The New York State Bar Association: Serving New York’s Lawyers – And The Public Interest

Wednesday, August 21, 2013 - 15:17

The Editor interviews David M. Schraver, President of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA).

Editor: Please describe your practice and your long-time involvement with the NYSBA.

Schraver: I have been in a business and commercial litigation practice for many years. I’ve done a variety of litigation over the years, including a fair amount of securities fraud litigation. I also represented Rochester Gas and Electric, our public utility in Rochester, on a number of commercial and contract matters. I have been very much involved in representing local governments in their disputes with Indian tribes in New York State and elsewhere.

Editor: What were the steps in your progression to becoming president of the New York State Bar Association?

Schraver:  I’ve been a member of the NYSBA for many years. When I was president of the Monroe County Bar Association here in Rochester back in the late '90s, I became a delegate to the NYSBA House of Delegates. That’s when I started to get more involved in the leadership of the New York State Bar Association. I eventually ran for an at-large seat on the executive committee. I served in that capacity for a couple of years, then became the vice president for the Seventh Judicial District and served on the executive committee. I was subsequently appointed to the NYSBA’s Finance Committee. After three years as a member of the Finance Committee, I was appointed to chair the Finance Committee and served in that capacity for five years.

When there was an opportunity to run for president-elect of the NYSBA, a number of past presidents that I had worked with in my finance committee position encouraged me to run, and I was elected president-elect.

Editor: Will you continue to serve your existing clients while serving as president?

Schraver:  Yes, but obviously I have had to delegate a good part of that work to others in my firm to assure that my clients will be well-served.

Editor:  What programs of your predecessors would you like to emphasize?

Schraver:  My predecessor and my successor agree that continuity is important. Most things that a president may start don’t get done during his or her one-year term. My predecessor, Seymour James, was head of the criminal practice at the Legal Aid Society in New York City. A number of his initiatives had to do with the criminal justice system – largely focused on trying to prevent wrongful convictions – and to the extent they were not completed they have continued into my term.

We also have a task force that made a number of recommendations to reform voting laws to make it easier for people to register and to vote in New York State. We have task forces working on human trafficking and will receive a report in November. We also have a task force working on issues related to gun violence and hope to receive its report by January. Those are all ongoing issues, some of which Seymour initiated and some of which he and I worked on together.

Editor: Tell us about your plan to focus your one-year term on the future of legal education and the profession at a time when many law school graduates are shouldering six-figure student loans and facing uncertain job prospects.

Schraver: We are playing a leadership role in bringing together the stakeholders that need to be involved in addressing these issues. They include law schools, the practicing bar, the organized bar, the courts, the Board of Law Examiners, representative clients and perhaps some representative law students who can come together for a meaningful discussion of these issues.

The entire September issue of the New York State Bar Journal will be devoted to articles dealing with legal education issues. We have about 14 articles that are now being edited that will be part of that special issue. In January at our annual meeting, we always have what we call a Presidential Summit. Part of that summit will be devoted to issues related to legal education and the future of the profession. I am hopeful that next spring we will be able to bring together the stakeholders I mentioned for at least one full day of discussion of issues relating to legal education and future changes in the profession. Today’s lawyers need to understand the changes in the profession and how to adapt to them in order to compete in a new world.

Editor: Do you have any other programs on your agenda?

Schraver: We always do some lobbying at the federal and state levels. Our primary focus at a federal level is to educate our congressional delegation in Washington about the impact of sequestration on the courts and on the funding of legal services, particularly the Legal Services Corporation. We also plan to lobby the New York State Legislature to assure adequate compensation for the judiciary and that the state courts are otherwise adequately funded.

Editor: Under your leadership, does the NYSBA plan to continue its efforts to encourage greater opportunities for minorities and women?

Schraver: The President’s Diversity Challenge has over the years successfully encouraged our twenty-five sections to adopt policies to encourage participation of women and minorities and open the door to opportunities for them to assume leadership roles. The focus this year is to develop new mentoring programs that will build on our diversity efforts.

