One of the fastest-growing segments of the New York City Bar Association’s membership is solo and small-firm practitioners. This fact tracks one of the findings in our report on “New Lawyers in a Changing Profession,” which is that the number of new lawyers practicing in very small firms or as solo practitioners has doubled since 2007.

For some, we know, this is not by choice but by economic necessity, as many of the larger firms are downsizing. This is where organizations like the City Bar can step in to provide the training for new lawyers that large firms have traditionally provided. The City Bar New Lawyer Institute is being set up to provide such training.

At the same time, many lawyers are solo or in small firms by choice, and it’s a choice every bit as valid as working in a large firm. As long as there have been lawyers, lawyers have hung out shingles.

The City Bar’s Small Law Firm Center is in the shingle business, so to speak. In fact, its latest resource for solos and small operations is a “virtual shingle.” Through the Virtual Law Firm Program, City Bar members can get a midtown Manhattan address, with mail drop, use of conference rooms in our landmark building, and more.

Serving the needs of solo and small-firm practitioners, who do not have the infrastructure of the larger law firms and institutional employers, is a key function of the Association. On the business and professional development front, the City Bar’s Small Law Firm Committee oversees monthly luncheons and networking groups that help solo and small-firm practitioners develop their skills, market their practices, and generate referrals, and the Committee and Small Law Firm Center present other programming with a similar focus. For example, this spring we are presenting a three-part series that will provide hands-on assistance in setting up a blog, an e-newsletter and a social media presence. Participants will be able to bring their laptops and leave with a finished product. Throughout the year, there are dozens more law practice management programs, and each November a Small Law Firm Symposium, a full day of workshops on how to start and effectively run one’s own law firm, with extensive networking opportunities and an exhibit hall of vendors that cater to the needs of solo and small firm owners. For lawyers in firms with fewer than 10 lawyers, there are additional discounts, over and above the discounts City Bar members already receive, on over 150 CLE programs each year.

City Bar members have access to an abundance of other benefits of special interest to solos and small-firm lawyers. These include free access to our renowned library, which contains the largest collection of U.S. and New York State appellate court briefs anywhere. Also available free are Westlaw, Lexis/Nexis databases and, for firms of fewer than 25 lawyers, HeinOnline, which includes extensive collections of law reviews, government documents and historic legal materials.  Free legal research, free conference rooms and the Virtual Law Firm program provide quite a cost-effective start-up model for newly born solo and small firm practices.

Perhaps the greatest resource our Small Law Firm Center offers is human: Alla Roytberg, the Center’s Director. City Bar members are entitled to a free practice management/brainstorming session with Alla, and additional consultations can be scheduled for a discounted fee of $50 per session. As someone who has run her own practice for years, Alla advises from experience.

Another great resource that can be hard to find for solos and small-firm lawyers wrapped up in their practices is other lawyers. In particular, every lawyer should have the opportunity to find a mentor. The Small Law Firm Center, in conjunction with the City Bar’s Legal Referral Service, whose panels consist mostly of seasoned solo and small firm practitioners, offers a form of mentoring matchmaking service. There are various scenarios available, from advice on practice-related questions for a reduced fee, to co-counseling on cases with shared workloads and fees. A new “Mentoring Circles” program, which brings solo and small firm practitioners in different practice areas together to network and brainstorm monthly in a small group setting, has been very popular with members who see it as an opportunity to network, share knowledge, exchange referrals and manage caseloads. Look for announcements of additional spots opening up in the mentoring circles this summer.

Last but certainly not least, solo and small firm practitioners, like all City Bar members, can benefit from participation in the Association’s 150 committees and seek pro bono opportunities through the City Bar Justice Center and the Vance Center for International Justice.

For more information about all of these programs, plus additional benefits and deals for solos and small-firm lawyers, please visit www.nycbar.org and click on Small Law Firm Center.

