“Disruption” and Innovation at the City Bar – Bret I. Parker

Bret I. Parker

Spring/Summer 2018

In the 1980s, the New York City Bar Association had 58 full and part-time staff in the library. On one level this isn’t surprising, considering we all know that it was before the World Wide Web. Still, I find it a striking fact that illustrates just how much things have changed. Today, we obviously have far fewer staff in the library, but we are constantly investing in new online resources and databases for our members who use the library.

We also shouldn’t be surprised that the “disruptions” wrought by the Information Age keep coming. The latest area to be disrupted is Continuing Legal Education (CLE). It’s no longer necessary to leave your desk to take a CLE course, as it can be done online. More and more firms are also offering in-house CLEs, presenting another disincentive to leave the office. The City Bar is responding by presenting what we think is yet another very good reason to be engaged as a member here at the City Bar: We’re making CLE a benefit of membership – free for many and heavily discounted for the rest. Find out more on page 3 of our Spring/Summer 44th Street Notes.

Rather than fight digital disruption, you could say we’re looking to ride it. A good example is the Virtual Law Firm we offer our solo members, allowing them to have a midtown address, receive mail here, have their phones answered, and more. In just the past year, the number of VLF members has increased 27%, from 180 to 230.

Do you remember the dark and dingy “Room 2” at the back of the first floor? It’s now the renovated and fully digitized Kaye Room. With a huge flat screen, videoconferencing capability, and wireless telephone mics spread around the table, it’s now our brightest, most versatile, and technologically advanced room in the building.

We are also increasing our production of digital media, having recently leapt into podcasting. You can listen to our first couple of episodes – on gun control and immigration – by visiting

In the past, we never had dedicated A/V staff to do sound checks and make sure that everything was working just right during events and CLEs. Now we have staff available on site, day and night, to make sure everything is working the way it should. Finally, did you know that if you call New York’s 311 hotline and utter three words—“Need a lawyer”—the City will connect you to our Legal Referral Service? It’s a prime example of how we are working to get our messages and services out there in new and innovative ways.

These are exciting times in the country and I would argue that there has never been a more interesting and critically important time to get involved here. While some bar associations around the country are experiencing a tough time with membership, we continue to attract new members. But there’s always room for more, so spread the word among your colleagues!

So I’d venture to say that, as a 148-year-old institution, we’re holding our own in staying up-to-date, and making sure we represent the diverse communities in which we live and work. Continuing a trend for the past few years, the Executive Committee that officially took office at the end of the Annual Meeting in May is extremely diverse, with 41% being female and 45% from minority or historically under-represented groups. Their pictures in the front entrance of our building help tell the story.

As times keep changing and disruptions keep coming, the City Bar continues to keep pace through innovations to engage our members of today while attracting the members of tomorrow. Stay tuned for more news in the months ahead as we leverage our history with an eye toward the future as we approach our 150th anniversary in 2020.

Bret Parker is Executive Director of the New York City Bar Association.