The New York State Bar Association has taken a more visible and active role in the national legal community through its positions on vital issues, its influence within the American Bar Association, and the election of one of its members to head the national organization next year.
State Bar President Seymour W. James, Jr. of New York City (The Legal Aid Society) said the State Bar has distinguished itself by being proactive on issues important to the legal community and the general public. That is reflected in the large number of ABA awards honoring New Yorkers this year.
"The New York State Bar Association is pleased to be recognized for its leadership role in addressing adequate court funding, legal services for the poor, diversity, the wrongfully convicted, equal rights and other issues," James said.
New York City attorney James R. Silkenat (Sullivan & Worcester), a State Bar member for more than 20 years, was elected president-elect of the ABA at its Annual Meeting in Chicago on Aug. 7. He will become ABA president in 2013, making him the first New Yorker to head the ABA in more than 25 years.
The State Bar began taking a more extensive role in the ABA in 2008 under then-President Bernice Leber, with a resolution regarding the federal government's detaining prisoners at Guantanamo. The resolution, adopted in 2009, was the first of many subsequent successes, which now include State Bar-sponsored resolutions on civil legal services, the ranking of law firms and legal education.
The Bar Association's current focus in the ABA is on representation in immigration cases and federal discovery. Both resolutions are based on reports adopted in June by NYSBA's House of Delegates.
"Even if the State Bar isn't the sponsor of a resolution, it has an impact on the lawyers here. This is where many of these matters are being addressed by lawyers, so we have a stake in how almost everything comes out," Silkenat said. "There is a long history of New York leadership in the ABA," he said, adding, "I am very pleased to see the real recognition now of the work being done by lawyers from this state."
In addition, the State Bar has been very active in working with Ethics 20/20, an ABA commission looking into modernizing the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility. The State Bar also has enhanced its lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., working closely with the ABA. The New York association's efforts, which earned it an ABA Grassroots award in 2011, are geared toward advocating for the courts, legal services for the indigent and the justice system.
Former State Bar President Mark H. Alcott, who chairs the New York delegation in the ABA House of Delegates, offered two main reasons for the State Bar's more prominent role in the ABA.
"First and foremost, the reason for the recognition is because the people, the entities and the programs deserve that honor," he said. "Secondly, the State Bar has renewed its focus on the American Bar Association and on national legal matters."
Alcott said he was encouraged that "the leadership of the State Bar has risen to take such an active role in ABA business."
For instance, at a meeting in February of the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20, then-State Bar President Vincent E. Doyle III of Buffalo (Connors & Vilardo) testified on non-lawyer ownership of law firms.
The State Bar 2012 report on the need for adequate funding for the judiciary has been cited by former ABA President William "Bill" Robinson as an example for other state bars. Robinson spoke at the State Bar's Annual Meeting in New York City in January.
In addition, the State Bar and members of the New York legal community have been recognized by the ABA on several occasions this year for their contributions to the profession and to society as a whole:
• Dorsey Award: NYSBA President Seymour W. James, Jr., for his efforts in helping the poor obtain legal services and assisting former inmates transition back into society.
• ABA Partnership Award for Diversity: New York State Bar Association, President's Section Diversity Challenge, for a challenge initiated by then-President Vincent E. Doyle III to increase diversity in the profession and the community.
• John H. Pickering Award: Former NYSBA President Anthony R. Palermo of Rochester (Woods, Oviatt, Gilman), for distinguished service to the profession and the community.
• Alexander D. Forger Awards: Alexander D. Forger of New York City (Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy), an inaugural award, for sustained excellence in HIV legal services and advocacy.
• Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award: Amy W. Schulman of New York City (Pfizer Nutrition), for excellence in her field and for paving the way for other women lawyers.
• ABA Michael Franck Professional Responsibility Award: Seth Rosner of Saratoga Springs (Seth Rosner), for his career efforts on behalf of legal ethics, disciplinary enforcement and lawyer professionalism.
• Pro Bono Publico Award: State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department, for efforts under Presiding Justice Henry J. Scudder in creating a model program to increase pro bono participation by the court's legal staff.
The 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the country. It was founded in 1876.
Contact: Mark Mahoney
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