A Brief History and Purpose
For more than 135 years, the New York State Bar Association has shaped the development of the law, educated and informed the profession and the public, and responded to the demands of a changing society. Today, with a membership of more than 77,000 lawyers, representing every town, city and county in the state, the New York State Bar Association is the oldest and largest voluntary state bar organization in the nation.
U.S. Presidents Grover Cleveland and Chester A. Arthur were two prominent members of the State Bar Association. In addition, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes served as a president of the State Bar. These and other notable Americans have contributed much to the State Bar's history. Its membership has included ranking members of the nation's judicial and legislative bodies who have formulated and endorsed policies which have achieved national and international significance.
The Association's objectives, originally stated in its constitution adopted in 1877, are the same today. They are: to cultivate the science of jurisprudence, promote reform in the law, facilitate the administration of justice, and elevate the standards of integrity, honor, professional skill and courtesy in the legal profession. As a link between the state and the individual lawyer, as a force for constructive change, and as a chief exponent of the rights and liberties of the public, the New York State Bar Association stands proud and capable, ready to serve. Through the years the Association has:
- Sought legislation to simplify and update court procedures.
- Been instrumental in raising judicial standards.
- Established machinery for maintaining the integrity of The profession.
- Advocated providing enhanced, voluntary pro bono legal services to the poor.
- Been in the vanguard of efforts to elevate the standards of practice.
- Achieved national recognition for its continuing program of public education.
NYSBA Structure and Governance
House of Delegates
The control and administration of the NYSBA is vested in the House of Delegates, the decision and policy-making body of the Association. The House meets four times a year (January, April, June and November). Action taken by the House of Delegates on specific issues becomes official NYSBA policy.
At the present time, the House of Delegates is composed of 300 members. A simple representational formula allows many diverse associations of lawyers within the state to be represented in this forum.
The 30-member Executive Committee has the authority to act and speak for the NYSBA, consistent with previous action of the House of Delegates, when the House is not in session.
The Executive Committee meets quarterly and at other times as necessary. The Executive Committee is composed of the President, President-elect, Treasurer, and Secretary of the Association. In addition, there are vice-presidents from each of the thirteen judicial districts (the 1st district has two vice presidents) in the state and eight members-at-large. The immediate past president is also a member of this body. All officers are elected to serve one-year terms. (Click here for executive committee profiles.)
NYSBA officers are elected by the House of Delegates and include the President-elect (who automatically becomes President the year following that of election), Secretary, and Treasurer. (Click here for officer profiles.)
Serves for one Association year, from June 1 to May 31. The president and his or her designee is the official spokesperson in expressing policy of the Association as determined by the House of Delegates. Unless otherwise provided, the president appoints the chairs and members of standing and special committees of the Association.
Serves a term of one Association year, from June 1 to May 31, chairs the House of Delegates, and performs such other duties as the president may assign, or the duties of the president, should the president become disabled and unable to perform the duties of office.
Sections, Committees, and other special groups
The Association's current structure includes 25 specialized substantive law sections, and more than 60 standing, special and other committees. Many of these groups publish material dealing with their field of expertise, much of which is not available through commercial publishers. These units also sponsor conferences, seminars and institutes, monitor legislation, conduct studies and make policy recommendations to the NYSBA House of Delegates. More than 35,000 members serve on Sections, Committees, and other special groups.
Range in size from approximately 500 members to more than 5,000. Each Section draws its membership from lawyers or judges with common professional interests. They operate much like "mini bar associations" with their own officers, dues schedule and committees. They address professional development, improvement of laws and continuing education in a variety of substantive law fields. The Sections can and do have sub-committees which tackle specialized single legal issues that may be part of the overall Section jurisdiction. Standing and Special Committees have smaller memberships, and generally focus on specific assignments or narrower issues. (Click here for section chair photos, bios.)
The Association is headquartered at One Elk Street in Albany. The actual structure combines a new building with five 19th century townhouses, welding them together to form a single unit. The design of the building won the 1968 Progressive Architecture Design Award, as well as the American Institute of Architect's 1972 Honor Award.
In 1990, an expanded and refurbished State Bar Center was rededicated. The bar's "new" 37,000 square foot home features the Gallery of the Bill of Rights, with 10 panels representing a nationally renowned artist's depiction of the Bill of Rights, and memorabilia explaining the life and times of two U.S. Supreme Court Justices from New York. A "corporate" museum with exhibits depicting "The Legal Heritage of New York State," illustrating the country lawyer, judicial excellence, and the public service character of the legal profession, highlights the first floor of the renovated State Bar Center. The annual budget of the Association is approximately $21 million. No tax dollars are used to support bar activities.
The House of Delegates appoints the Executive Director who supervises a professional and administrative staff of 120 employees. The staff implements decisions of the House and Executive Committee in the administration of Association affairs, assists members in carrying out their activities and expedites the dissemination of information. The staff is subdivided into several functional areas, including administration, accounting, continuing legal education, governmental relations, law practice management, lawyer assistance, marketing, media services and public affairs, membership, meeting planning and arrangements, printing, pro bono legal services.
The Governmental Relations Office (GRO) serves as the "eyes and ears" of the Association in the State Capitol. NYSBA does not have a political action committee (PAC) and does not make political contributions.
The status of important bills and regulations is communicated regularly to relevant Association entities with an interest in a particular piece of legislation. The GRO also conveys the views of the Association on a broad range of issues to numerous federal agencies as well as New York's Congressional delegation.