June 1, 2009


Michael E. Getnick, a partner in the Utica law firm of Getnick Livingston Atkinson & Priore, LLP, took office today as the 112th President of the New York State Bar Association, pledging to help both lawyers and people in need of legal services to deal with the enormous challenges the current economic downturn has created.

"Lawyers and law firms are struggling with the same kinds of business issues every other business is struggling with," said Getnick.  "We need members of our profession to know that, at times like this, they have an ally in the State Bar Association, and that we're going to focus on them and their issues and offer programs and services to help them.

"At the same time, we need to keep in mind the toll that the economy is having on our most vulnerable citizens.  Imagine what it must be like for the hard working single mother, who loses her job, can't pay the mortgage and is about to face foreclosure and eviction from her home.  I've been a Legal Aid lawyer.  I've worked with people in trouble.  And I'm proud to be part of a profession where we devote so many pro bono hours to helping those in need.  But government needs to do more.  And I believe that, even in this economy, there are things the state and federal governments can do that are cost effective and that will give access to civil legal services to more poor New Yorkers."

Getnick also pointed to the need to work with law schools to provide more practical business training to students before they even begin to practice.  "When young people enter law school," he said, "they don't typically think of themselves as embarking on a business career.  But many of them will find themselves doing just that - negotiating a lease, hanging out a shingle, hiring staff, billing clients - and we need to provide some basic training at the law school level."

Lawyers Helping Lawyers
Getnick said he would place increased emphasis and resources behind the State Bar's Law Practice Management Committee and Lawyers in Transition Committee, offering a variety of educational programs and publications to help lawyers cope with business and economic issues and to prepare for and find new jobs if they are laid off. 

These committees provide an excellent framework and have already begun holding in person seminars and webinars to help lawyers who are out of work or contemplating a transition to deal with issues ranging from how to write a resume, to how to handle a job interview, to how to use online networking tools.

Lawyers Helping Those in Need

He also pledged to work for increased funding for civil legal services and for a change in the way these funds are allocated - through creation of a permanent State Access to Justice Fund in the amount of $50 million, as well as a centralized statewide entity to oversee civil legal services funding and to assure that as much money as possible is going to the clients.  And he pointed to the need to ease federal restrictions on how these funds can be used.

"Some people may argue that we have a budget crisis and can't afford to fund a program like this," he said.  "But when someone loses a home and shows up at a shelter, government and the taxpayers bear the expensive burden of keeping that individual sheltered and fed. When a woman with no health insurance ends up in the emergency room - and her child in foster care -- because she couldn't get an order of protection against her abuser, the cost to the health care and social service systems is significant.  For the price of a few hours of legal services for indigent New Yorkers, we could eliminate many of these costs as well as the trauma in people's lives. Clearly, the economics are compelling, as are the human costs."

Lawyers Helping Future Lawyers

Another initiative of Getnick's presidency will be working with State Bar sections and reaching out to law schools to make a concerted effort to provide tools to the schools and the students to meet the business challenges they are invariably going to face.  The vast majority of law school graduates, he pointed out, are someday going to be in situations where practical knowledge can mean the difference between success and failure. 

"Of course, even as we pursue these initiatives," Getnick concluded, "it's extremely important that we continue to be engaged with the State Legislature and the Governor's office.  Our Association includes a broad cross section of the legal profession and that puts us in a unique position to offer tremendous expertise on a wide range of issues.  Being an integral part of the public policy debate in Albany is central to our mission and I look forward to continuing that."

Getnick has been an active member of the State Bar from the beginning of his career.  He has been President-elect for the past year and chaired the Association's House of Delegates.  He was named Secretary in 2006 and prior to that, served as a member-at-large of the Executive Committee from 2000 to 2003 and vice president of the 5th Judicial District from 2004 to 2006.

He is a member of the Trial Lawyers Section, the Torts, Insurance and Compensation Law Section and the Environmental Law Section. In 1988, he received the President's Pro Bono Service Award for the 5th Judicial District.  He served in the House of Delegates representing the Oneida County Bar Association from 1995 to 1999.

He is a member of the committees on Diversity and Leadership Development and Membership, the Special Committee on Unlawful Practice of the Law and a former member of the Task Force on Town and Village Courts. He is a fellow of The New York Bar Foundation, former chair of the Committee on Court Operations and former co-chair of the President's Committee on Access to Justice.

Getnick also has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Greater Northeast Chapter of the American Heart Association. He is chair and legal counsel to the Town of Kirkland Zoning Board of Appeals. Acting pro bono, he incorporated the Mohawk Valley Committee Against Child Abuse.  He also has served as president of the Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, president of the Oneida County Bar Association, and is a member of the 5th Judicial District Pro Bono Committee.

Getnick, who received his JD from Cornell University, received his BA from Pennsylvania State University, where he was also an NCAA Division I basketball player. 

A resident of Clinton, New York, he is married to Susan Donohue Getnick and has two grown sons, Brian and Kevin.

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