We also have an active Committee on Women in the Law focusing them on issues related to the gender gap with respect to compensation and promotion of women in the profession as well as addressing concerns about the numbers of women leaving the legal profession. Over the past 10 years or so, we have designated diversity seats for women and minorities on our Executive Committee and in our House of Delegates to assure their representation. These provisions are due to sunset this year. Our House of Delegates is considering extending them for another 10 years at its November meeting. If this occurs, the extension will be voted on at the annual meeting of the NYSBA in January.

Editor: We believe our readers throughout the country will benefit from learning more about the present and past achievements of the NYSBA – the largest voluntary state bar association in the country. You might want to mention some of those efforts that have had a statewide or national impact.

Schraver: We have been a leader in advocating for access to justice over the years, and that will continue. Every two years, our partnership conference brings together pro bono legal services providers from throughout the state to share best practices. Our core values include promoting the rule of law. We have long had a Law, Youth and Citizenship program that runs programs throughout New York State.

We have also guarded the independence of both the legal profession and the courts. This includes promoting the adequate funding of courts, both federal and state. On the national level, one of the things we have recently done was to bring resolutions to the American Bar Association House of Delegates encouraging elected officials throughout the country to provide adequate funding for the state courts and to raise awareness of the impact of sequestration. We have also brought to the ABA’s House of Delegates issues related to the impact of the U.S. News and World Report ratings of law schools and of law firms and pointed out that those ratings may affect decision making in ways that may not be in the best interest of law students and law schools.

Editor: Tell us about the work of the NYSBA committees. Do new members have an opportunity to join committees?

Schraver:  We have some 60 committees, both administrative as well as substantive, related to various practice areas. In appointing members of those committees, I have, as have past presidents, made a real effort to appoint diverse members as well as to assure that younger members are involved.

Editor: Could you mention how NYSBA serves the interests of in-house counsel?

Schraver: Corporate counsel have somewhat different interests than the private bar. One of the values of our Corporate Counsel Section is bringing people together who have this important common interest. Corporate counsel have been under great pressure in recent years to control their legal budgets. The Court of Appeals has adopted a rule requiring the registration of corporate counsel who are not admitted in New York. The NYSBA recognizes that some corporate counsel are not aware of this requirement and will make efforts to increase their awareness.

Editor: Could you describe some of the activities of the New York State Bar Association that foster the relationships between the bench and the bar?

Schraver: The leadership of the NYSBA meets several times a year with the chief judge, the chief administrative judge, and with some of the deputy administrative judges to discuss the issues of common concern. One of our lobbying efforts in that effort is to support the judiciary budget and to educate our legislators about the importance of adequately funding the courts.

We partner with the courts to assure access to justice and to promote pro bono and legal services. Typically the chief judge addresses our partnership conference. We have also met with the chief judge and one of the associate judges of the Court of Appeals to discuss our focus on legal education and admission to the bar, and we expect to continue to work with the judiciary to address those issues and work with them in a proactive way as we look ahead.

Editor: Does the NYSBA plan to work with the chief judge to assist him in his efforts to ensure that lawyers entering the profession do more pro bono work?

Schraver: The chief judge’s efforts to assure that lawyers entering the profession do more pro bono work relates primarily to the requirement that applicants for admission to  practice in New York complete 50 hours of pro bono legal services as a condition of admission. We have been involved in discussions with the chief judge, the law schools and legal service providers with respect to the implementation of that rule and have attended meetings with the chief judge’s committee on access to justice that have focused on that requirement. We have participated in discussions around the various ways the law schools, the practicing bar and the bar associations can work together to make sure the rule is implemented in a way that provides opportunities for people to satisfy that requirement and that provides useful and meaningful legal services to those that need them.

Editor: Would you like to add anything?

Schraver:  People need to understand that the law is increasingly complex. Lawyers tend to specialize more. The factors that are causing a good bit of the change relate to changes in technology, to globalization of the legal profession and to issues about unbundling legal services. Clients cannot always afford to have a lawyer do the complete job, whatever it might be. There are an increasing number of law-related services that are provided by vendors who now offer services that in the past were provided exclusively by lawyers who were licensed to practice law.

All these things are changing the legal landscape. Everybody is going to have to be aware of these changes and be flexible and learn how to adapt to them. The NYSBA will be seriously involved in the discussion of all of these changes.