State of the City Bar – Samuel W. Seymour

Samuel W. Seymour

President’s Column, April 2012

As I look back on my two-year term as President of the New York City Bar Association, I’m grateful to those who have made my tenure personally and professionally satisfying, namely the Association’s extraordinary membership, staff, and Executive Committee. The scope and scale of the work that gets accomplished at the City Bar, year in and year out, is truly remarkable.

We often say that our committees are the Association, in that they are how the City Bar’s work gets done. Over the past two years, the City Bar’s 150 committees issued nearly 400 reports, produced over 500 events, and spoke out on an enormous range of issues. Among too many highlights to mention them all, we testified before Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services; advocated for raises for New York’s judges; hosted a press conference of over 20 bar groups in support of the marriage equality legislation subsequently enacted in Albany; proposed the creation of mortgage servicer-specific conference parts in New York City’s courts to facilitate the handling of foreclosure actions, which the Office of Court Administration is implementing as a pilot program; advocated for legislation passed by the City Council establishing regulation of process servers; and drafted legislation or made recommendations that became law in the areas of trusts and estates, benefit corporations, and ID theft. We also commented effectively on court rules and a range of tax, financial, health, consumer, and other laws and regulations on the federal, state, and city level.

Due to its historic leadership role and the wide respect it has earned, the New York City Bar is more than just a local bar association, and we demonstrate that regularly by weighing in on national and international issues. We filed amicus briefs opposing restrictive immigration laws in Arizona and Alabama on the grounds that they were in conflict with federal law. We wrote a report and filed a brief opposing Oklahoma’s constitutional amendment banning the use of foreign or Sharia law in state courts. We have written to the highest levels of China’s government to protest the treatment of human rights lawyers there. A Bahraini lawyer wrote to us and posted on our blog to thank us for helping him obtain his release from custody.

In keeping with our longstanding tradition of providing an opportunity for our members to hear from leading government legal officers, we hosted many high-profile speakers over the past two years. Southern District U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara made news in October 2010 when he foreshadowed insider-trading prosecutions. Robert Khuzami gave his first policy speech here after being named Director of Enforcement for the SEC. Other recent speakers have included Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and Manhattan DA Cyrus R. Vance Jr.

In response to growing interest among our members, we have recently created three new committees: International Business Transactions, Fashion Law, and White Collar Criminal Law. Under the auspices of the latter, the City Bar will present the First Annual White Collar Crime Institute, a full-day symposium, on May 14th, at which U.S. Attorney Bharara and Attorney General Schneiderman will be keynote speakers.

With legal services funding being cut, the work of the City Bar Justice Center in providing legal services to those who can’t afford a lawyer has never been more important. In 2011, the Justice Center provided $18 million worth of legal services as it trained and supervised the work of pro bono attorneys, who were able to broaden their careers and improve their skills while helping others. Last year, the Justice Center created and managed quarterly legal clinics at the request of the reopened 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund. The Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice continued its work in Latin America, spreading the pro bono ethos and filing amicus briefs in high-profile human rights cases of regional importance, and in Africa, providing legal support to former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s efforts on the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation.

In direct service to our members and to the profession, we have grown our Continuing Legal Education offerings, and have presented over 100 programs in each of the last two years in the area of career and professional development. And to help ensure the future vitality of the profession, we have increased our membership among law students, while our Diversity Pipeline Program has expanded its work with high school and college students interested in pursuing legal careers.

With heartfelt thanks to the 24,000 members that make up the New York City Bar Association, I am pleased to report that this historic institution remains fiscally sound, vital in its mission, and true to its founding principles.