To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:
"There's Gold In Them Thar Hills!"
No one knows the source of the quotation, but it epitomizes the universal hope of finding unexploited resources that will change our lives. Today, in the midst of a severe economic downturn, I respectfully suggest that bar associations are an underexploited, valuable resource for in-house counsel. Bar associations present four distinct types of opportunities for in-house counsel: substantive networking, continuing legal education, pro bono opportunities, and public policy initiatives.
First, to state the obvious, bar associations are places where practitioners with common - or at least overlapping - interests can come together. At New York County Lawyers' Association (NYCLA), we have almost 50 committees and sections. Some concentrate on substantive areas, including a number that would be of interest to in-house counsel and corporate lawyers. Others focus on litigation in Civil Court, Supreme Court and Federal courts, while still others address social concerns, such as women's rights, LGBT issues, and minorities and the law. One is devoted solely to intellectual enjoyment: law and literature. Thus, any lawyer can find one or more committees or sections that offer an opportunity to meet colleagues interested in the same legal issues.
Most importantly, perhaps, bar associations offer lawyers the opportunity to meet potential adversaries in a neutral, constructive setting. In-house counsel dealing with compliance issues can meet regulators and gain insights into their concerns. Corporate lawyers in private practice can meet in-house counsel and explore issues that affect both, free from the obligations imposed by representing clients. Litigators can mingle with judges. Defense counsel can converse with prosecutors. Such contacts are inherently valuable; what appears to be a vast body of lawyers (about 75,000 in New York City) is really composed of a large number of surprisingly small legal communities. You never know when someone that you've met informally will show up on the other side of the table or the bench.
Bar associations also offer a wide range of continuing legal education programs. While large corporate legal departments can become certified CLE providers, smaller departments rely on outside providers. NYCLA, for example, has upcoming programs specifically designed for corporate counsel on the new Rules of Professional Conduct for New York attorneys and issues involved in protecting intellectual property.Another program deals with ethical issues in multi-jurisdictional practices, such as those facing many corporate legal departments. A third program will consider employers' potential liability with respect to prudent investment of pension funds for their employees, a topic of great concern in the current economic environment.
Bar associations also serve as clearinghouses for pro bono publico activities. Because they represent thousands of lawyers, they can initiate and administer more ambitious pro bono programs than many firms and legal departments can. Such programs offer junior lawyers the opportunity to give something back to the community at the same time that they are expanding their skills and gaining valuable experience as the lawyer with primary responsibility for a matter.
Finally, bar associations offer all lawyers the chance to pool their expertise with other lawyers who have complementary skills or knowledge and participate in public policy initiatives. NYCLA has brought together people from a wide range of backgrounds to study and comment on broad issues that affect the quality of life in the city and state. For example, NYCLA produced Judicial Selection in New York State: A Roadmap to Reform, which set forth proposals for reforming the current convention system for selecting nominees to run for New York State Supreme Court Justice to provide greater transparency and accountability in the selection process. In addition, A Roadmap to Reform outlined a proposal for selecting New York State Supreme Court Justices through a commission-based appointive system, which would require a constitutional amendment. Finally, A Roadmap to Reform discussed the issues involved in financing judicial elections. While this project may appear superficially to be of little interest to corporate counsel, in fact judicial selection systems have a direct effect on the quality of our judges and of the justice dispensed in our courts. These factors, in turn, are important to maintaining New York's reputation as a desirable forum for sophisticated financial disputes.
In conclusion, don't overlook the potentially golden resources at your doorstep. Visit NYCLA or another bar association, in person or on the web, and add its resources to yours.
Ann B. Lesk
Fried, Frank, Harris,
Shriver & Jacobson LLP
Ann B. Lesk