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NYSBA Seizes the Moment, Maintains Relevance as World Changes
By T. Andrew Brown
As the greatest bar association in the world, we are in a unique position to shape the law and the profession for generations to come. As my term as New York State Bar Association president comes to an end, I see a bright future in which our association becomes more relevant than ever as it continues to seize the moment.
This attitude is shaped by who we are as a bar association and our history, but it also evolved during the pandemic. The pandemic taught us to embrace change at a pace that seemed unimaginable just a few short years ago as we upended years of established practice to meet the needs of our members during a time of unprecedented crisis.
Our responses to the pandemic and the unprovoked attack by Russia on Ukraine demonstrate just how valuable our organization is and how we can continue to meet the moment head-on.
Our Ukrainian Task Force has been meeting regularly during these troubled times, coming up with ways to assist asylum seekers and refugees, and outlining methods for documenting war crimes. We have activated our network of international chapters to provide legal guidance to newly relocated refugees and those desiring to flee. We have also trained hundreds of lawyers who want to help Ukrainian citizens file for temporary protected status to live in the United States.
NYSBA must always be ready to serve, to guide those in need and share our expertise across borders, both real and imagined. But to do so, we must recommit to our long-established values.
First, we must not only acknowledge the importance of diversity at all levels and within all the association’s activities but also commit to having our organization reflect the lawyers we serve. We must also use the association’s status to advocate for systemic change that will allow more people of color to pursue a legal career.
Second, we must never lose touch with generational changes in the practice of law, the legal profession, legal education and evolving workplace dynamics. We must be at the leading edge of the profession so that we can provide best practices, bridge generational divides and maintain our position as an invaluable resource.
Next, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we must meet our audience where it’s most convenient for them. Our virtual CLEs have won recognition for being easy to access, timely and deeply informative.
Most critical to maintaining our relevance is to never abandon the guiding principle of this organization, which is to apply knowledge and experience in the field of law to promote the public good.
A key piece of that is the work NYSBA does to connect our members with worthwhile pro bono activities. Whether it is helping refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine navigate immigration law or assisting the formerly incarcerated in expunging marijuana convictions, we should always direct our members to the causes where their expertise will do the most good.
Our task forces, working groups and Sections have exemplified the approach of providing expertise to advance the public good while simultaneously seizing the moment.
During my time as president, these groups have done exhaustive research and produced groundbreaking reports that will have a lasting impact on the profession for years to come.
That work is being done regularly by our committees and task forces. But I am particularly proud of the work of our Task Force on Racial Injustice and Police Reform, our Task Force on Attorney Well-Being and our Working Group on Question 26 of the New York Bar Application. The task force on the bar application explored ways that asking bar applicants about law enforcement encounters discriminated against people of color.
I also look forward to seeing the results of the important work being done by the Task Force on Racism, Social Equity and the Law and the Task Force on the Post-Pandemic Future of the Profession. I appointed these task forces, but their efforts will continue beyond my term.
Yes, I served as president for just a single year, but one year during the pandemic, in an era of political turmoil, has left an indelible impression that will guide me in my future endeavors. And I want to share the lessons I’ve learned with my successors.
To our future leaders, I say: never doubt our ability as an organization to effect change, never second-guess action that will serve the greater good. Never hesitate to bring our organization’s influence, expertise and honor to bear on the side of the righteous and good.
Whatever the future holds, the New York State Bar Association will stand as a shining beacon of the rule of law, meeting new challenges undeterred and unbowed.