Unprecedented Start to New Presidency: HANK GREENBERG’S PUBLIC POLICY INITIATIVES GARNER NATIONAL ATTENTION
Ever since Hank Greenberg was sworn in as the 122nd president of the New York State Bar Association, it has been nonstop activity, including at the highest levels of government.
Greenberg kicked off his presidency by announcing groundbreaking public policy initiatives that garnered widespread media attention pertaining to rural justice, attorney wellness, diversity in the legal profession, autonomous vehicles, and the crisis in local journalism.
Greenberg spoke on behalf of NYSBA at a press conference with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on June 11 in support of legislation that was ultimately signed into law that ends the gay panic and trans panic defenses, which had allowed murder defendants to claim extreme emotional disturbance caused by a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
About a week later, Greenberg and NYSBA’s Committee on Families and the Law Chair Susan Lindenauer testified at a public hearing of the state Office of Indigent Legal Services on financial eligibility for appointment of assigned counsel in family matters.
Also, in June, Greenberg rolled out his business plan for a virtual bar center and global membership to the House of Delegates in Cooperstown. Specifically, this vision reimagines how NYSBA will deliver services to its membership in a digital age and provide NYSBA with an opportunity to expand its global membership reach.
Further, Greenberg formed special committees on association structure and operations and strategic communications. Chaired by past NYSBA President Glenn Lau-Kee, the Special Committee on Association Structure and Operations will make recommendations for improving the overall effectiveness and functioning of the organization through a systematic review of the association and its constituent parts.
The Special Committee on Strategic Communications, chaired by past NYSBA President David Miranda, will assist the association in speaking with one voice as a state, national and global leader for the legal profession. This will be done through coordination of NYSBA’s marketing efforts and a review of its external and internal communications plans.
As if that wasn’t enough, Greenberg still managed to find time to handle numerous interviews with reporters, get sworn in by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore during a ceremony at the State Bar Center in Albany June 6, and serve as the keynote speaker at a ceremony for over 600 newly admitted New York attorneys June 26 in Albany.
PUBLIC POLICY INITIATIVES
In June, Greenberg announced six high-priority public policy initiatives:
• Task Force on Autonomous Vehicles and the Law
• Task Force on Free Expression in the Digital Age
• Task Force on Parole System
• Task Force on Rural Justice
• Diversity Initiative
• Blue Ribbon Wellness Work Group.
“Every great social and political issue of the day invariably becomes a legal issue,” said Greenberg. “From our groundbreaking initiatives to support and save local news outlets to our efforts to examine autonomous vehicles, NYSBA will not only be at the forefront of shaping the future of the legal profession but also the societal trends impacting us all.”
The Task Force on Autonomous Vehicles and the Law will study and understand the seismic impact that autonomous vehicles will have on our legal system and society, and make recommendations on how New York state and its legal institutions can prepare for this revolutionary technological change.
NYSBA’s local news initiative aims to tackle the crisis of local journalism in the digital age and make recommendations on how the legal and business sectors can protect local news and define the future of local media in New York and throughout the country.
The Task Force on Parole System will study and propose reforms to release practices as well as revocation and reincarceration. It will seek to identify problems in the current system and propose policy solutions, including new concepts in the administration of the parole system and changes in the law.
The Task Force on Rural Justice will examine the challenges faced by lawyers who practice in rural areas and the access to justice crisis that now exists in many of them.
In order to address the diversity imbalance that plagues the legal profession, Greenberg, through the presidential appointment process, announced that all 59 standing committees will have a chair, co-chair or vice-chair who is a woman, person of color, or otherwise represents diversity. Additionally, NYSBA will develop and implement an association-wide diversity and inclusion plan.
Greenberg also announced the establishment of a blue-ribbon multidisciplinary work group that will review the state’s bar application questionnaire to ensure mental health treatment will not be a deterrence to gaining admission.
NATIONAL MEDIA ATTENTION
Over the course of about a two-week period beginning June 1, NYSBA-related news items – largely centered on the new initiatives – dominated the legal news cycle and made their way into daily newspapers and online news sites around the state and the country.
The issues appealed to not only lawyers but also the general public. There was great interest from legal media such as the New York Law Journal and Law360, but also from mainstream news media like the Wall Street Journal and Associated Press.
The Associated Press covered NYSBA’s local news initiative, which aims to tackle the crisis of local journalism in the digital age and make recommendations on how the legal and business sectors can protect local news and define the future of local media in New York and throughout the country.
Since most major daily newspapers and online news publications are members of the Associated Press, articles about the initiative ran in New York state dailies as well as many online news sites, including those owned by Tribune Publishing in other major media markets like Chicago and throughout California.
The Wall Street Journal featured Greenberg and his autonomous vehicles initiative with a large spread and photo in its June 3 edition. Bloomberg Law also covered the new initiative.
NYSBA’s new diversity and wellness initiatives also generated coverage throughout legal media including from Bloomberg Law, Law360, Above the Law and the New York Law Journal including Law.com.