Richard Washington: NYSBA Membership Creates Opportunities
Richard Washington is a solo practitioner in labor and employment law and criminal defense. He entered private practice following a career in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. He is active in the New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Cannabis Law Section.
You are a member of both the Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Cannabis Law Section. How are these two interests related?
My work on the DEI committee and on the Cannabis Law Section are inextricably intertwined. I’ve been working on social equity and community reinvestment as part of the Cannabis Law Section. My work with the Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion complements the work that I’m doing on cannabis because, as everybody knows, there is a big push to diversify this industry given the injustices that have taken place historically in the prosecution of illegal marijuana.
We are still in the early stages of the legal cannabis industry in New York. What is coming and how will it affect 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 everyone practicing 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 who end up in this new industry.
What is rewarding about being an active member of the New York State Association?
The DEI committee and the Cannabis Law Section have been very active in trying to shape policy or at least have a voice on certain issues that are coming up, both within the New York State Bar Association and the profession as a whole.
One thing we worked on that was really great was changing Question 26 on the application for admission to the bar. That question asked if you ever had any interaction with law enforcement. When you understand that there is a reality that people in certain communities are more likely to have interaction with the police, and you know the chilling effect that having to disclose information that may not be relevant to an individual’s competency or efficacy, you realize that the question is not 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 agreements needed to be negotiated. 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 who 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 who 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 that interest me. I wasn’t even concerned so much with my personal practice, which is one of the reasons why I didn’t go directly to the Labor & Employment Law or the Criminal Justice sections. I thought cannabis was an incredibly interesting place to be.
I can’t speak highly enough about it. It’s been great, I only wish that I’d had the time to be involved earlier in my legal career, but I was trying to gain a little bit of the experience to be able to appreciate the opportunity.
Finish this statement: I would join NYSBA because:
I think joining the New York State Bar Association 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.
The Cannabis Law Section is hosting a CLE Oct. 6 “Cannabis & Insolvency: Debtor Creditor Rights And Remedies Under State And Federal Law.” Register here.
Richard Washington’s video profile can be seen here.