Home / Expert Opinion / MCBA President’s Message: Looking forward to the New Year

MCBA President’s Message: Looking forward to the New Year

I like the start of the New Year. It provides an occasion to rekindle the hopes, expectations, and resolve within the MCBA. The ushering in of the New Year also creates an opportunity to reflect upon some of the happenings in our legal community in 2015.

Health and Well Being Helpline: The collaboration between the MCBA and Tree of Hope Counseling starts the New Year with a confidential helpline dedicated exclusively to providing help and services to Monroe County attorneys. All calls will be returned within 24 hours between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. The Helpline number is (585) 353-1541.

The “Rule of Law”: A number of criminal matters became the focus of attention for the local media in 2015. These included cases where prosecutors were criticized for unfairly lodging charges, and matters where defense counsels were criticized for positions they advanced on behalf of their clients. There were instances where, purportedly, the media were improperly notified, and claims that the media were unfairly excluded from judicial proceedings. There were occasions where the judiciary was accused of unfair bias towards the victim, and times where the judiciary was criticized for favoring the interpretations of law and fact championed by the defense. The resultant debates, both in the legal community and general public, suggest that some misconceptions exist about the “Rule of Law”.

Although the rule of law is frequently referred to in the legal community, it is not a standard that is easily condensed into a uniform definition. In principle, we are a government of laws, not people, and the rule of law should be separate from the individuals who make up our government and society.

The practical reality is that we cannot completely separate our laws from the people who make them, and so our society has created institutions and procedures to try to make the rule of law a reality. Yet, throughout this past year, the public, the media, and unfortunately many lawyers, have persisted in directing their criticisms toward the individuals rather than at the institutions and procedures that govern our society.

In 2007, the American Bar Association established the World Justice Project, which in turn has proposed a working definition of the rule of law that comprises four principles:

  1. A system of self-government in which all persons, including the government, are accountable under the law;
  2. A system based on fair, publicized, broadly understood and stable law;
  3. A fair, robust and accessible legal process in which rights and responsibilities based in law are evenly enforced; and
  4. Diverse, competent, and independent lawyers and judges.

As we move into the New Year, I would suggest that all members of the legal community reexamine their understanding of the rule of law, and review how they have dealt with their past frustrations with our legal institutions and procedures. The rule of law allows for and encourages criticism, enforcement and change to our system of jurisprudence through procedure, rather than through derogation of the professionals who are striving to fulfill their roles.

Bar governance: Since the turn of this century, the MCBA’s budget has doubled and our staffing has increased by 50 percent. The growth of the MCBA made it difficult for our Executive Committee, a committee of volunteers, to both attend to the ongoing operations of the Association while adequately planning for the changing needs of our members. Unfortunately, this gap in attention may have created an impression with some, both within the MCBA membership and within the legal community, that we had stopped listening.

One year ago, the Board of Trustees began implementing a new governance model that divided the oversight functions of the Board amongst a Member Focus Committee, Community Focus Committee, and Audit Committee. This was the first significant change to the MCBA’s operations model in 40 years.

Since then, the Trustees have approved the Health and Well Being Program; opened discussions on a new Intellectual Property Section, a new Veteran’s Committee and changes to the Judicial Evaluation Process; created a dedicated Diversity sub-committee to focus on inclusion and retention concerns in law practices; and started reviewing our investment and auditing practices.

The MCBA leadership is committed to listening. As we move into the New Year, I would encourage any members of the legal community who have felt frustrated with the MCBA to sit down anew with the respective Board committee to discuss their concern.

Search committee: As we start the New Year, we also begin a new chapter in the history of the MCBA with the search for a new Executive Director. Our search committee, chaired by Past President Connie Walker, began advertising earlier this week. Postings have been distributed to local, state, and national organizations of Executive Directors; regional and state Bar Associations; local print media; online jobsites; and law schools and affinity groups.

Candidates should have excellent interpersonal, leadership and communication skills, member service expertise and a collaborative style. In addition, the ideal candidate will have five years of senior management experience in a not-for-profit or organizational equivalent; knowledge of the legal profession and the issues facing the profession; and strong marketing skills with demonstrated success in membership building. Individuals interested in the position should refer to the full job posting at www.MCBA.org Applications will be accepted until February 5.

Neil J. Rowe is president of the Monroe County Bar Association, adjunct instructor of management at Keuka College, and principal of NJ Rowe Consulting Services. He can be reached at njr@rochester.rr.com.