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MCBA President’s Message: Opportunities and obligations

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Jill M. Cicero

I have written in the past about our aging lawyers and the very moving memorial service for attorneys who have died in the previous year, which takes place each November. This service is planned and executed with great care and thought by our Memorial Committee, currently chaired by Michael Schnittman. It was my honor to participate in that service, during which the contributions of 28 attorneys were recognized and celebrated.

And now, at the other end of the spectrum — by the time you read this column, I will have had the privilege of speaking at the bar admissions ceremony for new attorneys. As president of the MCBA, I am delighted to have been asked to speak about the benefits of bar association membership and can think of many to convey this in the short time allotted to my remarks. However, for those of you who have heard my remarks at other events, or who are regular readers of this column, you know I will also feel compelled to speak about my conviction that all attorneys should join the bar association not only for the many benefits they will receive, but also because they should view their membership as a professional obligation.

Of course, I believe that new attorneys will receive great value for their membership throughout their careers, and I will be delighted to point out that membership in the MCBA is now free for their first year, which gives them an opportunity to try us out and experience those benefits first-hand, at no cost. But I also hope to impress upon them how important their perspective and energy is to our legal community, and to the broader community as well.

If we as a bar association are to adapt to the changing needs and desires of lawyers of all ages and circumstances, we need a diverse membership to guide us in those efforts. This means having the benefit of committed, experienced and well-respected attorneys of long standing, but also the fresh insights of those who have a more recent view of the law school experience, who may be quicker to embrace technology and new ways of practicing, and who have the energy to take on new challenges in the logistics of law practice and client service. They have or will have experienced firsthand the challenges now facing new attorneys, including fewer job opportunities in big law firms and governmental entities, crushing student loan debt and increased competition from online legal service providers. We need their input if we are to serve them better, and their input will make the MCBA more vibrant and relevant to the practices of all attorneys.

But I also want to appeal to one of the laudable traits commonly attributed to millennials, which is their strong desire to do meaningful work that makes a difference in their community. Lawyers are fortunate that so much of our work provides us with the opportunity to do just that, but it is often less true for new attorneys with little practical experience and training. So why not get involved in some bar association initiatives that improve access to justice for the under-served, improve the quality of our justice system, and make a positive impact on the legal community and the broader community in which we live and work. At the same time, one can hone people and leadership skills and establish professional and personal connections that will enrich one’s career and life.

Our Young Lawyers Section, currently chaired by Michael Geraci, is one of the most active sections of the MCBA and boasts 173 members. If you attend any YLS event, you are struck by the energy and sense of fun that permeates this group, while they offer educational and networking events for their members and promote charitable causes, such as Rochester Teen Court. Another group with a disproportionately younger membership is the Lawyers for Learning Committee, which administers the mentoring program at School 29 and sponsors several other projects that enrich the educational experiences of the students at this inner-city elementary school.

All our sections and committees benefit from fresh voices, new perspectives and youthful energy. I can think of several — like the Ethics Committee chaired by Katie Hoppin — that have been reinvigorated this year with new members and new approaches to serving their missions, including the Trusts & Estates Section, which is collaborating with YLS on educational programs.

We need to remain a vibrant and active association not only for our members, but also for the good of the entire legal community and our judicial system, as well as for those in our community who are affected by law and the courts. As members of our profession, all lawyers should feel obligated to work toward improving access to and the administration of justice, as well as on behalf of other charitable causes. Active bar association membership is not the only way to contribute, but I would argue that it may well be the best way, providing many meaningful opportunities for lawyers young and old to make a difference in their profession and in society at large.

After last November’s memorial service, many of those in attendance mentioned how inspiring it was to hear about the contributions made by those 28 attorneys, to the profession and to our community. A personal friend told me how sorry he was that he had not brought with him his college-age daughter, who is considering attending law school. As a result, we are considering options for making the written essays about these lawyers available on the MCBA website. People who were not able to attend would then be able to read and get a sense of how these attorneys took advantage of opportunities and fulfilled their obligation to give back to our profession and our community. We will be sure to let you know when that information is available, and I hope we will all continue to strive to live up to their example.

Jill M. Cicero is president of the Monroe County Bar Association and is the managing partner of The Cicero Law Firm LLP. She can be reached at jcicero@thecicerolawfirm.com.

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