It’s a No Brainer: Why Joe Gerstenzang Cherishes His NYSBA Membership
Joseph Gerstenzang is a partner at Gerstenzang, Sills, Cohn & Gerstenzang. He is member of the Criminal Justice Section and a frequent panelist at NYSBA programs. Gerstenzang’s firm primarily handles DWI, DWAI and drugs defense. He comes from a family of attorneys including his parents Peter and Karen Gerstenzang and two siblings who are attorneys.
Coming from a family of attorneys with an established practice, did you want to be a lawyer and continue in the family profession?
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. After college, I worked in other fields, but eventually the call came to follow in my family’s footsteps. The passion for the law really came not from watching my father, but from law school at Albany Law. Professor Peter Preiser’s constitutional law class really inspired me to follow in my family’s footsteps. He solidified my interest in pursuing criminal defense.
How has DWI defense changed since you graduated from law school?
The practice has only changed in a couple of ways and technology is one of them. The State Police are now required by law to use body cams. It’s no longer the cross-examination of a trooper about what they experienced [in a traffic stop] or what they saw. We can see every aspect of the investigation from beginning to end. It is more time consuming to defend your client, but you’re also able to find details that are very effective in defending your client, too.
How has discovery reform impacted your practice?
Discovery reform has made a huge impact on our practice in a positive way. Prior to reform, there was little we could do to compel the prosecution to turn over data in a timely manner. Now we are getting statements early on in the process. We also have access to data and documentation on breath testing devices that we previously never saw before.
Has the legalization of marijuana affected your work?
We see a lot of arrests for DWAI, but it’s a difficult area of law to enforce. There has not been an increase in impaired driving by cannabis, but we’ve been seeing more enforcement in anticipation of it. The problem is that of all the drugs that are investigated, you see the least amount of actual impairment caused by cannabis verses alcohol or narcotics like heroin. Probable cause for arrest is a pretty low standard, so police can investigate a driver for impairment if they cannot arrest a person for possession.
Why did you join NYSBA and what do you get out of the membership?
It’s a no-brainer, you’ve gotta join State Bar Association! When I was a new attorney, I saw the benefits very early on with the Bridging the Gap program. It introduced me to a wide array of different practices. Law school gives you tools but you don’t have any real practical knowledge.
I also attended the Trial Academy soon after joining. It’s a tremendous resource. Now half of my firm is gone once a year to help guide younger attorneys at the academy. Providing new attorneys with some of the tools that I was given is gratifying and it’s a lot of fun.
How has your membership helped your career ?
NYSBA is a place where you know you can go to exchange ideas with other attorneys and learn about what’s going on in other parts of the state. That insight is critical for my practice, keeping up on trends and knowing what to expect if you have a case in other jurisdictions. At NYSBA, you can impact the profession and contribute to changes or lobby on an issue. It’s a powerful organization where we can accomplish more together than anything we can do on our own.
Why did you take that next step to volunteer at NYSBA events and programs?
Lecturing and contributing to state bar events is hugely rewarding. I love engaging and interacting with other members and challenging myself to master a topic. If you’re going in front of your peers, it can be nerve racking. They can be your most critical audience, but it forces me to be better at my job.
You should join the bar because ….
It’s simple, the New York State Bar Association is the first membership you should have and the last one you should let lapse. My membership is part of my identity as a lawyer. Not being a member seems alien to me.