Member Profile: New Opportunities in Cannabis Law Attracted Richard J. Washington to NYSBA
Richard J. Washington is a solo practitioner in labor & employment law and criminal defense. He entered private practice following a career in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. He is active in the NYSBA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and the Cannabis Law Section.
You are a member of both the Diversity, Equity Inclusion Committee, and the Cannabis Law Section. How are these two interests related?
My work on the DEI committee and on the Cannabis Committee are inextricably intertwined. I’ve been working on the social equity and community reinvestment portion of the cannabis committee. I think my work with the diversity equity and inclusion committee complements the work that I’m doing and the cannabis committee, because, as everybody knows, now there is a big push to diversify this industry given the injustices that have taken place in the past as it related to the prosecution and enforcement of the illegal marijuana prior to the legalization of it.
We are still in the early stages of the legal cannabis industry in New York. What is coming soon and how will it affect the lawyers?
There is a lot of interest right now in the cannabis industry. A lot of people who up until now, were hesitant to get involved in this area of practice are now saying that it’s going to be a tremendous opportunity for anyone in any practice of law. The coolest thing about cannabis law, is that you don’t have to be a specialist. You can just do whatever your practice is and there’s going to be a space for you with entrepreneurs that end up in this new industry.
NYSBA allows me to have a voice in the public policy process:
The New York State Bar is very active in trying to shape policy. We have a voice and a platform to advocate on certain issues both within the New York State Bar Association, the state, and the profession as a whole.
One thing that I worked on that was really great was changing question 26 on the on the application for admission to the bar. There is a reality that people in certain communities are more likely to have interaction with the police, and the chilling effect that comes with having to disclose that information. It may not be relevant to an individual’s competency or efficacy in practicing law, and we worked to prove why that question was no longer necessary.
How has the pandemic impacted your practice in labor and employment law?
Covid really altered the landscape in labor and employment law. Most of the work that I do is representing unionized employees, so at the beginning of the pandemic, we saw a lot of issues with remote working and negotiating contracts. I also do some management work in which we had to create remote working agreements for employees. Once people returned to the workplace, there were the issues involving vaccination. People that really were opposed to vaccination were seeking accommodations. It’s still a difficult time.
What advice do you have for new lawyers?
I would say, for someone who’s fresh out of law school, joining NYSBA gives you an opportunity to network and connect with individuals that are knowledgeable in whatever section or committee you find yourself. It’s going to make you a better lawyer and a better advocate.
Why did you join the New York State Bar Association and what benefit do you get from membership?
When I came into the New York state Bar Association, I really wanted to join areas of law that interest me like cannabis law. I wasn’t even concerned so much with my personal practice, which is one of the reasons why I didn’t go directly to you know labor and employment or the criminal law section. I thought cannabis was an incredibly interesting place to be.
Finish this statement: I would join the NYSBA because …
Joining and getting involved with a committee in an area of the law that interests you is going to pay dividends down the road. You’re going to have access to information that’s going to make you a better practitioner in the State of New York.