A Closer Look at NYSBA’s New Public Policy Initiatives

By Christian Nolan

July 18, 2019

A Closer Look at NYSBA’s New Public Policy Initiatives


By Christian Nolan

Hank Greenberg was sworn in as NYSBA’s 122nd president in June and launched several groundbreaking public policy initiatives for the coming year. Here is a quick look at six of these important initiatives.

Task Force on Autonomous Vehicles and the Law
This task force, led by Dean and Professor of Law Aviva Abramovsky, of University at Buffalo School of Law, will study and understand the seismic impact that autonomous vehicles will have on our legal system and society, and make recommendations on how New York state and its legal institutions can prepare for this revolutionary technological change. The initiative will focus on, among other things:

  • Studying the potential impact autonomous vehicles may have on lawyers, their clients, courts and the civil justice system
  • Assessing what laws and regulations may need to be enacted
  • Reviewing potential privacy and data protection issues
  • Analyzing safety concerns
  • Considering the potential impact on injury and insurance law, and licensing

“Autonomous vehicles are already being tested in some areas of the country and their role in our transportation systems will continue to grow, but there has been little discussion about what laws and regulations need to be put in place, and the potential impacts on our justice system and our everyday lives,” said Greenberg. “NYSBA is proud to lead the national discussion and begin the necessary work to understand this immense technological innovation.”

Task Force on Free Expression in the Digital Age
The decade-long decline in local journalism has been driven by dramatic changes in technology and the economics of advertising. There is a compelling need to consider whether there are appropriate legal responses to this crisis.

The task force will be co-chaired by David McCraw, deputy general counsel for The New York Times, and Cynthia Arato, a partner at Shapiro Arato Bach, and will examine how changes in the law may help assure local government transparency and accountability even as the economic landscape of local journalism is fundamentally altered.  The task force will make recommendations on how to maintain and strengthen the public’s ability to engage in appropriate oversight of the institutions of local government amidst the challenges of our ever-changing digital age.

“The rapid and ever-growing rise of social media as a source of news has triggered a substantial decline in local journalism. This places at risk First Amendment values and a vibrant, fearless free press.  Now more than ever, our local news outlets need the support to hold truth to power,” said Greenberg. “The future of local journalism is in jeopardy, but there has been no major effort to find ways to provide support. NYSBA is taking the critical first step in trying to address this problem.”

Task Force on Rural Justice
The task force will investigate the impact of rural attorney shortages on access to justice, challenges in delivering legal services in rural areas, and the unique practice needs of rural practitioners. The task force will also make recommendations for potential changes in law and public policy and will identify viable solutions to support rural law practice and greater access to justice in New York’s rural communities.

Taier Perlman, staff attorney at Albany Law School’s Government Law Center and who leads their Rural Law Initiative, and State Supreme Court Justice Stan L. Pritzker, Third Judicial Department, will co-chair the task force.

“Research confirms what many attorneys in upstate New York already know – that there is an access to justice crisis in rural areas throughout New York and across the country,” said Greenberg. “NYSBA remains committed to ensuring access to justice for all New Yorkers, regardless of where they live, and the important work of this task force will go a long way toward enacting the necessary reforms to achieve that goal.”

Task Force on the Parole System
The mission of this task force will be to study the current parole system with a focus on release practices as well as revocation and reincarceration. It will seek to identify problems in the current system and propose policy solutions, including new concepts in the administration of the parole system and changes in the law.

The task force will be co-chaired by past NYSBA President Seymour W. James, Jr., a longtime criminal defense lawyer who is currently a partner at Barket Epstein Kearon Aldea & LoTurco in New York City, and William T. Russell, Jr., a NYSBA Executive Committee member and partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in New York City.

“The state Legislature has undertaken wide-ranging criminal procedure reform in areas of bail, speedy trial guarantees, and the discovery process,” said Greenberg. “However, these reforms have focused on issues that arise prior to the trial, conviction, and sentencing. The task force will examine our state’s parole system, as it continues to present problems of fairness and due process for the thousands of parolees statewide.”

Diversity Initiative
“A troubling fact is that the legal profession is one of the least diverse professions in the nation,” said Greenberg. “Our clients are women and men, straight and gay, of every race, color, ethnicity, national origin, and religion.  Yet, the legal profession is not nearly as inclusive as the people we represent. Indeed, a diversity imbalance plagues law firms, the judiciary, and every other sphere where lawyers work.”

On diversity, NYSBA will lead by example. This year, through the presidential appointment process, all 59 standing committees will have a chair, co-chair or vice-chair who is a woman, person of color, or otherwise represents diversity. Additionally, NYSBA will develop and implement an association-wide diversity and inclusion plan.

“It is a moral imperative that our profession better reflects the diversity exemplified by our clients, and we can no longer accept empty rhetoric or half-measures to realize that goal,” Greenberg said. “It’s the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do, and clients are increasingly demanding it.”

Working Group to Review NY Bar Admission Questionnaire
Greenberg has established a blue-ribbon multidisciplinary work group to review New York state’s bar application questionnaire to ensure mental health treatment will not be a deterrence to gaining admission to the profession.

Recent studies have shown that law school students are experiencing anxiety, depression, stress, and other mental health issues at alarming rates and are not seeking the help they need because they are concerned that doing so will negatively impact their bar admission. In fact, one study discovered that 42% of surveyed law students believed they needed help for emotional or mental health issues in the past year, but only half sought assistance. That is because 45% of the respondents feared that seeking help could pose a threat to their bar admission.

NYSBA’s workgroup will review the potential removal of questions from the questionnaire that address an applicant’s mental health issues. The workgroup is composed of representatives from NYSBA’s Young Lawyers Section, Committee on Disability Rights, Committee on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, Law Practice Management’s Attorney Wellness Sub-Committee, and Lawyer Assistance Committee.

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