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Erie County Bar president excited by Buffalo legal community

Melinda Disare took over as president of the Erie County Bar Association in April after her predecessor died. (Matt Chandler)

Melinda Disare took over as president of the Erie County Bar Association in April after her predecessor died. (Matt Chandler)

From her ninth-floor office in the Avant Building, attorney Melinda Disare enjoys an incredible view of downtown Buffalo. As the president of the Erie County Bar Association, Disare has an equally impressive view of the Buffalo legal community — and she likes what she sees.

“The legal profession has gone through, and is going through, exciting transitions,” she said. “When I started, there were four or five Buffalo-based law firms. We are seeing more and more collaborations and affiliations trending toward more regional operations.”

As for her current role as the president of the Erie County Bar Association, Disare said it was a long time coming.

“I had been approached a number of times about running, but turned it down every time,” she said. “At this point in my career, my kids are basically grown and the time was right for me to give back to the profession and to the association.”

After serving as vice president of the group for a year, Disare was slated to take over as president in June. That time table was advanced with the sudden passing of her predecessor, Gregory Miller, in April. Disare was thrust into the role early, at what is typically the busiest time of year for the Bar Association.

“It was unexpected and it was very emotional, certainly not the easiest of times for the association, but there were a lot of people offering their support, willing to step up under those difficult circumstances,” she said.

Like those before her, Disare took the helm with an ambitious list of goals she hoped to accomplish during her one-year term. She said at the top of that list was reshaping the information-gathering process for the annual judicial ratings.

“We have a judiciary committee that does extensive interviewing of our bar association to come up with those ratings,” she said. “I wanted to broaden the participation in that process, and we devised an online survey to give members a better chance to participate.”

The result?

“We had hundreds of additional responses and better, broader-based input.”

Disare said she hopes that single change feeds into her larger goal of having stronger participation in the bar by its members, in part, by increasing buy-in.

“I think that begins by making sure we are meeting the needs of the younger members of our profession and making it a meaningful opportunity to them,” she said. “Get them in the door, get them engaged early and build that throughout their career.”

Under her watch the bar will hire a new executive director, filling the shoes of outgoing ED Kathy Bifaro, who has served in that capacity since 1982.

“I put together a search committee, and I wanted broad representation on the committee — a mix of young lawyers, people that work in not-for-profits, jurists, really a broad reflection of our association,” Disare said. “We are committed to finding someone who can take us the next step into the future.”

As a member at Bond Schoeneck & King, and the current president of the Erie County Bar Association, Disare has achieved a noteworthy amount of career success. Does she feel a sense of obligation to use her pulpit to push for more equality in the profession?

“I’m the sixth woman in this role (ECBA President), and I think the fact that there are more of us in this role shows everyone the door is open,” she said. “Is there more progress to be made? Yes, but as women see us in these leadership roles, they understand the opportunities are there for them.”

Disare focuses her practice in labor and employment, representing both public and private employers. Asked about the biggest challenge she sees in the legal profession today, she pauses, reflecting before offering her answer.

“In today’s world, clients expect to have access to you at all times,” she said. Between technology and social media, Disare said there is an increased pressure to be available to your client in every situation.

“With all of the growth, mergers, and change, it’s so important to have to have the personal touch and be responsive to client needs.”

Matt Chandler is a freelance writer from Buffalo.

Melinda Disare

Title: Member, Bond Schoeneck & King; President, Erie County Bar Association

Age: 61

Education: Cornell Law School (J.D.); West Virginia University (B.A.)

Family: Husband, Tom; two children, Monica, Michael

Residence: Hamburg

Hobbies: Gardening, biking, travel, photography

Quote: “As women see us in these leadership roles, they understand the opportunities are there for them.”

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