City Bar: A World-Class Institution

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - 10:52

The Editor interviews Carey R. DunnePresident of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York (City Bar) and Chair of Davis Polk’s Litigation Practice and a Member of the firm’s three-person Management Committee.

Editor: Describe your background generally and with respect to the City Bar.

Dunne: I started my career as a prosecutor in 1984 immediately after law school when I joined Bob Morgenthau’s office as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan. I stayed there for a few years and joined Davis Polk in 1987, where for 25 years I have been doing investigations of various kinds and defense work.  

With respect to the City Bar, I am pleased to say I’ve done a lot of extracurricular and pro bono work over the years, which eventually led me to my present position as president. That happened on two tracks.

First, I’ve done a lot of interesting work over the years with a focus on the court system in New York. I have worked on, and in one case chaired, a number of commissions that were set up by former Chief Judge Judith Kaye.

When I was a young partner at Davis Polk, I found great satisfaction in assisting the court system in various ways. I helped my partner Bob Fiske, who was chair at the time of the Commission on Drugs and the Courts. Later, I went on to be a member of Chief Judge Kaye’s Commission on Indigent Services and six years ago chaired her Special Commission on the Future of the New York State Courts, all of which I found both fascinating and rewarding.

I got involved in the City Bar in the same time frame. My first role was as secretary to the City Bar’s Judiciary Committee when my then partner Dan Kolb was chair. It continues work that the City Bar has performed since it was formed back in 1870 of evaluating judges, the quality of the judiciary generally and candidates for judicial positions.

I stayed on as a member of the Judiciary Committee, serving as vice chair under Barry Kamins. Barry was chair of the Judiciary Committee at the time. When Barry became president of the City Bar, he asked me to be one of its vice presidents, which I was happy to do for a year. Being a vice president, you also serve on the City Bar’s executive committee, which is basically its board of directors. After that, Barry asked me to chair the Judiciary Committee, which I did for three years. All told I’ve served on the Judiciary Committee for nine years, which is probably a record of anybody being on it in various capacities. So I have deep ties to that function within the City Bar. Barry is now a Supreme Court justice in New York.

Almost exactly a year ago, I was in a taxi from the airport when I got a call from the then head of the nominating committee of the City Bar asking if I would be willing to serve as its next president. I said that I would be honored to, and here I am.

Editor: Why were you willing to undertake the arduous job of president?

Dunne: I have great affection for the City Bar, given my long history with it. The arduous part of it comes down to making sure that you can effectively balance your day job against the fairly time-consuming commitments of your role as president, which vary month to month and week to week. You need to think in terms of how you divide your time between the City Bar and your firm.

One way in which I’m lucky is that my office at Davis Polk is about six blocks from the City Bar. I make that trip at least every day  sometimes two or three times a day. It’s close enough so that I can keep both of these balls in the air and answer the phones at both places.

I’ve found so far that some weeks maybe 75-80 percent of my time has been spent on City Bar work. In other weeks it’s down to 25-30 percent. I don’t find any of this to be arduous it’s just the challenge of striking the right balance. I think the most important thing is that I have the support of my colleagues at Davis Polk. With that support, I have found that it’s a pleasure to serve.

Editor: What are your priorities during your tenure?

Dunne: I decided not to try to identify just one or two or even three topics as priorities to address. I know the usual wisdom is that unless you identify a few things there’s nothing against which to measure your success when you retire two years down the road. In my case, I didn’t feel it was appropriate to limit myself in that way since new and important issues continue to arise. The highest priority for me at least as president is to make sure that the City Bar uses its bully pulpit to continue to be seen and heard as the conscience of the profession. It has a long and storied history during which it has built an envied reputation.

The City Bar has a voice that is unique in our profession at least in our city. To exercise that voice effectively, we have to make sure that, led by the president, the organization is in a position to address and respond to any and all legal policy issues that come up that are relevant to our city and state and beyond that to our country and the international legal community. It’s the way that the City Bar itself will stay relevant. It will attract new recruits by continuing to be viewed as an organization that is strong, vibrant and current.

Editor: Describe the City Bar’s dedication to pro bono and diversity.

