Everyone Has a Place Here: Encouraging Members To Seek Out Leadership Opportunities  

By Jennifer Andrus

April 1, 2024

Everyone Has a Place Here: Encouraging Members To Seek Out Leadership Opportunities  


By Jennifer Andrus

Trial Academy 2023

You’re a member of the New York State Bar Association, and you may wonder what’s next? How can the association help you grow?

The Committee on Leadership Development recently held a lunchtime event to answer these questions for new and seasoned members who want to contribute more to the New York State Bar Association.

The event featured New York State Bar Association President Richard Lewis, Immediate Past President Sherry Levin Wallach and past president T. Andrew Brown. Each shared advice from their own experiences with the association.

Whether you are just starting out in your career or in an established practice, you can take on a leadership challenge by joining a section, a section committee or a task force on a topic that interests you, the leaders said.

Creating Balance

Each of the presidents came to their leadership positions by first joining a section, county bar association or affinity bar group. Lewis, for instance, became more involved with the New York State Bar Association after his children became adults.

“Earlier in my career, I really didn’t have any aspiration for leadership. I had two kids who were extremely active in sports and music, and I was not interested in missing any of their activities,” he said.  “Ultimately, I got involved in a number of different committees and I didn’t keep my mouth shut, and as a result, others asked me to pursue additional leadership opportunities.”

Levin Wallach recounted how her work in the state bar association changed as her career and family responsibilities eased. She started by joining the Young Lawyers Section right out of law school.

“You can ebb and flow with how much time you can commit to it based on where you are in your life,”  she said. “When I was younger, I was a district representative for the Young Lawyers Section. I went on to take other leadership roles in that section.”

Eventually, she was asked if she would become involved with the membership committee.

“I’m a mom of three kids. My kids are grown or relatively grown, and my daughter is just finishing high school. So, I did have to juggle those responsibilities,” she said.

Brown tells members that the time commitment is manageable.

“You have to be prepared and willing to accept a fuller plate. As lawyers, we’ve had overflowing plates at many times throughout our careers,” he said. “We have an incredible assistance of staff at the association that can help.  If you are in a small firm, don’t be discouraged into thinking that ‘I would love to do it, but I can’t do it because it’s too much.’ You can manage it.”

Leadership Skills and Looking at the Big Picture

All three presidents took time to dissect their leadership styles and offered tips on the best qualities to employ. True to his style, Lewis focused on collaboration and humility.

“As a leader, you should not walk into a room and think you are the smartest guy there. It’s important that you don’t turn your leadership experience into an ego trip,” he said. “You have to be ready to hear dissenting voices and be totally transparent about it. Listen to your adversaries; they may be your greatest mentors.”

Levin Wallach agreed with Lewis while adding delegation to her list of leadership skills.

“Rely on those who are experts in an area of law when you are dealing with an issue outside of your area of practice,” she said. “Always respect those individuals who are helping us do our work for the association.”

Brown put a finer point on it, reminding all leaders to look at the bigger picture. “Getting new and young members involved helps us position our association for the future to meet the challenges ahead. Don’t be afraid to step up! What you do can be incredibly rewarding.”

Finally, Lewis implored members to think back to the reasons they decided to pursue a legal career.

“Somewhere there was a kernel of idealism things you felt you could make our society a little better,” he said, “The New York State Bar Association gives you the opportunity to be reborn in that idealism.”

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