What Matters Most to Lawyers: Takeaways From My Statewide Listening Tour

By Richard Lewis

October 23, 2023

What Matters Most to Lawyers: Takeaways From My Statewide Listening Tour


By Richard Lewis

Bar Leaders Meeting, July 2023, New York City

President Richard Lewis (fourth from right) and President-Elect Domenick Napoletano (far left) have met with more than 50 bar associations across the state since June.

During the first 150 days of my presidency, I have crisscrossed the state, meeting with as many leaders of affinity, local, county, national and international bar associations as possible. Our listening tour has given President-elect Domenick Napolitano and me the opportunity to engage with more than 50 bar association leaders from Buffalo to Rochester to Binghamton to New York City.

I discovered that while we have our differences, we have so much more in common, especially when it comes to the fundamental matter of helping lawyers better represent their clients. When an issue arises that impacts our profession, we always study all sides despite our own personal beliefs. Once the association’s governing body adopts a position, we lobby for it vigorously with the state Legislature, governor’s office and court officials.

We had tremendous success addressing the practical concerns of lawyers in the last legislative session. We successfully lobbied legislators and the governor to raise the pay of court-appointed 18-B attorneys for the first time in nearly two decades – an especially urgent issue in rural areas where the lack of legal representation has become critical.

We also urged the Legislature to repeal Judiciary Law Section 470, which requires New York practicing attorneys who live out of state to have an office in the state – an unnecessary expense in today’s world. That bill passed and we are continuing to lobby the governor to sign it. We also pushed for passage of the Clean Slate Act and the state Equal Rights Amendment, both of which were approved by the Legislature.

More recently, I have had discussions with Chief Administrative Judge Joseph Zayas regarding conflicts within the Uniform Court Rules. Judge Zayas has expressed his willingness to work with our association and perhaps make further changes to the rules. At our urging, Judge Zayas’ predecessor, Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks, and the state’s chief judge and presiding justices have already made some revisions to the rules.

Naturally, judges and attorneys want the courts to operate in the most effective way possible. Relying more on virtual appearances, staggering the starting time of cases so lawyers are not waiting all day in court and limiting travel time would help lawyers to be more efficient. This would also lessen the reliance on per-diem attorneys and other lawyers who are not as familiar with our cases, which also leads to unnecessary delays.

But every issue doesn’t have to be that complicated. Solving minor issues would still make a major difference. We continue to fight for better broadband service for upstate New York because lawyers and their clients can’t take advantage of virtual technology if they can’t access it. We are also working downstate to give clients more options for virtual court appearances. It’s inefficient for lawyers downstate to drive 90 minutes in terrible traffic for a five-minute court appearance. We are also working to encourage universal e-filing.

In the rural parts of the state, there are too many clients who can’t find representation and lawyers who want to retire and can’t find another lawyer willing to take on their cases. We are working with the American Bar Association and the California Lawyers Association to urge local, state and the federal government to help attract more attorneys to rural areas with incentives such as student loan forgiveness.

I have also connected with leaders from The Bar Council of England and Wales, a former president of the Rosario Bar Association in Argentina and the president of The Law Society of Hong Kong. At the Hong Kong meeting, I registered our concern about the Hong Kong government issuing an arrest warrant for a pro-democracy barrister who now lives in the United States and raised other concerns relating to a free press.

As some of you already know, the members of the five task forces I established in June are working to propose association policy on critical 21st century matters. Their discussions range from antisemitism and anti-Asian hate to artificial intelligence, homelessness and end-of-life issues for the terminally ill.

Our Task Force on Advancing Diversity publicly issued its report last month, garnering national attention at a press conference in New York City. It is an inspiring study that was turned out in a little more than a month. It provides a blueprint for colleges, law schools, corporations and the judiciary to achieve diversity in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on affirmative action.

The Task Force on Combating Antisemitism and Anti-Asian Hate is focusing on a crime that has dangerously escalated in the past few years, in part because the burden of proof to charge a perpetrator with a hate crime is too high.

Delving into a cutting-edge issue that is disrupting many industries, the Task Force on Artificial Intelligence is planning to deliver a preliminary report at our Annual Meeting before completing its final report in the spring.

The Task Force on Medical Aid in Dying is meeting with members of the state Legislature and other experts as it reviews the legal, ethical, health and broader policy considerations.

Finally, the Task Force on Homelessness and the Law is addressing an issue that pervades our everyday lives, often involves victims of domestic violence and has a negative impact on property owners and our educational and health systems, as well as the homeless.

We undoubtedly are facing difficult issues, some of which I have touched upon here. While we still live in the world’s strongest democracy, we need to commit to educating our children on how our government functions if we are to remain so. That’s why in May we will host a civics convocation that will include judges, attorneys, teachers and students for a robust discussion on how to save our democracy.

In closing, I want to say that President-elect Domenick Napolitano has agreed to continue to meet with bar leaders during his presidential term so that everyone has a chance to be heard. I also want to express my gratitude to all our members who are helping to develop a society that embraces equal opportunity, ever-changing technology, safe shelter and grace in the final stages of life.

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