Dunne: As to pro bono, the biggest commitment that we have is our City Bar Justice Center, which is our 501(c)(3) organization. It is an enormous undertaking with a great staff led by Lynn Kelly. It partners with lawyers at both law firms and corporate legal departments throughout the city to leverage the access that the City Bar Justice Center has to pro bono projects.

Last year the Justice Center helped 20,000 different New Yorkers with various pro bono legal needs. It helped train over 2,000 volunteers from law firms and legal departments who provided the equivalent of about $20 million in pro bono legal services.

The list of companies that currently work with the Justice Center includes American Express, Bank of New York Mellon, UBS, Goldman, Barclays, MetLife, JP Morgan Chase, Citi and Bank of America. We find that there’s a lot of pent-up demand among corporate counsel to do pro bono work. Some of them work on litigation projects, but a lot of them are more comfortable in the transactional world.

We have a homeless clinic; we have a 9/11 victim compensation project; and we have immigration projects. The Justice Center helps corporate legal departments set up their internal pro bono programs.

Another way we deliver pro bono services is through our Vance Center for International Justice. The Vance Center, which is a younger organization than the Justice Center, provides pro bono internationally. The majority of its work these days is focused in Latin America and Africa. It partners with law firms in a lot of emerging democracies in those parts of the world to try to help instill within the legal framework of those countries a pro bono ethic and a pro bono infrastructure that parallels what we’ve been able to achieve in the U.S.

Chief Judge Lippman’s new rule requiring law students to complete 50 hours of mandatory pro bono service after they graduate and before admission to the bar will become effective next year. The City Bar was a strong supporter of that notion from the outset. We look forward to doing what we can to provide law students with access to support networks that will enable them to put in the pro bono hours necessary for them to be admitted.

Editor: What has the City Bar done to promote diversity?

Dunne: Diversity is front and center, as it should be, in the minds of both law firms and legal departments around the city. The City Bar asked them to sign a pledge that they would increase the hiring, retention and promotion of both women lawyers and lawyers of color. To date, 127 of these organizations have signed that pledge. We follow up by monitoring their success on the diversity front and publishing regularly a benchmarking report that tracks their progress.

Every spring, we have an Annual Diversity Champion Awards ceremony at which we recognize lawyers from law firms and legal departments for their contributions to diversity. We have a Diversity Pipeline program within the City Bar that stimulates inner-city high school students to develop an interest in becoming lawyers. It mentors them, runs programs that get them interested in the law, and helps them to find the right college and law school. This program recognizes that when it comes to matters of diversity, the earlier you start identifying and mentoring people, the better.

Editor: Tell us about the City Bar’s dedication to the rule of law worldwide.

Dunne: The Vance Center for International Justice is our principal and most successful initiative for engaging lawyers throughout the world, not just in the pro bono work I mentioned, but also in its support of the rule of law in countries outside of the U.S. Its target audiences are lawyers in emerging democracies.

Beyond that we’ve got a huge amount of ongoing activity that is internationally focused. We have 15 different committees that are focused exclusively on international issues, and many of our other committees have international issues on their agendas.

An interesting side note is that just a few weeks ago, I was honored to be asked to be one of the bar representatives invited to attend the first-ever United Nations session on the rule of law. We are going to follow that up with programming aimed at rule of law issues and the UN connection at the City Bar next spring.

We have a lot of committee activity focusing on resolving cross-border disputes in the private sector. One committee focuses specifically on international commercial disputes. It offers programs and issues statements and reports on the legal aspects of international arbitration.

We have an African Affairs Committee that in particular focuses on human rights issues in Africa, such as the elimination of child soldiers. The City Bar is indeed a global bar association housed conveniently in New York City.

Editor: How are you planning to keep the City Bar in the forefront of “innocence”-related issues?

Dunne: One of our highest priorities is triggered by the advances in the use of DNA evidence that have brought to light many wrongful convictions. A number of our committees are looking at legislation supporting initiatives designed to promote the use of DNA evidence  both to overturn wrongful convictions and to require DNA testing to prevent future miscarriages of justice.

Last year we supported a proposed New York State statute called the All Crimes DNA Bill, which addressed the question of when DNA samples could be taken from someone convicted of a crime. In the absence of this statute, the number of crimes that would trigger a DNA test of someone who was convicted is more limited.

