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MCBA President’s Message: Launching our Veteran’s Committee

Neil J. Rowe

Neil J. Rowe

I’d like to thank our President’s Commission on Access to Justice (PCAJ), and specifically Lou Prieto, Hon. Patricia Marks, Lori O’Brien, and Chair Diana Irizarry for their effort in advancing the recommendations of the 2013 MCBA Veterans Legal Services Task Force. At its March 15 meeting, the Board of Trustees approved the formation of a Veteran’s Committee to partner with LawNY in a two-year project to implement the proposals identified by the Task Force.

The PCAJ reported to the Board that, with over seventy thousand veterans, the Rochester metropolitan area has one of the highest per capita concentrations of veterans in the country. Unfortunately, veterans have a disproportionate share of social-legal problems as reflected in high rates of veteran homelessness, suicide, and physical and emotional disabilities. Very often the problems experienced by our veterans are related to their service to our country.

Because our area has a high concentration of veterans, the Rochester legal community has a unique opportunity to take a leadership role in demonstrating ways the organized bar can make an impact in addressing the legal problems facing many of our veterans.  Our efforts will compliment those of both the American and the New York State Bar. The NYSBA has documented the statewide need for specialized legal services that are tailored to the special needs of veterans and mindful of military culture.  The categories of needs the identified are: wills, health proxies, and power of attorneys; service-related issues such as disability claims, pensions, and discharge-upgrades; family and matrimonial; tax, debt, and bankruptcy; and employment and criminal record issues.

The MCBA Task Force, chaired by the Hon. Patricia Marks, recommended a legal delivery system for veterans that will place volunteer service by the MCBA membership front and center in the solution to addressing these unmet needs. The Veterans Committee will help to plan and coordinate MCBA efforts with those of the Telesca Center legal service providers and various veterans groups, help identify volunteers for various legal issues and veterans outreach events, and oversee overall implementation of the Task Force recommendations. The Veterans Committee will also join local efforts with those of the national and state bars, together with those of other local bar associations across the State.

It should be noted that, although many of those in need are of modest means, their incomes frequently exceed the thresholds of VLSP and other grant based programs.   Even when funding for assisting veterans exist, it is limited. The Veterans Committee will help provide the organizational support necessary to facilitate VLSP’s delivery of pro bono services to veterans.

In its report to the Board, the PCAJ took note of the existing enthusiasm that both veteran and non-veteran MCBA members have shown for the first Valor Day Legal and Veterans’ Service Fair held in June 2015, where forty MCBA members dedicated part of their Saturday to participate in this first-ever event. The 2016 edition of Valor Day is scheduled for June 18 at the Brighton Campus of Monroe Community College.

Academy of Law: The MCBA is seeking applicants to join the Academy of Law for the 2016-2017 year.  Membership to the Academy is by MCBA presidential approval, and we seek to include a representative mix of private practitioners, government attorneys and members of the judiciary.  The Academy develops and coordinates Academy programs, works with MCBA Sections and Committees to host their CLEs, recruits speakers, develops policies, and aids in the promotion of our CLEs. This is a wonderful opportunity to network with judges and attorneys outside your practice area.  Please contact Louise Spinelli (lspinelli@mcba.org) or indicate your interest in joining the Academy on your MCBA membership renewal form when it arrives in the coming few weeks.

Starting the Next Chapter 

When I last wrote about the progress of the Executive Director Search Committee, it was 12 weeks into the process, and the committee members had already collectively devoted hundreds of hours to preparing for candidate interviews.

After another 20 hours of interviews, individual reference checks, and discussions spread over two weeks, the Search Committee unanimously recommended Kevin Ryan, the Director of Education and Communication of the Vermont Bar Association.  As was announced last week, the Board vetted and accepted the Search Committee’s recommendation, and on this past Monday, Kevin started his work with the MCBA.

Although Kevin will not take over as Executive Director until May 31, he is working remotely in an advisory capacity to help develop our 2016-17 budget, and to begin familiarizing himself with the MCBA operations. For those of you who plan to attend our annual Law Day Luncheon on Friday, May 6, you will have the opportunity to meet Kevin in person as he also will be attending the event. The MCBA looks forward to Kevin’s leadership in providing the services sought by the next generation of lawyers.

It is now 20 weeks since the process was initiated, and by the terms of its original charge, the Search Committee will continue thirty days into the term of the new Executive Director to create, propose, and support a plan to assist Kevin’s transition into the Rochester legal community.  Towards that end, the Committee met again this week to finalize the details of this plan, which we hope to announce in the near future.

When you have the opportunity, please thank Chair Connie Walker and Search Committee members Bruce Lawrence, Mark Moretti, Elaine Cole, Steve Modica, Bryan Hetherington, Curt Johnson, and Carolyn Nussbaum for their invaluable service to the MCBA.

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.