Letter From The President Of The New York State Bar Association

2010-05-03 01:00

To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:

Membership Challenge 2010:The Not-So-Impossible Dream

From our bank accounts to our 401ks to our business ledgers, we've all been watching the bottom line for quite some time now out of concern for what the numbers will show. The situation is no different at the State Bar. We've been closely watching our investments, tracking our expenses, and working hard to do more with less. When I took the oath of office last June, I pledged to maintain the first-class level of services that our members have come to depend upon, as well as focus on the relevant, practical programs and initiatives that our members need during these difficult economic times. I am proud to report that, due in large part to these efforts, we are seeing evidence of sustained membership growth.

In 2007, then-President Kate Madigan issued an ambitious Membership Challenge, with the goal of increasing State Bar membership by 5 percent and section membership by 10 percent by 2010. It is Kate's foresight and leadership that put us on track to achieve the sustained growth we are seeing today. Let's look at the numbers. For a sixth year in a row, our membership has increased. We now have more than 77,000 members, an increase of more than 1.5 percent over the last year. Moreover, since 2008, 18 sections have increased their ranks, and 14 of our sections have experienced growth ranging from 2.7 percent to 18.5 percent. This increase is due to a sustained commitment from State Bar leaders and staff to membership recruitment and retention, high-quality and relevant continuing legal education programs, and new and expanded resources to assist lawyers during the current fiscal crisis. The fact that our membership has grown this past year, despite a historic downturn in the economy that has negatively impacted the legal profession, speaks volumes about the tremendous value that membership in the State Bar provides.

Annual Meeting Is a Success!

The challenges associated with moving Annual Meeting to a new location coupled with the down economy were among our concerns as we planned the State Bar's 133rd Annual Meeting. Fortunately, I am pleased to report that our Annual Meeting, which was attended by about 5,000 people who collectively registered for more than 10,000 events, was a tremendous success. Nearly 1,100 attended the Tax Section luncheon - what I am told is the largest gathering of tax attorneys in the nation. Notably, the event featured Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Douglas Shulman, who chose our venue to make the significant announcement that the IRS would begin requiring large corporations to disclose on their tax returns that they are taking tax breaks that could be viewed as unacceptable to the IRS. Clearly, if you are a tax attorney, our Annual Meeting was the place to be.

Other successful section events included the Trusts and Estates Law Section meeting, attended by nearly 500 people, and the Real Property Law Section meeting, attended by more than 300 people. And more than 550 attended the Presidential Summit, which featured expert panels on two important and relevant topics - social media and wrongful convictions. If you missed this standing-room-only program, you can view the webcast at www.nysba. org/2010SummitWebcastArchive.

There were so many phenomenal moments during Annual Meeting week, and it is impossible to share them all, but here are some highlights:

We were honored that Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman joined us at many events, including our House of Delegates meeting, where he spoke passionately about the Judiciary's budget request, which includes a desperately needed $15 million appropriation for civil legal services and funds for the long-overdue judicial pay increase. As President-elect Steve Younger stated, our Executive Committee voted unanimously to stand side by side with the Judiciary in support of its budget request. We are issuing a call to arms, asking each and every member to write their legislators urging that the Judiciary's budget request be approved. The Judiciary needs the support of the Bar. The annual caseload of the courts is at an all-time high, exceeding 4.7 million filings for the first time. Further, it is expected that the economic downturn will continue to bring additional cases to the courts. If the Judiciary does not receive the funding requested in its budget, it will be forced to reduce its workforce, potentially through layoffs, at a time when the courts' workload is increasing. Undoubtedly, this would jeopardize the fair and swift administration of justice. Again, I urge you to write your legislators in support of the Judiciary's budget.

Another highlight of Annual Meeting week was a luncheon honoring our fourth Empire State Counsel class, consisting of more than 1,400 attorneys who provided more than a quarter million hours of pro bono services for the poor. All designees had to provide at least 50 hours of pro bono service in 2009, but many went above and beyond by donating anywhere from 800 to 2,400 hours of free legal services to the poor.

For me, the most memorable moment was presenting Hazard Gillespie, who served as president of the State Bar from 1958-1959, with the Association's highest honor, the Gold Medal. At 99, Mr. Gillespie has been a member of the State Bar for nearly 60 years. He is senior counsel at Davis Polk & Wardwell, where after more than 75 years he still comes to the office every day, devoting his time to pro bono service.

In 1935, on the advice of his soon-to-be father-in-law, Mr. Gillespie gave up a shot at being an Olympic skier to attend Harvard Law School. His achievements as a lawyer are many, but he is most well known for his role in the United States Supreme Court landmark case of Erie v. Tompkins , and as the lawyer who backpacked into the Grand Canyon's Inner Gorge in 130-degree heat to collect a crucial piece of evidence from an airline crash. As State Bar president, he brought 347 young lawyers to Washington D.C. to be admitted to the United States Supreme Court, and he took time - from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. the following day - to personally meet each and every one of them. And, he introduced the concept of traveling across New York to foster relationships with local bar associations and to build the State Bar's membership. As membership chair, he helped raise membership from 11,000 to 15,000 - a 36 percent increase!

Many people judge someone's career or life's work as to whether they were to the left or to the right. But, those people are looking in the wrong direction. Instead, they should be looking forward like Mr. Gillespie,a person who throughout his life has moved forward. More important, he has moved our profession forward. It was my tremendous honor to recognize him with our Gold Medal.

In introducing Mr. Gillespie, I stated that the best introduction I could give was to say that most achievements thought to be impossible are accomplished by somebody who did not know they were impossible. This brings me full circle, to where I began. When Kate introduced the Membership Challenge, there were many who thought it impossible. And that was before the recession led to significant layoffs within the legal profession. But the important thing is that, despite adversity, we have continued to move forward, listening and responding to our members' needs, ensuring that we remain relevant to our profession, in both the good and bad times. If you have not yet renewed your membership for 2010, I urge you to do so now. Lend your voice to the largest voluntary state bar in the nation; lend your expertise to our important work on behalf of the legal profession. As a 40-year member of this great Association, I can assure you that membership is a solid investment.

Sincerely,

Michael E. Getnick