Letter From The President Of The New York County Lawyers Association

2010-11-04 01:00

To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:

Time To Celebrate DiversityAgainst The Calls For Intolerance

In a time when voices of intolerance and exclusion are beginning to be heard, it is timely to reflect upon one of the founding principles of the New York County Lawyers' Association and one of its continuing core values: commitment to diversity and inclusion within our Association of all admitted attorneys or law students who wish to join, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion. It is fitting that the theme of our 96th Annual Dinner on December 14 is Diversity in the Legal Profession. We will recognize and applaud the 150 law firms and law departments that have signed on to our Diversity Statement, which has asked firms not merely to "support efforts to increase diversity in the legal profession," but to quantify the results of their diversity activities in 'dollars and cents' by agreeing to report "the number of hours devoted to the clients' matters by minority lawyers."

Likewise, the face of NYCLA reflects such diversity: Thirty-nine percent of our members are women and, in terms of leadership, 45 percent of our 40-member Board of Directors are women and 18 percent are minorities. The composition of NYCLA's 25-member delegation to New York State Bar's House of Delegates is 40 percent women and 16 percent minorities.

NYCLA's policy of open admission to anyone who was a member of the bar was groundbreaking at the time NYCLA was founded more than a hundred years ago. It remains every bit as important today. NYCLA again took the lead in establishing a Civil Rights Committee in 1938, with the New York State Bar Association and American Bar Association following suit soon after. Our Minorities and the Law Committee was created in 1989, Women's Rights Committee was created in 1972, Special Committee on Diversity in the Legal Profession created in 2002, Diversity Award Committee created in 2002 and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues Committee was created in 2001.

NYCLA has joint membership programs with seven minority bar associations - the Asian-American Bar Association of New York, Indo American Lawyers' Association, Korean-American Lawyers' Association of Greater New York, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Law Association of New York, Metropolitan Black Bar Association, Puerto Rican Bar Association and South Asian Bar Association of New York.

NYCLA's Programs, Lectures, Awards Receptions and Public Forums

NYCLA's programs, lectures, award receptions and public forums demonstrate a tradition of promoting diversity in our profession. The 20-year-old Minority Judicial Internship Program, which has given 170 law students of color the unique opportunity to complement their law school career with a paid summer judicial internship, is administered by the Minorities and the Law Committee and attracts promising students and federal and state judges dedicated to mentoring the students during their internships and afterwards.

NYCLA's Home of Law hosts numerous lectures each year that recognize women and minority attorneys. Several of these recognize pioneering women lawyers who were members of NYCLA or early civil rights leaders, including - the Ruth Lewinson Memorial Lecture, Nanette Dembitz Lecture, Ida B. Wells-Barnett Justice Award Reception and the Edith I. Spivack Award Reception. Over the past year, among the public forums that NYCLA hosted were: Social Evolution in the Age of Obama - From Gang Communities to Community Service, with keynote speaker Dr. Robert P. Moses, civil rights pioneer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; A Local and International Perspective on Afghanistan - U.S. Efforts Toward Equality for Afghan Women, featuring women from the government and nonprofit sectors; and NYCLA's Foreign and International Law Committee and Muslim Bar Association's joint program, Islamic Law 101, featuring academics and attorneys.

The 2010 Law and Literature Award was presented to Annette Gordon-Reed, law professor and winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in History for her book, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. And, in celebration of Law Day, NYCLA's Supreme Court Committee presented Hon. Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, Senior Associate Judge, Court of Appeals, with the Louis J. Capozzoli Gavel Award and the Civil Court Practice Section's award went to Hon. Fern A. Fisher, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for New York City Courts, and Hon. Luis Gonzalez, Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, First Department.

Public Policy Initiatives

This past year, NYCLA joined with six other bar associations on two amicus briefs in a case involving custody and visitation rights, as well as a duty of support, for same-sex parents and, in a third amicus brief, NYCLA advocated for the Family Court as the proper jurisdiction for a mother's child support petition brought against her former same-sex partner.

Inclusion and creation of opportunities for all are values that must be constantly renewed. I hope readers will be able to join us at the Annual Dinner, as well as at other events throughout the year, to celebrate the strides that have been made and commit to those that still need to be made to enhance diversity and inclusiveness in our profession and our society.


James B. Kobak, Jr.