Happy New Year! – Bret I. Parker

Bret I. Parker

Spring 2016 

Those of us who work every day at the City Bar sometimes measure the years by when the new President, officers, and Executive Committee members begin their terms. Since that time is now, I thought I would use this opportunity to review the past year from the perspective of the people who keep the City Bar going strong every day.

As I spoke at the Meeting Hall podium during our Annual Meeting, I marveled at the improved sound generated by the new microphones and speakers that were part of our recent A/V upgrade. With tablets to control sound levels, new projectors with HD screens in the Meeting Hall and CLE Center, enhanced A/V capabilities in some of the other rooms, and technology to deliver CLE programs through live webcasting and ‘on demand,’ one can almost forget our building was built in the 1890s.

The project was a team effort, including contributions from our two new team members who are dedicated to A/V at the City Bar: Jordan Betsch and Jarred Ramos. Bob Huber, our Director of Building Operations, got us over the finish line while he and his team ensured the smooth running of the entire building.

Also on the tech front, our website is undergoing a complete overhaul, and in just a few weeks you’ll see a sleeker, better organized, mobile-friendly design as well as a new content management system to make our reports and other materials readily accessible. Eric Friedman, our director of communications, and a cross-functional team are responsible for bringing this long-contemplated project to life. 

Credit also to George Wolff, who runs our Legal Referral service. He was a trailblazer and updated the LRS section of the web site first, which served as a pilot for the rest of us. That’s just one example of the innovation and collaboration he has brought to our organization and the LRS program, which exceeded its forecast for the year and blew last year’s performance out of the water.

And thanks to Richard Tuske, our library director, who gets credit for helping us fund many of these things with our successful library auction, without which none of these projects would be possible.

For our members who serve, and seek to serve, on committees, we’ve created two new ones that are filling up quickly: one just for In-House Counsel and one concerning Compliance. And we’re not just adding committees; we’re making more opportunities available on existing committees. The numbers tell a very nice story about member engagement. Over the past three years, the number of committee applicants has gone from 616 to 943 (up 53%) to 1,148 (up another 22%). And the number of committee seats filled went from 4,326 to 4,602 to an all-time high of 4,787.

These increases don’t happen automatically. Martha Harris and Stephanie Glazer spend much of their time helping to attract committee members and keeping them happy and engaged. 

And the leadership of our committees continues to become more diverse in every sense of the word. Of the 36 new chairs that were just appointed, over 25% are from ethnic minorities, identify as LGBTQ, or are disabled. And the incoming executive committee of the Association—our most senior leadership—is incredibly diverse. Of the 22 members, 12 are male and 10 are female; and 50% (11 of the 22) are from historically under-represented groups (an increase from last year’s 40% figure). The diversity of our Executive Committee is due, in part, to the outgoing Nominating Committee chaired by Past President Samuel W. Seymour of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP.

Another important barometer of success in my mind is overall City Bar membership. It’s a sign not just of how well we’re currently doing, but it’s also a good predictor of how strong the Association will continue to be in the future as new members become long-time members. I am pleased to report that this is the third year in a row that paid City Bar membership (excluding students and LLMs) has grown and, once again, we have the highest year-end paid membership ever. My sincere thanks to Arlene Bein, recently promoted to Senior Director, and the Membership and Marketing department as well as the entire City Bar staff because attracting and keeping members takes a village.

Speaking of our village, Maria Cilenti has been serving in her new role as Senior Policy Counsel for almost a year now, overseeing all of the City Bar’s policy work and advocacy. Collaborating with the committees that generate over 170 reports a year is an amazing feat. Luckily she has Elizabeth Kocienda as well as Mary Margulis-Ohnuma, who joined us this past year as Policy Counsel.

A few other additions to our village: Helen Herman joined us from Fordham Law School to assume the role of Director of Programs to coordinate all CLE and non-CLE programming activity, allowing us to plan more strategically, best leverage the efforts of our volunteers, and coordinate our calendar of events to offer the widest array of programming to our members and the public.

Neysa Alsina joined us as counsel after a series of law firm and in-house positions. She’s also regional president of the National Hispanic Bar Association.

And I want to thank Jenneth Grullon and Margot Issacs for all the help they give me and others to keep things moving.

And on a sad note (at least sad for us even if happy for her), Alla Roytberg, the director of the small law firm center who has been here for over 10 years on a part-time basis, is leaving to grow her private practice full-time along with her daughter who is graduating from law school. We will miss her and wish her well as we search for a successor.

For the City Bar Fund, the 501(c)(3) sister organization of the Association whose programs are critical in supporting the profession and the public, we hired Lauren Sampson as Vice President of Development and External Relations. These programs rely on generous support from numerous sources, including all of you, and Lauren will oversee outreach as she works with Gabrielle Brown, Lynn Kelly, Alex Papachristou and Eileen Travis, respectively the directors of our Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the City Bar Justice Center, the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, and the Lawyer Assistance Project.

As for the coming year, you can look forward to a variety of changes and improvements. Most notably, we’re in the process of reviewing our meeting services and catering function, including interviewing companies that specializes in this area. My thanks to Nick Marricco and his team for their active involvement in this project, which we believe will allow us to enhance the experience here for our committee members, program attendees, and visitors.

Many thanks to the members of the Executive Committee, both the ones whose terms are ending and the ones who are continuing. I have to give a special shout out to Hallie Levin, of Friedman Kaplan Seiler & Adelman LLP, who ends her term as Chair of our Executive Committee (but remains on the Committee as a Vice President). Congratulations to the new Executive Committee members and to the new Chair, Elizabeth Donoghue, of Himmelstein McConnell Gribben Donoghue & Joseph.

I am very much looking forward to working with John Kiernan, your next President. His commitment to pro bono and civil legal services, not to mention his experience and skills as co-head of litigation at Debevoise & Plimpton, make him well-suited indeed to be the 67th President of the New York City Bar Association. 

It has been a genuine pleasure to work with now-former President Debra L. Raskin, to learn from her, and laugh with her. Debby often says that 90% of life is showing up, but she’s also given us the other 10% and more over these past two years, and for that we are forever grateful. 

And to all the City Bar family: Happy New Year!