Carey R. Dunne is President of the New York City Bar Association

 

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A joint report by the New York City Bar Association and Common Cause/New York (“Review Group”) finds that the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (“JCOPE”) thus far has fallen short in meeting its mission of acting vigorously to restore public confidence in government. While performing well in promulgating regulations and providing advice, JCOPE has not persuaded the public of its independence, has appeared reactive rather than proactive, and has not made sufficient use of its statutory authority, according to the report.

“The Review Group believes that the two most important conclusions to draw from this Report are first, that JCOPE can do much more to fulfill its vital mission and second, that any reasonable attack on the conflict of interest in State Government cannot ignore the conflicts of interest created by large campaign contributions and that it is within the mandate of JCOPE under the State Code of Ethics to address this key source of conflict of interest,” the report states.

JCOPE was formed two years ago to administer and interpret the laws governing the ethics of New York public officials in the Legislative and Executive branches in the wake of a series of criminal convictions and proven acts of breach of trust. The Review Group’s report offers what it calls “Hope for JCOPE” through a number of suggestions for restoring public confidence.

Most of these recommendations do not require legislation and can be undertaken immediately. These include:

  • require disclosure of special votes that veto enforcement against the vote of a JCOPE majority
  • delegate to the executive director the ability to issue person of interest or target letters in ongoing investigations
  • to assure appearance of independence, erect a firewall between JCOPE Commissioners and the public officials who appointed them
  • issue guidance regarding the ethical duty to report criminal or fraudulent behavior of public officers
  • promulgate a lobbyist Code of Ethics
  • together with the Attorney General and the Project Sunlight office, convene a roundtable for conflict related database users and work to meet their needs
  • issue guidance that bans legislators, their staffs and their immediate families from holding office, recommending employment, or engaging in certain business dealings with state-funded not-for-profit organizations
  • provide guidance on the ethical rules applicable to dealings with large campaign contributors and their lobbyists
  • specify in that guidance a standard that prohibits the appearance of unethical conduct in selling special access to large contributors or their lobbyists
  • work to use guidance and advocacy to build a better and more ethical culture for the state of New York
  • use video messages from top state leadership to promote an ethical culture

Recommendations that would require legislation include:

  • eliminate the political party component of the special vote requirement for enforcement decisions
  • work to expand Project Sunlight beyond procurement and regulatory issues in the executive branch to include law making and the legislative branch
  • eliminate the express political test for gubernatorial appointments
  • reduce gubernatorial appointments to four
  • reduce legislative leader appointments to a total of six
  • add appointments by the Chief Judge, the Attorney General and the Comptroller
  • make the size of the Commission an odd number, namely thirteen

The report addresses concerns stemming from JCOPE’s structure, which some have called the potential “Achilles heel” of the agency. “Critics noted that even though JCOPE was the largest such ethics agency in the nation at fourteen members, the dissent of only two members can thwart the initiation of an investigation,” the report states. “Twelve commissioners can vote to proceed with an investigation of the executive branch and yet the opposition of two members can prevent it…. Governor Cuomo has acknowledged that ‘[t]o the extent that we need to make some tweaks to the law…then that’s something that needs to be entertained.’”

The report cites the Commission’s most high-profile effort to date, the investigation into sexual harassment allegations against former New York Assemblyman Vito Lopez, as the “primary example of the limitations the Commission’s structure creates for the Commission’s ability, in fact and appearance, to investigate ethical misconduct in state government with full independence.”

The report concludes, “We recognize that the remedies we are recommending constitute strong medicine. However the breach of public trust that now besets State Government requires strong medicine. It is always important to recognize the many persons of the highest integrity and commitment to public service who work in State Government. It is for their sakes as well as the public’s that the seeming unending trail of indicted and convicted legislators must end. As noted above, the Review Group, and the organizations with which it is affiliated, stand ready to help JCOPE in this task.”

The City Bar was represented in the Review Group by its Government Ethics Committee, chaired by Jeremy Feigelson. The Subcommittee that worked on the report was co-chaired by Evan A. Davis and Daniel E. Karson.

