City Bar: A Former Corporate Counsel Becomes Executive Director

Tuesday, May 21, 2013 - 15:40

The Editor interviews Bret Parker, Executive Director, New York City Bar Association (“City Bar”).

Editor: Bret, tell us about your background before becoming executive director of the New York City Bar.

Parker: I only recently became executive director of the City Bar. Until the end of April, I was vice president and associate general counsel at Elizabeth Arden in New York City. I had a number of prior in-house roles at Wyeth and Colgate-Palmolive.

At Wyeth, I was the co-head of the law department’s administration. I also helped run the Intellectual Property Department of the Wyeth legal department, which was very large because it was a pharmaceutical and consumer healthcare company. Until recently, I was president-elect of the International Trademark Association. I also worked at two New York law firms and clerked for a U.S. district court judge in Miami, and  I serve on the Patient Council of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

Editor: What motivated you to consider becoming executive director of the City Bar?

Parker: I have been involved with the City Bar for over 15 years and find it to be an outstanding organization. When I heard that Barbara Opotowsky was retiring, I thought about that role and realized it was something I was really interested in taking on. The City Bar’s commitment to the profession, to pro bono, to diversity, to CLE and to a number of other issues and activities made this opportunity very attractive to me.

Editor: Please describe the roles you have played in City Bar activities.

Parker: I chaired its Trademark and Unfair Competition Committee for three years. I also served on the Pro Bono and Legal Services Committee and currently serve as a delegate to the New York State Bar House of Delegates representing the City Bar. This is an important role because it allows the City Bar to have a say in the policy matters that the New York State Bar Association addresses. In that role, I have worked very closely with Alan Rothstein, the City Bar’s general counsel, and other members of its delegation. I have also spoken at a number of City Bar CLE programs over the years.

Editor: You are one of the few executive directors of a major bar association with a corporate counsel background. Do you see corporate counsel having a growing role at City Bar?

Parker: Corporate counsel already play an important role at the City Bar in terms of membership on committees, participation in programs, serving on our executive committee and in other capacities. I also think it is helpful for the profession as a whole for in-house counsel and outside counsel to work together and discuss issues collaboratively.

The inside counsel/outside counsel group at the City Bar is a working group that discusses litigation, and it has served as a foundation for building closer relationships. I expect to see more opportunities for inside and outside counsel to collaborate through the City Bar and also for our in-house counsel to have a place where they can come together to discuss specific issues relevant to them.

Editor: In our interview with Barbara Opotowsky, she emphasized the importance of the pro bono and diversity activities of the City Bar. Historically, corporate counsel have been drivers of pro bono and diversity. Do you feel your former role as director of Wyeth’s Pro Bono program and your knowledge of its diversity program will be helpful in administering the City Bar’s programs in these areas?

Parker: My background in pro bono will help me in this new role here at the City Bar. I have a deep commitment to both pro bono and diversity. One of the factors that drew me to this role is the City Bar’s strong history in those areas. I do hope to leverage my prior experience to strengthen the already great work that the City Bar does through the Justice Center, the Vance Center and all its other programs in these areas. More than one hundred in-house legal departments and law firms have signed onto our Statement of Diversity Principles.

On my first day on the job at the City Bar, I attended a luncheon held by the Committee on Recruitment and Retention of Lawyers honoring members of the City Bar’s program that connects minority law school students with in-house and law firm opportunities and prepares them to succeed in an office environment. As another part of our diversity initiative, we have the Pipeline Program and a number of other programs that I am still learning about in more detail.

Editor: One of the issues of greatest concern to corporate counsel is the cost of e-discovery. Do you see the City Bar devoting more resources to this issue?

Parker: E-discovery is a huge issue for the entire profession and for the vendors that serve it. The City Bar has an e-discovery working group that meets to consider whether or not there is a need for changes at the federal or state levels.

Editor: Is the City Bar using technology to expand its reach?

Parker: I think technology will continue to be important to help us share information with our members and the public, although nothing can replace the benefit of the in-person interaction that takes place at our events and in our committees and working groups.

Editor: The City Bar has one of the world’s best law libraries.

Parker: We have thousands of visits each year to the library. Not only does one have access to the treatises, statutes and case law, but also to the briefs in many leading cases. We are always looking for ways to enhance the use of the library’s resources.

Many of our members do all their research in our library. Law firms, legal departments and other members can take advantage of our copy service to get copies of materials that are not available online and may not be available elsewhere. For example, last year we had 2,500 requests for materials that people could not get anywhere else except through the City Bar library.

The library has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to the use of technology. We actually were among the first bar associations to offer free LexisNexis and Westlaw to members. Right now, we have 27 computers in the library for members to use. Outlets and WiFi are available so that members can use their own laptops.

Editor: Does the City Bar work with other bar associations to share resources?

Parker: The City Bar already partners with a number of other bar associations and professional organizations. We always look for opportunities to partner in a way that makes sense for our members, and I will continue to look for those opportunities when they arise and seem appropriate.

Editor: Tell us about the City Bar’s report providing recommendations to the next mayor of New York City.

Parker: The report reflects the combined efforts of over 20 of our committees and discusses issues affecting the future of the City. We have an open forum scheduled for June 6 and have invited the mayoral candidates to come and discuss those issues.

Editor: Will the Association continue to support increases in judicial salaries and vetting of judicial candidates?

Parker: The City Bar will continue to advocate for fair pay to judges to avoid their salaries being impacted by politics. We continue to evaluate candidates and nominees for federal and state judiciary positions in New York City, upholding the the tradition that the City Bar established at its inception.