Tackling Today’s Volatile Issues – and Why It’s Worth It

By Richard Lewis

April 1, 2024

Tackling Today’s Volatile Issues – and Why It’s Worth It


By Richard Lewis

Richard LewisWhen I first began my presidential tenure, I viewed it as an opportunity to address practical issues that are a priority to attorneys and the profession itself.

I recognized that I had an ambitious agenda. That has proven to be prophetic as the past 10 months have flown by. The Association’s leadership team and I have been busy due to the breadth and magnitude of issues that impede lawyers’ ability to conduct their daily affairs in a useful and efficient manner.

We have also confronted topics that have broader implications.

However, our ability to move forward is dependent on our willingness to listen to and appreciate different perspectives.

We have consequently had ongoing conversations with members of the Legislature and the judiciary, including Chief Judge Rowan Wilson, about alleviating myriad issues, including those surrounding family and housing courts and the court system’s efficiency. We want to ensure that tenants and landlords are represented in housing court while providing the means for tenants to remain in their homes, especially those who live below the poverty line. We also need to ensure that our time is best used for tackling our clients’ needs.

I recently joined state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assembly Members Charles Levine, Jabari Brisport and Andrew Hevesi at a press conference to call for an increase in funding for the state’s family courts. I have also met with Judge Joseph Zayas regarding the court rules, training for court employees and e-filing.

Our Task Force on Homelessness and the Law, chaired by William Russell, will present its report to the House of Delegates in June. The task force is addressing how this crisis is affected by the criminal justice and health care systems. This is a critical matter that has a disproportionate impact on veterans, individuals with mental illness and victims of domestic violence.

Another critical demographic we need to address is our country’s youth.

We must guard our democratic principles to ensure we are setting the right example for the next generation who – like many Americans – lack a basic understanding of how our government functions. Our civics convocation at the Bar Center in May will serve as an opportunity to focus on the guarantees embedded in the U.S. Constitution and the workings of our democratic processes.

Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor has graciously agreed to speak at the convocation and answer questions from students. She will deliver her remarks virtually to an audience that will include leaders within the education, government and legal professions.

We are also continuing to deepen our relationship with the Israel Bar Association following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks. We hosted a delegation from that association earlier this month and sponsored an educational program on judicial independence in New York and Israel. We also signed a Memorandum of Understanding to encourage our mutual commitment to fight hate crimes and discrimination.

Our dedication to improving the practice of law has been illustrated through our determination to confront these difficult issues at their earliest stages.

However, artificial intelligence is arguably the most notable matter that has affected the practice of law during our generation, and we are only beginning to understand its potential impact on our profession.

Today, nearly all aspects of our lives are touched by AI and its descendant, generative AI. Whether it be the way we get medical treatment or interact as humans, its effect on our existence is hard to overstate. When it is used appropriately, AI helps to efficiently organize the tumultuous wealth of information facing us today. In theory, this allows us to spend more time on high value, creative and, most importantly, practical endeavors.

The list of AI benefits is growing exponentially, which is why we need a balanced approach to its regulation. It presents more sophisticated versions of problems that court rules already address and thus, rather than create new laws, we need to identify what already established protections need to be emphasized to safeguard against its abuse. Lawyers still have a duty to educate themselves and use their best judgment when it comes to technology. While AI offers immense potential, it presents ethical challenges that require careful management.

I am looking forward to April when our Task Force on Artificial Intelligence, chaired by Vivian D. Wesson, will present its report to the House of Delegates.

The task force has been working diligently throughout the past year reviewing best practices to prevent its misuse and will put forth recommendations to protect lawyers and their clients. The task force is also proactively addressing how AI may best assist those who interact with the legal system while evaluating how tightly it needs to be regulated, especially in the areas of copyright, data protection and attorney-client privilege.

Among the recommendations the task force is considering is a focus on educating the legal community by developing guidelines for lawyers, judges and regulators on the risks associated with AI. It is also considering the formation of a standing committee within the New York State Bar Association to address AI issues as they evolve.

Ethically, we all understand that attorneys have an obligation to educate themselves about technology. This is in the model rules of New York, and lawyers need to be diligent regarding the benefits and risks where their clients are concerned. In addition, they need to be up front with their clients on how they may opt to integrate AI while working on their case.

It is also imperative that any regulations associated with AI or generative AI are aligned internationally because societal implications change as technologies migrate across countries and continents. For example, when cellphones were introduced in the United States in 1983, they were dismissed as toys for the rich. Today they are no longer just a communications tool. They are serving as banks, schools, clinics and vehicles for spreading transparency and democracy. They have drastically altered how we interact with each other and the world around us in ways that could not have been imagined in the early 1980s.

These matters do not have easy solutions, nor do they have a defining end point. However, the reason the New York State Bar Association is so well-respected is because of its willingness to take on the most volatile issues of the day. As John F. Kennedy said: “Ask not that the journey be easy, ask instead that it be worth it.” It is incumbent upon us to live up to that ideal by tackling today’s most challenging issues so that our quest for equal justice may be realized.

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