The report may be read here: http://bit.ly/1nUYutV

 

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The New York City Bar Association continues to urge passage of the Compassionate Care Act (the “CCA”) and applauds its inclusion in the Assembly’s 2014-15 Health and Mental Hygiene budget.

While commending Governor Andrew Cuomo’s earlier proposal to use his executive power to restart a research program that would allow some ill New Yorkers to obtain medical marijuana, the City Bar’s Drugs and the Law and Health Law Committees express concern in a report regarding the “narrow scope” of the proposal.

The report states, “We believe that appropriately licensed and regulated registered organizations/dispensaries in the community, as provided for by the CCA, are better suited for reaching the populations suffering from the serious conditions that may benefit from treatment with medical marijuana. The CCA will provide for the data collection, research and review necessary to evaluate long-term program efficacy. In short, the CCA addresses the issues of concern: production, distribution, licensing, diversion, taxation, efficacy, program review and protection of medical marijuana.”

The report may be read here: http://bit.ly/1mQlUDF

The City Bar’s Report in Support of Legislation Permitting the Production, Distribution and Use of Medical Marijuana in New York State may be read here: http://bit.ly/1gNeV76

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On February 18, 2014, Judge Margo K. Brodie of the Eastern District of New York, spoke to members of the Council on International Affairs of the New York City Bar Association about the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance & Training (“OPDAT”) and her experiences providing training to prosecutors in Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe.

OPDAT provides technical assistance and training to prosecutors abroad at the request of foreign governments with funding received from the U.S. Department of State and others.  It sends Resident Legal Advisors (“RLAs”) to serve in foreign countries and provide comprehensive assistance for at least one year and Intermittent Legal Advisors (“ILAs”) to assist with specific programs abroad for less than one year.  Judge Brodie noted that not all RLAs and ILAs are federal prosecutors and that some are state and local prosecutors.  Judge Brodie noted that OPDAT selects “people with expertise in particular areas.”

Before joining the bench, Judge Brodie served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York and participated in many OPDAT training missions.  In 2005 to 2006, she served 10 months in Nigeria, where she advised prosecution agencies in the areas of public corruption, economic and financial fraud, and human trafficking.  From 2008 through 2012, on behalf of OPDAT, the State Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, she provided training to prosecutors and other law enforcement officials in numerous countries, including Tanzania, Lesotho, Swaziland, Jordan, Sierra Leone, Trinidad, the Bahamas, and Bosnia and Herzegovina on various topics.

Judge Brodie described some of the challenges that she encountered abroad, including a lack of access to training materials and CLE-type programs.  When conducting trainings, she would often donate used law books and other materials to foreign prosecutors.  She also noted that improving the rule of law abroad requires enhancing many aspects of the criminal justice system, including improving access to justice to criminal defendants, and referred to the absence in some countries of some of the rights we have in the United States, such as the protection against the use of improperly seized evidence and the right to counsel and bail.

Although evaluation of the effect of the programs may take time and resources, Judge Brodie observed that some positive results were already apparent.  For example, in one country, she provided basic skills training to junior prosecutors during her first training, and when she returned years later, it was evident that the prosecutors had gained substantial experience, so she could engage in more advanced training, including on human trafficking.  In fact, some of the prosecutors she had trained had been elevated to manage their own offices and supervise their own teams around the country.  In her experience, “foreign prosecutors appreciated the training opportunities, which were otherwise rarely available.”

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This is the time of year when we invite our members to apply to serve on one of our 150 committees. It’s through the work of our committees that the New York City Bar Association makes its voice heard through reports and statements, and is able to produce hundreds of events per year. For our members, committee service is vital for gaining experience, learning about substantive legal issues, building a resume and developing relationships with colleagues.

With 24,000 members in the City Bar, and with committee rosters generally limited to 39 people, the math says that not all members can serve on a committee at the same time. But if members are persistent and apply to more than one committee (understanding that some committees are in greater demand than others), they are likely to find a spot on a committee before too long.

