Helping Kids To Learn Teamwork, Build Character And Develop Sportsmanship

Sunday, August 1, 2004 - 00:00

Editor: What attracted you to Grotta Glassman?

I had been the managing partner of a management labor and employment law boutique, Rains & Pogrebin PC, located in Mineola, New York. When the firm dissolved earlier this year, several of my partners and I joined Grotta Glassman. Among the firm's many attractions is that its practice is very similar to the practice we had at Rains, but with almost 70 lawyers, it's larger. The firm has unusual strength in the traditional labor law field - representing management at the bargaining table, dealing with efforts to unionize, and addressing unfair labor practices. This major area of our practice makes us a real "go to" firm. And, we're strong in employee benefits and immigration, areas that Rains did not have. Also, its New York City office is run by two partners, Craig Benson and David Wirtz, who had worked with me at Rains.

I thought my existing clients would feel comfortable with Grotta Glassman, and I was right. Everything from the nature of the practice to the fee structure has the same feel as at Rains.

Editor: Please tell our readers about your practice.

Some people think that labor and employment lawyers spend all their time litigating discrimination cases. While this may be true for some labor and employment lawyers, my own practice is much broader. I advise my clients daily on how to deal with the myriad of issues that arise in employment relationships. Many of those situations involve mergers and acquisitions, downsizing, opening or closing a facility and absorption of one company by another. I help them address such questions as who is going to keep a job and who is not? If two merging companies have separate unions, which union is going to represent the employees of the merged company? In a purchase and sale agreement, what obligations and liabilities related to personnel matters will be allocated to the seller and which to the purchaser?
I'm advising a client here in New York now that is acquiring a company on the West Coast. The many facets of the purchase that we're helping to address include designing employment contracts and non-compete agreements for the executives, putting together stock option plans, dealing with personnel redundancies, and conforming personnel policies. Having offices on both coasts has really helped.

Editor: In his "City Beat" column for the New York Daily News, Clem Richardson recently quoted you in connection with efforts to give city kids a chance to play soccer competitively. Please tell your readers about your efforts.

I've just completed my third term as the president of the Manhattan Soccer Club, a traveling soccer club that attracts players from ages 9 through 19 who are interested in a more competitive level of soccer than they would get in a local recreational league. The club grew out of the Westside Soccer League, which provides opportunities for more than 4,000 New York City children to play soccer. About 12 or 13 years ago, the league developed a travel division, which evolved into the Manhattan Soccer Club. The division started with two teams; we now have about 600 children playing on 41 teams. Our major challenge is finding, and, if necessary, developing sufficient and safe fields for our children to play on.
The New York Daily News article reported on the soccer classes taught by the Manhattan Soccer Club coaching staff on Randalls Island to introduce inner-city children to soccer. A joint effort between the club and the Randalls Island Sports Foundation, the program began last year with 20 children. This year the number has doubled.

We have had several children who developed enough interest and skill to try out and be chosen for our regular teams. These are children who might not otherwise have an opportunity to play soccer at all, and now they are playing on a competitive level.

Editor: What do children gain from sports?

In sports, you learn how to work with others to achieve a common goal. So much of life after school involves the skills of being able to work in an organization, helping it to move in a certain direction and accomplishing the desired results together. Learning to work on a team can be an invaluable life lesson.

If principles of positive coaching are applied, children can learn confidence and self-esteem. Playing on a sports team can also help children learn how to deal with adversity and setbacks. You do not always win; you do not always make the team.

Editor: Do girls as well as boys participate?

Yes, we have girls and boys playing, but the teams are not co-ed. Because of the tremendous success of U.S. women's soccer on the world stage, more girls than boys are playing in the Manhattan Soccer Club. Many of those teams have been enormously successful, measured not only in wins and losses, but in cohesiveness, friendships and recruiting of their players by colleges.

Editor: What has contributed to the Manhattan Soccer Club's success?

The children who play in the Manhattan Soccer Club are dedicated to the sport. They not only play games once a week, but also have professional training and practice two or three times a week. Most go on to play starting positions on their high school teams.

Because fewer will play in college and even fewer, if any, will ever become professional players, the program is designed to be fun for the children while giving them the skills that they want. It's all about learning teamwork, building character and developing sportsmanship.

Editor: Parents' misbehavior on their children's sports fields has received extensive media coverage. How do you avoid such misbehavior?

We've placed a tremendous amount of effort in regulating parents' behavior. At every parents' meeting and club meeting, we talk about it. The information we distribute to parents includes materials from a group called The Positive Coaching Alliance, which teaches principles of positive coaching and positive reinforcement of an athlete's behavior, and good sportsmanship.

To avoid favoritism, which can occur when parents coach, we engage paid coaches. They can also teach the children more because their time is devoted to coaching, while a parent's focus is often diverted in many other professional and personal directions.

Also, our rules permit us to sanction parents or coaches who misbehave, and we've done that on several occasions.

Editor: Why does it help a recreational sports organization to have a lawyer serve on its board?

Our board does many things, but very little of it is legal. Our primary responsibility is to help teams organize and to find fields for them to play on. We also help register teams in a league so that they can compete against each other. Our many other tasks range from creating the rules for fair play to fundraising.

Any board needs a variety of people who know how to deal with the scope of issues that arise. We need accountants who know how to keep accurate financial records, business people who are effective fundraisers, and lawyers because of liability issues and because any group like ours lives by rules. For example, what procedures should be in place for selecting coaches? What procedures should be in place to assure fair selection of children for teams? How can the club sanction parents for misbehavior without incurring liability?

Editor: Among your many services to the legal profession, you serve on the House of Delegates for the New York State Bar Association. Please describe the debate about what types of activities should fall within the definition of pro bono services.

The current definition of what counts as pro bono services is quite narrow. It encompasses legal services for those who have difficulty accessing the justice system, whether it is civil or criminal. The New York State Bar's Committee on Attorneys in Public Service has been urging, and The House of Delegates has passed a formal resolution recommending, that the definition of pro bono services be broadened.
Proponents of a broadened definition point out that most of the free legal services that were offered by hundreds of lawyers to families of 9/11 victims did not count as pro bono services because the victims might have had access to lawyers without the free service. They also point out that lawyers serve their communities and the public good in countless ways.

On the other side of the debate are those who note with dismay that many in our society have no access to basic legal services and believe that is where the emphasis should lie.

Community service provides tremendous personal satisfaction and paybacks, which to some degree outweigh the benefits to others. I'm reluctant to put my work with the MSC on an equal footing with the efforts of an attorney in the trenches doing work for people who can't afford the services of a lawyer, particularly when life, liberty, livelihood, housing, child custody or other fundamental rights are at stake. I draw on my experience as a lawyer but almost never perform actual legal services for MSC.

Editor: Why is it important to recognize attorneys' service to their communities?

Lawyers contribute to their communities in many ways - some of which go unseen or unknown. I think it's important to recognize that most lawyers feel an obligation to serve the greater community. Recognizing the benefits of lawyers' community service is an important balance to all the lawyer bashing that goes on.

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