The New Year Ahead

Susan J. KohlmannGreetings and best wishes to all for 2023! 

Throughout the fall, I was thrilled to see the house of the New York City Bar Association bustling with activity at in-person events once again, and to collaborate with our committees on the kinds of timely programs, reports and statements that define the City Bar’s singular place within the legal profession.

New Year, New Colleagues

As we start the new year, I am filled with anticipation for what lies ahead. High on my list of priorities is reconnecting with each other, especially those newest to the profession who joined remotely during the pandemic and have not had the benefit of in-person collaboration and mentoring that has been so formative for the careers of so many of us. Our “welcome” events last summer and fall for law students and associates were filled with enthusiastic attendees, and we are planning more events for this year, including one for in-house lawyers.

Our goal for these events is to make our colleagues feel that they belong in the legal profession and to a community larger than themselves or their work places, and may “Belonging” be a word of the year for all in the profession. It’s a word recently adopted by our Office for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (ODEIB), and it’s the ultimate goal beyond simple inclusion. I highly recommend the series of podcasts on “Belonging” that the Office has been putting out under the leadership of Executive Director Tanya Martinez-Gallinucci.

New Year, New Initiatives

Following the threats to democracy after the 2020 election, I couldn’t be more proud of how the City Bar has responded, led by our Task Force on the Rule of Law, chaired by Marcy Kahn, and our Election Law Committee, chaired by Rachel A. Harding. The relative calm that followed the administration of the midterms, along with the passage of bipartisan Electoral Count Act reform, is encouraging. That said, it’s no time for complacency, and when things inevitably heat up again with the 2024 campaign, we will be ready with timely information and resources for lawyers to do their part in making sure our elections remain free and fair.

To that end, I’m also very proud of two initiatives being generated at the City Bar to protect the rule of law and democracy: the Civic Education Task Force, led by co-chairs Hon. Katharine Parker and Dawn Smalls, and the “Lawyers for Reporters” project of the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, led by Executive Director Alex Papachristou. The Civic Ed Task Force seeks to increase public understanding of how government works on the local, state and federal levels, as well as the fundamental principles that enable our democracy and system of justice to thrive. The Task Force will focus on developing ways for lawyers, judges and legal professionals to contribute to and support efforts to improve civil discourse, combat disinformation, foster greater civic engagement and participation in elections, and strengthen belief in, and allegiance to, the rule of law. The Lawyers for Reporters Project, a collaboration with the Press Freedom Defense Fund of First Look Media Works, provides pro bono legal services to local reporting organizations creating, curating and disseminating independent journalism and research to promote government and corporate accountability and an informed citizenry.

I continue to be excited by the ongoing work of the City Bar Justice Center, thanks to Executive Director Kurt Denk and his colleagues. Not only do they make a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of individuals each year, but they establish partnerships in the community and innovate to catalyze real change. I’m thinking of their recent partnership with Covenant House and pro bono firm volunteers to address the serious legal needs of migrant youth arriving in increasing numbers in New York City from the U.S.-Mexico border. And when the office of New York’s Attorney General quoted Scott Kohanowski, the director of the Justice Center’s Homeowner Stability Project in a recent announcement on a deed-theft prosecution, it was an acknowledgement of the expertise and leadership of the Justice Center in defending homeowners and preserving communities in New York City.

Beyond our borders, the City Bar has long focused on the protection of human rights both at home and abroad and, along with our members’ longstanding involvement and expertise in corporate and business matters, has launched a new Special Committee on Business and Human Rights. The committee, under the leadership of co-chairs John Murray and Suzanne Knijnenburg, will study, educate practitioners and the public on, and participate in developing and improving the burgeoning field of business and human rights, including hard and soft law governing corporate responsibility for human rights, best practices and trends in the field. Following up on comments the committee submitted on the U.S. National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct, the committee plans to work on BHR-related legislative proposals at the federal and state levels, including trade imports regulations and human rights due diligence, and to take a closer look at critical minerals, Environmental and Social Governance investing (ESG), and digital rights.

And, speaking of digital rights, look for an exciting announcement soon on how the City Bar will be tackling all manner of digital issues. It’s a focus that dovetails with the New York State Continuing Legal Education Board’s new mandatory credit in Cybersecurity, Privacy and Data Protection, which will be required for all attorneys in the state effective July 1, 2023. Be sure to check out the City Bar’s first CLE offering on that topic on January 31. (See also the latest version of the Cybersecurity Protocol for International Arbitration from the Working Group of the City Bar, the International Council for Commercial Arbitration, and the International Institute for Conflict Prevention & Resolution.)

New Year, New Resolutions

As we forge ahead into the post-holiday midwinter months, I would be remiss in not emphasizing the importance of mental health and wellness. You may have noticed, as I have, that the New York Times and Washington Post now have full-fledged wellness sections and reporters on those beats. As we move through our first post-pandemic winter season, let’s remember the lessons learned during the last few years, which is that mental health is crucial, and can be fragile, and that we all need to be mindful of how we’re doing as well as how our friends, families, colleagues and community members are doing. As we resume the frenetic pace of in-person law practice, workplaces, meetings, court appearances, and social and professional engagements and expectations, please be aware of yourself and your colleagues, and the pitfalls of burnout. Our Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP), under the leadership of Executive Director Eileen Travis, and our Mindfulness & Well-Being in Law Committee, chaired by Lisa Podemski, have been ahead of the curve in the wellness movement. Do not hesitate to reach out to LAP at 212.302.5787 if you or anyone you know needs help.

I hope to see you soon at an in-person event at the City Bar. Until then, once again, all the best for ’23!