NYSBA Serves as a Guiding Light and Provides Common Ground During Critical Policy Debates

By Sherry Levin Wallach

NYSBA Serves as a Guiding Light and Provides Common Ground During Critical Policy Debates

8.12.2022

By Sherry Levin Wallach

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Many of us felt the ground shift beneath our feet this summer as the U.S. Supreme Court reversed precedent on abortion, undid decades-long gun regulations in New York and stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of some of its power. Regardless of political ideology, it left some of us feeling unnerved and uncertain and others energized and ready to get to work. At the New York State Bar Association, you can be more involved in efforts to impact the law of the land; there is no more vibrant place to do it than with our sections, committees and task forces.

I have spent time since my June 1 inauguration meeting with our sections right here in New York, in neighboring states and around the globe. The camaraderie and intelligent dialogue that I have seen is exactly what drew me to NYSBA in the first place – there is a warm collegiality that empowers and educates members and allows for the cross-pollination of ideas across political spectrums.

As this country becomes more politically divided, NYSBA has renewed its commitment to fostering the free exchange of ideas across the political aisle.

I have also encountered a growing concern at these meetings: that as young lawyers become more detached from their colleagues due to work from home arrangements, they are losing opportunities to grow, network and develop perspective.

Our association provides the perfect antidote to the isolation faced by new lawyers, solo practitioners, and those at the end of their careers who are stepping back from practice but want to stay connected and contribute their valuable experience to the legal discourse. We provide opportunities for members to work with one another on important legal issues that may go beyond their day-to-day area of practice but that may be near and dear to their heart. As we come out of the pandemic lockdown and ramp up our in-person meetings and networking events, we provide a medium for professional development, collegiality, development of mentoring relationships and relationship building.

Chairing the Young Lawyers and Criminal Justice sections blessed me with connections I would not have gotten anywhere else – connections that have been instrumental in my career.

My perspective as president has also revealed to me just how critical task forces are to the dynamism of our organization. The task forces that I have created on the U.S. territories, emerging digital finance and currency, mental health and trauma, the modernization of criminal practice and the ethics of local public sector lawyering have motivated attorneys experienced with these issues, law professors, young lawyers and law students to secure NYSBA membership so that they are represented when the reports are written, and the association’s policies are determined.

NYSBA’s Task Force on the U.S. Territories is bringing together experts from well-regarded institutions to undo the racist and unconstitutional Insular Cases. The U.S. Supreme Court has relied on this case law to deny equal rights and privileges enjoyed by citizens of the 50 states to the citizens of the territories. Our group hopes that the issue will be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court next year because Justice Sotomayor and conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch have both made it clear they see the current situation as an affront to the Constitution.

To be sure that NYSBA remains on the cutting edge of new laws and technology, the Task Force on Emerging Digital Finance and Currency has begun it work. This task force will explore the issues arising with regulation and legislation in this area and work to continue to educate and guide our legal community on the issues arising in this new digital space including representation, taxation, digital currency and NFT ownership, purchase, sale and legal analysis about the creation of decentralized autonomous organizations, non-fungible tokens and other digital relationships.

Our Women in Law Section has been working tirelessly in the wake of the Dobbs decision to educate our communities on the new laws enacted in New York to protect the rights of childbearing people and their medical providers to decide what’s right for them. This section has also been focused on how the legal impact that this decision has on women and child-bearing people throughout our state and those who choose to come to our state for protection under its laws.

In another bipartisan effort, our Task Force on Mass Shootings and Assault Weapons will continue to advocate for laws that prevent needless deaths but protect individual rights. In the face of the Supreme Court’s ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc., et al. v. Bruen, we will push for laws that are well-thought-out. Laws that are passed too quickly often have fatal flaws and contradictions to existing laws, which then require amendments.

Recently, I published an op-ed in the Gannett newspapers warning that New York’s red flag law is broken and must be amended. One of the issues that I have advocated for in this regard is for the need to extend the right to counsel to respondents in these matters, even though they have been “housed” in the civil procedure law, and for people’s mental health to be evaluated by health professionals, not law enforcement and judges. The most efficient way to accomplish this is to include experts from both sides of the aisle, with multiple perspectives, in the debate.

NYSBA is critical to crafting sound policy on the most significant issues of our day. What we do is invite everyone to the discussion. We amplify the essential elements of our arguments, educate those who are looking for guidance, provide camaraderie and guidance to those seeking it and give a home to those whose storied careers are coming to an end but who have so much more to give.

Between living through and with a pandemic and the drastically changing tides of our profession, we must recognize the additional stresses that have been forced upon those of us already working in a high-pressure profession. We must remember to support one another and look out for our well-being and that of our colleagues. The New York State Bar Association is already deeply committed to lawyer assistance and attorney well-being, and this year one of my task forces will expand that commitment to a focus on the well-being of our clients by addressing how we can better represent people living with mental illness and trauma.

These are challenging times, but we are strong and dedicated. NYSBA is a home for everyone and a guiding light in these uncertain times.

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