It has been the greatest privilege and honor of my professional life to serve as the 121st president of the New York State Bar Association, an extraordinary position previously held by so many legal luminaries. I am deeply grateful to have had a front-row seat to witness the many great and inspiring things being done by our members and by lawyers throughout the state, across the country and around the world.
We have had a very ambitious agenda and our task forces, Sections, committees and working groups have been productive, helping us provide a meaningful membership experience, set association policy, support the rule of law and enhance access to justice. We have achieved a great deal on topics as diverse as wrongful convictions, incarceration release planning, Judiciary Law 470, evaluation of candidates for election to judicial office, and standards of civility.
We have also had tremendous advocacy achievements, as demonstrated by the recently adopted 2019-2020 New York State budget. NYSBA has lobbied long and hard for criminal discovery, bail and pretrial detention reform, and we are delighted by their inclusion in the budget. I am also pleased to report that thanks in large part to our unrelenting advocacy - including meetings with legislators, e-blasts to members and legislators and a full-court press in the media - we were successful in persuading the legislature to reject the Governor's proposed increase in the biennial attorney registration fee.
This past year, we reinforced our excellent dialogue with the court system, based upon mutual respect and common interests. In Chief Judge Janet DiFiore's recent State of the Judiciary address, she announced a renewed effort toward long overdue court reform, something NYSBA has advocated for more than half a century. Judge DiFiore specifically thanked NYSBA for "its strong support of our Judiciary in general and court modernization in particular." She went on to note that our Committee on the New York State Constitution, which was chaired by President-elect Hank Greenberg, had "issued a comprehensive report with excellent recommendations that closely parallel our own proposals."
I have been consistently and constantly inspired by the contributions and efforts of NYSBA members to improve access to justice and support the rule of law. I attended many events throughout our state - in Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Poughkeepsie, Manhattan, Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, to name but a few - where lawyers were honored for making special contributions to the profession and the community.
Some have been recognized for a lifetime of achievement, like the great former New York State Senator John Dunne of Nassau, Tom Myers of Syracuse, former Court of Appeals Associate Judge Eugene Pigott, and the late Appellate Division Justice William Thompson. Others have been recognized for specific programs and projects, like Camille Mackler and Sarah Rogerson, for the extraordinary work they have done and continue to do to ensure that asylum seekers and separated immigrant families receive effective legal counsel. All have made our world a better place.
It is also inspiring to observe the dedication of the leaders of our great association. There are so many examples of our members devoting countless hours and knowledge - what Abraham Lincoln referred to as "an attorney's stock in trade" - to improve the law, the profession and the administration of justice, to enhance access to justice and so much more. It is also inspiring to observe the commitment of so many others, like President-elect Greenberg's determination to reform New York's dysfunctional court system, and the countless hours spent by Section, committee and task force leaders and members working to bring about positive change in our profession and our world.
Our superb Executive Committee and officers, President-elect Hank Greenberg, President-elect Designee and outgoing Treasurer Scott M. Karson, Secretary Sherry Levin Wallach, and Immediate Past President Sharon Stern Gerstman, have been incredibly committed to our important work. These people have been profound reminders that ours is called a noble profession for very good reason.
NYSBA's staff, led by Executive Director Pamela McDevitt, has transformed the association this past year in so many ways. Our physical plant has been modernized. We are in the process of building a new website with state-of-the-art technology that will enable us to be more relevant and responsive, with features that will include more personalized content, improved delivery of Section publications and searchable directories.
I have often said that "all roads lead to membership." One of the most important vehicles to travel those roads is effective communications. Under the leadership of Senior Director of Communications Dan Weiller, our flagship publications, the NYSBA Journal and the State Bar News, have both been transformed and significantly improved over the past year. Content from both the State Bar News and the Journal is now also disseminated through our Wednesday email blast, the NYSBA Weekly - a new publication that was introduced last year - and is posted on our blog on our website.
We have experienced tremendous and steady growth across our social media platforms. This isn't happening by accident but is due to carefully curated posts that highlight the best of our association and profession, better use of the various platforms, and strategic promotion efforts. This enhanced and coordinated use of social media is vital to our efforts to recruit and retain young members. Our new NYSBA Podcasts, hosted by past President David Miranda, launched last June and are available for streaming on our website, Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Spotify. If you haven't tuned in, you're missing some excellent and interesting discussions.
Membership is always a challenge and much work remains. I am pleased to report that we have the highest retention rate since 2013 and there are promising signs the positive trend will continue. NYSBA is fiscally sound, despite significant dues declines over the past several years. Our Finance Committee, led by T. Andrew Brown, worked incredibly hard and made very difficult decisions to protect our resources while still allowing NYSBA to meet its mission. Also, I am pleased to report that NYSBA had a substantial surplus in 2018, due, in part, to the fact that we generated unprecedented non-dues revenue, having developed and coordinated more non-dues revenue streams than ever before, boosting such revenue by 50 percent - and it will continue to grow.
I am most grateful to our staff for their dedication and commitment to our mission. Kim McHargue, Executive Assistant to our Executive Director, General Counsel Kathy Baxter, Senior Director of Communications Dan Weiller and Executive Director Pamela McDevitt were especially helpful to me.
Kim did so much in so many ways to be of assistance. Kathy provided reliable counsel with an encyclopedic knowledge of past reports and positions taken by the association. Dan worked closely with me to make certain that the voice of the association was strong, clear and effective. Pam, an extraordinarily gifted and dedicated bar executive and a delightful person with whom to work, supported me in every way possible. I will be eternally grateful.
There is so much in our world today to be concerned about - the decline of civility, threats to the rule of law, coarsened social discourse. It is comforting to have observed the dedication of so many of you to the finest principles of our profession. NYSBA's voice is strong and its future sound, as we strive to do as the prophet Amos instructed - to "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness as an ever-flowing stream."
The future of this association is very bright, indeed. Hank Greenberg, who will be this association's 122nd president, is very smart, creative and has rock-solid judgment. He is dedicated to the finest ideals and principles of our great profession and has been the perfect partner on this remarkable journey. I am confident that Hank will be a superb leader of our great association.
In his masterpiece of verse, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the extraordinary Persian mathematician, astronomer and poet wrote, "The moving hand writes; and having writ, moves on." It is my time to move on. I am confident that I leave this great and noble association in good shape and in excellent hands.