, independence, and temperament appropriate to be a Justice of the United States Supreme Court. The nominee also respects precedent, the independence of the judiciary from the other branches of government, and individual rights and liberties.

Highly QualifiedThe nominee is qualified, to an exceptionally high degree, such that the nominee is likely be an outstanding Justice of the United States Supreme Court. This rating should be regarded as an exception, and not the norm, for United States Supreme Court nominees.

Not QualifiedThe nominee fails to meet one or more of the qualifications above.

In evaluating a nominee for Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, the Executive Committee also will take into account the qualities suitable to the special duties of the Chief Justice with respect to the Court and federal court system.

*          *          *

In conducting these judicial evaluations, the Association is undertaking what we believe is a core responsibility to attain and preserve an effective, independent, and diverse judiciary. I thank those judicial candidates who have participated in this process and those who serve on the Judiciary Committee and other committees involved in this process for their effort and dedication.

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

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The New York City Bar Association’s Capital Punishment Committee has created the Capital Habeas Expert Resource Panel (CHERP) to connect local law firms litigating pro bono post-conviction capital cases with additional resources. Effective immediately, pro bono attorneys may email the Committee’s Secretary, Kate McMahon, with a request for guidance with a specific case issue.

This service is not intended to provide direct representation, but rather to support attorneys attempting to navigate the thorny landscape of capital post-conviction law. Panel experts are proficient in general habeas procedure, ineffective assistance of counsel claims, intellectual disability claims, clemency petitions, and mitigation, among other areas.

In addition to providing general expertise, panel experts may also be able to assist pro bono attorneys with moot arguments. In order to maintain client confidentiality, in contacting CHERP please refrain from using individuals’ names as well as any client confidences that are not available in the public record.

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On December 2nd, the New York City Bar Association held its tenth annual Thomas E. Dewey Medal Presentation, honoring an outstanding assistant district attorney in each of the City’s District Attorney’s offices and in the Office of the City’s Special Narcotics Prosecutor.

The recipients were: Mark J. Hale, Kings County; Cari Ferreiro, Bronx County; Karen H. Rankin, Queens County; Edward Starishevsky, New York County; David Frey, Richmond County; and Clark Abrams, Special Narcotics Prosecutor.

Dewey Awards

Bottom row: Mark J. Hale; Cari Ferreiro; Karen H. Rankin; Edward Starishevsky; David Frey; Clark Abrams. Top row: Thomas E.L. Dewey; Debra L. Raskin; James M. McGuire.

The featured speaker at the presentation was James M. McGuire, Dechert LLP; former Associate Justice, New York State Appellate Division, First Department. Thomas E.L. Dewey, Chair of the Dewey Medal Committee, presented the medals, and City Bar President Debra L. Raskin introduced the proceedings.

Among prosecutors in New York County, Thomas E. Dewey is remembered as having ushered in the era in which the District Attorney’s office has been staffed by professional prosecutors chosen on merit rather than through political patronage. Dewey first came to the public’s attention as a prosecutor in the 1930s, instituting successful criminal proceedings against gangsters, bootleggers and organized crime figures of the day. By 1937, Dewey was elected District Attorney of New York County, where he served one term before resigning to run for governor.

The awards are made possible by the generosity of the firm of Dewey Pegno & Kramarsky LLP.

 

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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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