To The Readers Of The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel:
On March 5 members of the legal community gathered at a New York County Lawyers’ Association reception to unveil a portrait of NYCLA’s immediate past president, Stewart Aaron. Inducted in May 2011, Stewart served until May 2013 and oversaw numerous NYCLA initiatives and activities designed to promote the administration of justice and reforms in the law. Under Stewart’s leadership NYCLA expanded its Legal Counseling Project to help individuals affected by Superstorm Sandy; issued a groundbreaking report on gun control reform; and led the charge for adequate funding of the federal and New York courts. In these and other areas Stewart carried on the great tradition of NYCLA presidents who over the years have helped NYCLA grow, thrive, and uphold the best values of the organized bar.
If you are a NYCLA Member or have attended a CLE or other program at the Home of Law, you have likely spent time in our magnificent Auditorium, adorned with distinctive portraits of past presidents dating back over 100 years. You have probably felt the incredible sense of history in the very walls of NYCLA’s landmark building when taking in a CLE course, attending a forum, or enjoying a reception. Our beautiful building and our portrait gallery preserve NYCLA’s past and help us to remember the impact that this long line of esteemed leaders has made on the organization and the New York legal community. More than just portraits, these images of our past leaders continue to serve as both an inspiration and provide mighty shoulders upon which our current leadership can stand.
Front and center in the Auditorium hangs a portrait of William Nelson Cromwell, NYCLA’s 12th president, who served from 1927 to 1930. He was the most significant benefactor NYCLA ever had, contributing nearly $200,000 (in 1925 dollars!) and providing the Association with the lots (at cost) on which the Home of Law now stands. His legacy continued upon his passing in 1948, when NYCLA received a generous share of his estate.
William Dean Embree, whose portrait also hangs in the Auditorium, was NYCLA’s president from 1942 to 1944. During his term two African-American NYCLA Members were prevented from joining the American Bar Association because of their race. NYCLA appointed a committee of board members to address this issue. By 1943, under pressure from NYCLA, the ABA changed its policy—quite a coup.
Two decades later, Francis Bensel, who served from 1960 to 1962, helped the Association advocate for court reorganization and a centralized administration of the court system. Not only does his legacy live on through the portrait of him that hangs on the Auditorium wall; we continue to carry on his dedication to court reorganization in the work we do to this day.
Other presidents whose portraits hang at the Home of Law, like Wilbur H. Friedman, are known for their efforts educating the public about particular legislation. During his term as president, from 1975 to 1977, he published a series of letters to the editor of The New York Times, on behalf of the Association, about New York’s Plain English law and its ambiguity.
Craig A. Landy, whose portrait hangs on the left side of the Auditorium, was president on September 11, 2001. Under his leadership, NYCLA organized efforts to help those affected by this horrific time in American history, including relief efforts like the Death Certificate Project to help affected families find documentation for insurance and other benefits.
In 2007, NYCLA’s second female president—and its first African-American president—was inducted. Catherine Christian, who served until 2008, was instrumental in helping to establish pro bono programs to assist formerly incarcerated individuals with successful reentry into the workforce and to counsel low income persons plagued by consumer debt. Her portrait now hangs in the Auditorium, and the programs she championed continue today.
On your next visit to the Home of Law, I hope you will make a point of visiting the Auditorium and taking in these portraits, which are both valuable works of art and reminders of the valuable work that NYCLA has done for the bench, the bar and the community since its founding in 1908. Feel free to tweet me at @nyclapres, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org, with your take on NYCLA’s impact on history.
If you are not already a NYCLA Member, I encourage you to consider joining this Association that for a long time has made a great impact on the New York legal community. Visit nycla.org/joinus to learn more or call 212-267-6646 x208.