Other Bars and Us – Debra L. Raskin

Debra L. Raskin

President’s Column, April 2016

As I approve the nominations of new members to serve on the City Bar’s delegation to the State Bar’s House of Delegates, and our Senior Policy Counsel, Maria Cilenti, prepares to travel to D.C. as part of ABA Lobby Day, I thought this would be a good time to talk about these inter-bar relationships and why they are important.

The New York State Bar Association’s major policy-making body is the House of Delegates. It meets four times a year: twice in Albany, once in New York City, and once in Cooperstown, NY. The House reviews and approves reports from committees, sections, and task forces in order to decide whether such reports should become official positions of the State Bar. The City Bar has a 21-member delegation to the House. The delegation consists of City Bar members who are also members of the State Bar and who have an interest in each Bar’s work; typically, delegation members have a history of being active committee members at the City Bar but that is not a prerequisite to serving. Prior to each State Bar House of Delegates meeting, the City Bar delegation reviews and discusses the reports that will be voted on by the House. Typically we have an opportunity to provide comments in advance. City Bar members interested in being considered for a vacancy on our delegation to the House, please email Committee Associate Margot Isaacs.

On April 20th and 21st, Maria will head down to D.C. as part of the State Bar delegation for ABA Lobby Days on the Hill. As part of the group, Maria will talk to our New York representatives in Congress about the importance of maintaining adequate financial support for the Legal Services Corporation, the primary funder of legal services programs throughout the country. The team will also be talking about the need for federal sentencing reform, an issue supported by the City Bar’s Task Force on Mass Incarceration and Federal Courts Committee.  And, while we are engaging with our state representatives on these important issues, ABA members from around the country will be having the same discussions with their state representatives in Congress. We are most appreciative of the opportunity to take part in these lobby days each year and to help the organized bar speak with one voice.

The State and City Bars collaborate throughout the year on programs, reports and advocacy.    Our policy and advocacy team works with the State Bar’s government affairs team on issues ranging from civil procedure to trusts and estates. Many of our committee members sit on overlapping committees of the two Bars, and you will notice that some of our legislative reports are either jointly submitted by both Bars or clearly advance the same policy objective. A consensus among bar associations can be very helpful when it comes to advocating in Albany. 

George Wolff, who heads up our Legal Referral Service (LRS), is a panelist at an upcoming State Bar program regarding changes in the legal profession and the important role played by LRS’s. George and the City Bar’s LRS Committee recently led a joint effort by both Bars to propose legislation that would create a privilege between LRS counselors and members of the public who contact the LRS. In another example of our collaboration, Alan Rothstein, our recently retired General Counsel, is a member of the City Bar’s Task Force on the New York State Constitutional Convention and acts as a liaison to a similar Task Force set up by the State Bar. Maria is an active member of both Bars and sits on the State Bar’s policy committee. These arrangements greatly facilitate the exchange of ideas and viewpoints and contribute to effective advocacy, even if, at the end of the day, we have to agree to disagree on a particular issue.

Eileen Travis is Director of the City Bar’s Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP), which supports the health and well-being of New York City’s legal community, provides extensive outreach, direct assistance with mental health and substance abuse problems, and educational programs to members of local bar associations in the five boroughs, on Long Island, and in Westchester. She collaborates regularly with the New York State Bar and is a member of the ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (COLAP), which disseminates information and coordinates activities for the 52 LAPS throughout the U.S., Canada, and the UK.

Gabrielle Brown, our Director of Diversity and Inclusion, has done great work building alliances and productive working relationships with minority and affinity bar associations throughout the metropolitan area. Gabrielle and other City Bar leaders meet regularly with leaders of those bar associations to cooperate on shared goals, exchange information, and support important events.

Whether co-sponsoring programs and events, exchanging ideas at regularly scheduled meetings, or creating networking and mentoring opportunities, the City Bar is proud to work with so many deeply engaged organizations. We are delighted to promote such cooperation as another way for City Bar members to make their voices heard, promote professional opportunities, and give back to the community in creative ways.