“The Creation of More Intimate Relations”

A 150th Anniversary Feature 

Bret I. Parker

By Bret Parker, Executive Director, New York City Bar Association

While it’s well known that the New York City Bar Association was formed to counter corruption, I’m struck that in its founding document – the 83-word “Call for Organization” – the first reason given for starting up the organization was “the creation of more intimate relations between its members than now exist.” The founders then added that forming the Association “would, at the same time, sustain the profession in its proper position in the community, and thereby enable it, in many ways, to promote the interests of the public….” 

I think they knew what they were doing and got it exactly right. “Association” – literally the coming together and interaction of people with similar interests and goals – comes first. Then comes the mission and the various means of carrying it out. 

Almost every month in the House of the Association on 44th Street, our 150 committees convene to create “more intimate relations between its members.” Committee members – between 15-55 of them from diverse backgrounds – sit around a table and discuss the most recent developments in their practice areas, chat about who just moved from which job to another, catch up on personal news about each other, and enjoy a snack, meal, or beverage. Through these thousands of personal interactions every month, strong bonds are formed among attorneys who are at big and small firms, working in companies, serving as judges, acting as regulators, prosecuting or defending, working at non-profits, or teaching at schools. I know about all this personally, from my time serving on and then chairing the Trademarks and Unfair Competition Committee; to this day I keep in touch with members of that committee and keep the committee roster in my desk. Committee meetings spark personal and professional relationships that can last a lifetime. (And, yes, speaking of “intimate relations,” we’ve had multiple instances of folks meeting and falling in love and even getting married in the House of the Association.)

“At the same time,” to echo the founders’ construction, these committee meetings are the foundation for all of the work the City Bar does. When the City Bar evaluates the qualifications of federal and state judges in New York City or nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court, or submits an amicus brief on an antitrust or patents issue, or comments on a rule change being proposed by the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, or calls for the protection of lawyers in China, or for the U.S. Attorney General to recuse himself from Department of Justice review of the Ukraine matter, it all starts at committee meetings.

Often committees work on projects with other committees, increasing the number of interactions among City Bar members. And bonds formed through committee membership are just the beginning, as events and CLE programs organized by committees over the course of the year are attended by thousands of City Bar members who may not themselves be on committees, creating more opportunities to make connections. 

And the connections go beyond City Bar members. By engaging in this work together, we increase the City Bar’s and our profession’s impact exponentially because we are a louder voice when we speak for many. Our incredibly devoted and talented staff are constantly working with our members – in person, on the phone, and online – to connect them with each other and to help them interact with other organizations and the wider community. Through this process, we reach government officials who consider our policy positions, the courts that receive our amicus briefs, and members of the public who read our op-eds, letters to the editor, news coverage of our work, or other public-facing communications on social media or elsewhere. 

During these tumultuous times, when we are so divided, polarized, or isolated in our own virtual realities online, opportunities to come together – to associate with one another – have never been more critical. This is especially true when we come together with disagreement and differences. We are stronger when we consider all viewpoints, and our Association’s processes are a model for how to bring together people of all backgrounds and experiences to engage with one another to discuss and negotiate differences on issues that affect us all — to engage, if you will, in more intimate relations. 

Bret Parker can be emailed here.