The idea behind this legislation was to expand the list of convictions that trigger DNA tests so as to create as large a database as possible for defendants who need access to the DNA database to prove their innocence. I always like to point out that in terms of “innocence” initiatives, it’s not just DNA testing, but other more traditional crime investigation techniques that can be improved to reduce wrongful convictions and to make sure that the innocent are not unnecessarily brought into the criminal justice system.

We are actively supporting proposals to expand and make mandatory video interrogations of custodial arrestees. Recently, the City Bar publically applauded New York Police Commissioner Kelly’s announcement that recorded interrogations would be expanded to cover all 76 precincts in New York City. This is a major step forward in addressing the problem of wrongfully induced confessions and erroneous or mistaken statements. Similarly, we have made suggestions about improving lineup procedures.

Editor: There is much concern among corporate counsel about the lack of preparedness of law school graduates for practice. What is the City Bar doing to address this concern?

Dunne: One of our major initiatives since I took office was to create a blue ribbon task force called the Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession. It consists of 35 members who represent all interested segments of the profession. It will consider what is happening in the profession, including changes taking place that are arguably changing the business model for the delivery of legal services and what is responsible for the current malaise in the profession reflected in the fact that so many young lawyers coming out of law school find themselves unable to get significant legal jobs. We are asking this distinguished task force to come up with a comprehensive report that will both diagnose the state of the profession as well as make recommendations about improvements and changes that can be made in all areas of the practice of law to make sure that the legal profession itself continues to thrive.

Editor: Corporate counsel are also concerned about the burdens of e-discovery. Is the City Bar looking into this issue?

Dunne: We have recently put together a working group of people from a variety of committees to look at e-discovery in federal courts and state courts as well as from a cross-border perspective. Multinational corporations are often caught between the different rules that apply to e-discovery in U.S. courts and in other jurisdictions. We also recognize that there is something wrong with having so many lawyers relegated to spending their time looking at documents.

Editor: Tell us about the City Bar’s consideration of proposed laws and regulations at the state and federal levels and its ability to obtain needed changes.

Dunne: We take that role very seriously. One of the most important things that the City Bar does is to stay apprised of legislative and regulatory proposals generated in Albany, Washington and here in New York City. It takes positions on those proposals deemed important to our members and communicates them to legislators and regulators.

Our 150 different committees cover virtually any legal topic you can think of. They are encouraged to monitor legislative and other proposals, state and federal, within their subject matter jurisdiction and to work closely with our Legislative Affairs Department led by our legislative affairs director Maria Cilenti. She is a full-time professional and a lawyer who is responsible for seeing to it that the views of the City Bar as articulated by the different committees in the respective areas are effectively communicated to law makers in Albany, Washington and New York City.

Editor: Is it possible for a young lawyer to get on a committee?

Dunne: It’s encouraged and happens all the time. In my few months in this role, I have been approached at least every week by people at various functions I attend asking how they can get involved, and I encourage them to do so. Since we’ve got 150 committees and since the typical membership in a committee is up to 39 people, we’ve got plenty of committees and plenty of room for people of all levels of seniority to participate. Almost 4,000 of our members serve on committees.

It may be that there is a particular committee that someone is interested in that does not have room for new members at a particular time, and there are some committees that tend to be weighted toward more senior lawyers in the profession.

There are plenty of committee assignments available for young people. Even when it’s not possible in a given year to become a member of a particular committee, there are sometimes other roles available on that committee, as I found when I became secretary of the Judiciary Committee.

We have many committees that have law student members who are able to participate, help in drafting, attend the meetings and speak at meetings. It may be that they don’t have voting power, but otherwise they get the full advantage of seeing what it’s like to be a member of a City Bar committee.

Editor: Has the City Bar looked at the relationships between corporate counsel and outside counsel?

Dunne: Obviously the law firms and the legal departments in the city constitute a huge proportion of our membership, and the relationship between the two groups is of great importance. We have recently formed what we call an in-house/outside counsel litigation group, which is evenly divided between inside and outside counsel. It meets monthly in an open forum within the City Bar to discuss litigation-related issues that are common to inside and outside lawyers and identify topics that ought to be addressed.