There’s a perception among some that committee service is reserved for the most senior members of the profession. This is definitely not true. While many committees are weighted toward more experienced lawyers who possess the know-how to guide the drafting of reports and the planning of events, we encourage newer lawyers, and law students, to apply to any committee. In fact, we can think of no better way than committee service to help new lawyers advance their careers, and no better way to ensure that the City Bar remains a place where new lawyers want to be.

For these reasons, we are pleased to announce the New Lawyers Council, an initiative designed to increase committee opportunities for our members who have been practicing for less than ten years. The New Lawyers Council will be made up of four committees, each with room for 39 members and a chair.

The Public Service Committee will develop new programs to provide service to the public.  We envision that these activities would include community education on legal issues as well as non-legal activities such as clothing drives or other public-spirited projects.

The Social Events and Networking Committee will develop networking opportunities and social events for newer lawyers in the Association. It’s anticipated that they will work closely with our Membership Department, which produces “Lawyers Connect First Thursdays” and other events to appeal to newer lawyers.

The New Lawyer Practice and Skills Committee will focus on professional development materials and programming tailored to junior associates and their in-house and nonprofit counterparts. This committee will also help develop mentoring programs.

And the National Moot Court Competition Committee will continue the work of managing the highly-regarded annual competition among law schools. Over 190 law-school teams from 15 regions participated in the most recent competition, leading to the final rounds held at the City Bar.

Each committee will meet regularly throughout the year, and the Council will meet two to three times per year.

While service on the New Lawyers Council would not be a requirement for selection to other committees, experience on the Council will certainly be excellent preparation for further committee service. We look forward to welcoming the first members of the New Lawyers Council, and to their contributions in shaping the City Bar for years to come.

Carey R. Dunne is the President of the New York City Bar Association

Editor’s Note: City Bar members, for a Committee FAQ, click here, and to log in and apply to be on a committee, click here.

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The New York City Bar Association has released its 2014 State Legislative Agenda. This agenda represents only a portion of the dozens of positions generated by our committees over the course of each legislative session. It focuses on issues that are relevant to the current legislative debate or of particular importance to the City Bar, as well as legislative proposals drafted by our committees.

The following are the agenda items for 2014:

  • Support legislation to bring public campaign financing to New York and institute stronger ethics, disclosure and transparency laws.
  • Support legislation to establish the fourth Tuesday in June as New York’s Primary Day for both federal and state offices and party positions.
  • Support legislation to allow properly certified patients to gain easy access to medical marijuana that meets standards for growth and sale under the law.
  • Support the Women’s Equality Act.
  • Support the proposed 2014-2015 Judiciary Budget request and efforts to increase the number of Family Court judges.
  • Support access to justice initiatives, including proposals to consolidate the state’s major trial courts and requiring commission-based judicial appointments.
  • Support the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act so that gender identity and gender expression are included as protected classes under the New York Human Rights Law.
  • Support efforts to require the New York State Board of Examiners of Sex Offenders to consult a validated risk instrument when it makes a recommendation to the court regarding the appropriate risk level of a sex offender.
  • Continue to speak out against legislation that would lessen consumer protections vis-à-vis questionable debt collectors, payday lenders and so-called budget planners.
  • Support legislation to protect the inheritance rights of posthumously conceived children.
  • Advance City Bar-drafted bill to clarify and expand the category of claimants under the Unjust Conviction and Imprisonment Act so that individuals are not unreasonably or arbitrarily barred from bringing claims.
  • Advance City Bar-drafted Home Mortgage Bridge Loan Act to create a statewide program to provide mortgage bridge loans to low- and middle-income homeowners.
  • Advance City Bar-drafted bill to amend the Arts and Cultural Affairs Law to better protect art authenticators against frivolous lawsuits.

