President’s Message: Taking on Difficult Issues Is Our Mission

By Richard Lewis

August 10, 2023

President’s Message: Taking on Difficult Issues Is Our Mission


By Richard Lewis

Richard Lewis, NYSBA President-Elect

What has always impressed me about our association is its ability to bring leaders together for a common cause. They selflessly and promptly answer our call, no matter their political views, because they believe in the legal system and are not afraid to confront difficult issues.

This is a lost art in many circles, but not ours.

Our Task Force on Advancing Diversity includes the chairs of 15 major law firms, the chief legal officers of eight large corporations, five of the state’s most respected judges and the deans of Columbia and New York University law schools, in addition to numerous partners and associates working behind the scenes to support our efforts.

I am excited to collaborate with the task force’s chairs, former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and Brad Karp, chair of Paul, Weiss.

The chairs set an ambitious timeline for issuing the task force’s initial report, and we’re proud of its work. The task force is creating a strategic blueprint to assist universities and colleges, corporations and law firms that all place an immense value on diversity but are on unsettled ground following the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard University and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina. The court ruled that decades of race-conscious policies at those universities violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

As the U.S. Supreme Court was completing its term, we moved quickly to launch the task force because colleges will soon be reviewing applications and need to know how they may proceed. Corporations and law firms have diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and are seeking guidance on how the court’s decision will impact them.

More importantly, we have a moral obligation to address diversity. Diversity invigorates discussion in our law practices, private businesses, the judiciary and every facet of our lives.

Our efforts are not about making a statement or publishing a report. They are about getting away from rhetoric and developing a society where there is equal opportunity. We are not there today. We have made progress, but we still have a long way to go. Therefore, it is necessary to develop short- and long-term plans.

The value of the New York State Bar Association is its willingness to set emotion aside so that our members have the information they need to give clients the very best advice.

We want to help the nation’s colleges and universities comply with the U.S. Supreme Court but still welcome a diverse student body in the fall of 2024 – the kind of student body that has been shown to benefit all students. This, in turn, will bring diversity to our boardrooms, law firms and judiciary.

I mentioned at the beginning of my presidential term that the future of our profession and our ability to confront issues are dependent upon our willingness to step forward when the rule of law is under attack.

This is why I have launched a Task Force on Combating Antisemitism and Anti-Asian Hate. Its mission is to develop recommendations on how best to prosecute the precipitous rise in hate crimes against Jewish Americans and Asian Americans. Anti-Asian hate crimes increased 16.7% between 2020 and 2021, while Jews are victims of 63% of reported religiously motivated hate crimes despite accounting for only 2.4% of the U.S. population.

We will continue to fight for equal rights following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis. We argued in our amicus brief that the services businesses provide must be free of discrimination.

There are also issues ranging from machines developing the ability to think and learn to emotional end-of-life decisions that warrant thoughtful consideration.

Our Task Force on Artificial Intelligence will address the benefits, dangers and regulatory necessities surrounding this fast-developing technology that has the potential to have a lasting impact on our profession for a long time to come.

We have launched a Task Force on Medical Aid in Dying that will research and make legislative recommendations concerning the legal, ethical, public health and policy considerations during a very difficult time for families.

We have also created a Task Force on Homelessness and the Law. We can no longer avert our eyes from the crisis of homelessness in our state and in our country. Homeless people are often victims of domestic violence, alcoholism or drug addiction. Some lack the capacity to help themselves, and so it is our duty to do the public good and make sure that these individuals are no longer ignored.

None of these issues have easy solutions, but being a lawyer is hard work. We all know that. But by listening to each other, we can achieve far more than any one of us can alone.

Six diverse people sitting holding signs
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