Profiles in Leadership: Scott M. Karson, Former NYSBA President 2020-2021

By Committee on Leadership Development

February 19, 2024

Profiles in Leadership: Scott M. Karson, Former NYSBA President 2020-2021


By Committee on Leadership Development

The New York State Bar Association Committee on Leadership Development is profiling the association’s leaders in a series of articles that will appear on the website. In each profile, we examine the path they took to become a leader, the mentors that inspired them and the beliefs that made them successful. We hope these interviews will encourage all members of all backgrounds to pursue positions in leadership. This profile features former NYSBA President Scott Karson.

Describe your journey to becoming a NYSBA leader

I have always been drawn to leadership, from class president in public school to founder and president of my college club ice hockey team, president of a Planned Parenthood chapter, president of the Suffolk County Bar Association and, of course, president of NYSBA. My journey to NYSBA leadership began as an officer of the Suffolk County Bar Association, when I was elected to serve as a member of the NYSBA House of Delegates from the Tenth Judicial District. At about the same time, I served as law secretary to the late Justice Lawrence J. Bracken of the Appellate Division, Second Department, who brought me along to meetings of the NYSBA Committee on Courts of Appellate Jurisdiction. I joined and went on to chair that committee, and other NYSBA committees and task forces as well. Then, I joined the NYSBA Executive Committee as a vice president from the Tenth District. From there, I served three terms as treasurer, a term as president elect, which included service as chair of the House of Delegates, and a term as president.

How do you describe your leadership style?

The important components of my leadership style are: identifying issues of significance and determining what course of action is feasible and will best serve the association, the profession and the public. I believe in being extremely well-prepared to address the issue at hand; collaboration with association members and staff to draw upon their expertise, perspectives and advice; letting others know where I stand on an issue but listening carefully to the views of others and treating those who may disagree with respect, courtesy and civility; and interjecting humor to the extent it is appropriate to do so.

How do you determine which goals to set and work on as a NYSBA leader?

In my view, leadership goals take two forms: First, there are those goals that were on my mind as a leader for some time, and likely motivated me to seek leadership opportunities in the first place in order to have the opportunity to bring those goals to fruition. For me, those goals included attracting and retaining association members and enhancing access to justice. Second, there are those goals that I did not give much thought to until they landed on my plate due to unforeseeable circumstances. During my term, the overarching goal — which I did not anticipate — was to ensure the survival of the association in a virtual environment brought about by the pandemic — with no live meetings or events. I can assure you that when I appeared before the Nominating Committee in connection with my candidacy for president elect, nobody asked me what I would do in the event of a pandemic.

Can you describe a leadership challenge you overcame while at NYSBA?

Without a doubt, the biggest leadership challenge I faced and — hopefully — successfully overcame during my time as president of NYSBA was the pandemic. This unprecedented scourge imperiled the survival of the association and spawned a host of critically important issues that we needed to address including, inter alia, mandatory vaccination, mandatory closure of law offices, virtual courts, the administration of the bar examination and attorney wellness. Each of these challenges were addressed by assembling task forces consisting of members with the qualifications and commitment to gather and study the pertinent information and develop sound recommendations. Of course, all of this important work was accomplished virtually, with the support of the association’s incredible staff.

What mark of leadership do you wish to leave as a legacy at NYSBA?

As previously set forth, I have endeavored to include respect, courtesy and civility as important components of my NYSBA leadership style. I would be proud to leave as my legacy NYSBA’s commitment to civil discourse and courtesy on the part of our leaders. I believe that civility and courtesy should figure in every part of our interactions with our colleagues within the association, as well as our association’s staff. But it should not end there: courtesy and civility should be part of every phase of our professional lives: they should govern our interaction with clients, courts and, adversaries as well.


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My NYSBA Account

My NYSBA Account