The 2014 Legislative Agenda can be viewed here: http://bit.ly/1oRV3Wp

 

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The University of Georgia School of Law won the final round of the 64th Annual National Moot Court Competition, held last night at the New York City Bar Association. The winning team was comprised of Steven Strasberg, Ben Thorpe, and Emily Westberry. Emory University School of Law was the runner-up team, comprised of MaryGrace Bell, Hunter Robinson, and Kyle Winchester.

Best Brief honors went to the University of Pennsylvania School of Law: Omar Madhany, Bianca Nunes, and Tian Wen, with Runner Up Best Brief awarded to University of Utah S. J. Quinney College of Law: Jeremy Christiansen and Stephen P. Dent.

Best Individual Speaker went to Ben Thorpe of the University of Georgia School of Law, with Runner-Up Best Individual Speaker going to Hunter Robinson of the Emory University School of Law.

From left: Hon. Edgardo Ramos, United States District Court, SDNY; Hon. Denny Chin, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; Trudi Hamilton, Fellow, American College of Trial Lawyers; Hon. Ellen Gesmer, New York State Supreme Court; Steven Strasberg, Emily Westbury and Ben Thorpe of the University of Georgia School of Law; Carey R. Dunne, President, New York City Bar Association; Hon. Judith J. Gische, Appellate Division, First Department; and The Honorable Richard J. Sullivan, United States District Court, SDNY.

The final round was judged by: Hon. Denny Chin, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; Hon. Ellen Gesmer, New York State Supreme Court; Hon. Judith J. Gische, Appellate Division, First Department; Hon. Edgardo Ramos, United States District Court, Southern District of New York; Hon. Richard J. Sullivan, United States District Court, Southern District of New York; Trudi Hamilton, Fellow, American College of Trial Lawyer; and Carey R. Dunne, President, New York City Bar Association.

This year, the Competition presented two constitutional issues. The first concerns whether a state law mandating that beverage retailers post a sign in their stores about the negative health effects of certain beverages violates the First Amendment. The second arises under the Commerce Clause and considers whether a state law that requires a unique mark to be placed on beverage containers sold within the state violates the Dormant Commerce Clause.

The final argument of the Competition was the culmination of more than six months of preparation and arguments by more than 194 teams from over 131 law schools in every geographical area of the country competing at the regional and national levels.

The Competition is co-sponsored by the American College of Trial Lawyers and the Young Lawyers Committee of the New York City Bar Association.

 

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The New York City Bar Association urges passage of the Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013, S.1752 (“MJIA”), which would put legal decisions in the hands of experienced prosecutors, independent from the chain of command, for serious crimes that are not uniquely military in nature.

According to a report drafted by the Association’s Committees on Sex & Law and Military Affairs & Justice, this much needed bipartisan amendment to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, to change the designation of key decision-making authority for courts martial, “offers an opportunity to modernize our military justice system and address the epidemic of sexual assault in our military.”

Moreover, notes the report, this measure would put the United States military in step with the military justice systems of other democracies that share a common law tradition, most of which have “revamped their military justice systems and removed the disposition of certain crimes outside of the chain of command to be handled independently by trained prosecutors or commissions.”

The report continues, “[t]here is widespread agreement that legitimacy is an essential feature of any system of criminal justice. When the criminal process is perceived as fair and legitimate, its decisions are more likely to be accepted as accurate. Many sexual assault survivors cite a lack of confidence in the military justice system—concern that no conviction or even formal prosecution will result and fear of reprisals.”

In May 2013, the Department of Defense estimated that there were 26,000 service members who experienced sexual assault, a 37% increase from FY 2010. However, only 3,374 sexual assaults were reported in FY 2012. As the Committees state, “we believe that the visibly professional approach proposed in the MJIA would strengthen confidence in the military justice system and encourage more sexual assault survivors to report.”

Ultimately, by placing authority to prosecute and make other key decisions for serious, non-military crimes in the hands of military prosecutors rather than the chain of command, the report concludes, “the MJIA would improve the perceived fairness of courts-martial and ensure justice and accountability.”

The report may be read here: http://bit.ly/1bWUmpj

 

 

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