Recently, I had an opportunity to attend a bar leadership program that allowed me to hear about many of the benefits offered through other bar associations. I was happy to discover that the Monroe County Bar Association is at the cutting edge of most areas in providing benefits.
What I was more pleasantly surprised about is how much the MCBA does in actual advocacy for attorneys and judges within our community. That advocacy allows the association to represent its membership’s best interests while you as attorneys can spend more time focusing on advocacy for your clients. The association also allows for a larger voice on several important topics and issues relating to our profession.
In one recent example involved the Monroe County Bar Association collaborating with the New York State Bar Association in opposition to an increase in attorney registration fees. As many may be aware, Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his proposed 2019-20 executive budget included an additional state funding for indigent legal services related to the settlement in Hurrell-Harring case.
This noble issue has been raised to bring indigent legal services to the constitutionally mandated requirements throughout the state. However, the governor inappropriately proposes to raise some of those additional funds by increasing the biennial attorney registration fee by $50. This would increase attorney registration fees from $375 to $425. The proposal can be found in S1505-A2005, Part BD. Our association, in collaboration with others, provided letters to various legislative representatives in our region informing them that it is unfair to fund this obligation by levying a surcharge on the very legal profession that protects these individuals. We have urged the assembly and senate to fund these critically important, constitutionally-mandated services without targeting attorneys with this surcharge.
Providing indigent legal criminal defense is a constitutional mandate. It is also a state obligation and societal responsibility. As such, monies should be used from the general fund — not by a surcharge on lawyers. This is especially troubling as this surcharge levied against lawyers does not coincide with any type of increases in assigned counsel rates, which have been stagnant for over 14 years; the rates are $75 per hour for felony matters and $60 per hour for all other assigned counsel cases. As your MCBA president, I have been privileged to be engaged in providing advocacy that protects our profession within the state.
MCBA’s advocacy also works in protecting the integrity of the judiciary. Initiated by past president Mark Morieti, the MCBA has a special task force that allows a rapid response to significant issues that may relate to the unjust or unfair treatment of our judiciary. This task force allows for time-sensitive issues to be addressed in order to set the record straight when a judge in the courtroom is unable to advocate for themselves. This task force also vets through the issues to make sure that we provide a clear and concise representation of the law when dealing with such issues.
Such advocacy provides lawyers and judges with protection and an extra voice in addressing the needs of our profession. Too often, lawyers and judges are unfair targeted and criticized while the societal issues at stake are not addressed.
MCBA’s advocacy can also be found in more subtle forms. Membership to the MCBA allows attorneys to obtain relevant information about the recent changes in the law to new technological tools. This information makes our jobs easier. Our events and training help our attorneys stay updated on virtually everything happening in the legal world often for free or at a significantly reduced cost. Such opportunities occur through our continuing legal education programs, offering job prospects, networking opportunities, access to resources, providing new perspectives, all while also creating professional development and, simply put, getting your name out in the community.
Some recent examples include an excellent lunch meeting with Justice Ann Marie Taddeo. This informal and informative luncheon allowed Justice Taddeo to meet with members of the litigation counsel in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. While this may not seem like advocacy for our members, I suggest to you that such opportunities allow members to understand and appreciate what the courts are dealing with — and also allows us to advocate to our judges what we, as attorneys, are dealing with on a daily basis. My opportunity to be part of the lunch with excellent attorneys and a gracious justice as well as her law clerk allowed me to appreciate that we are all in this together professionally even when we have matters where parties are adverse to each other.
The MCBA also has been proud to be part of an initiative spearheaded by Justice Doran and New York State Court of Claims Judge, acting Supreme Court Justice Deborah R. Martin relating to restorative justice projects within our community. While at the initial phases, I would like to thank the Court again for allowing our association to provide input and advocate on behalf of the profession on such an important issue and topic.
I suggest that the MCBA also advocates through our CLEs and programming. Yet another example is the Second Annual Solo and Small Firm Conference scheduled for March 8 at the Woodcliffe Hotel and Spa. While this conference is earmarked as a solo and small firm community, it is not limited to solo and small firm practitioners. Among other excellent speakers including judges and locally respected attorneys, the program features Robert Ambrogi, a Massachusetts lawyer known for his writing and blogging about the internet and technology.
Another excellent speaker is Jared D. Correia, the CEO of Red Cave Law Firm Consulting. Such speakers and programs allow attorneys to obtain the tools in self-advocacy. After all, since we work so hard in advocating for others, we should be allowed to advocate for ourselves as well. The bar association helps you hone those tools while also networking — and doing it all in a location that allows you, as an attorney, the rightful opportunity to take some deep breaths and take care of yourself.
While these are just some examples of the work being done at the association, I encourage you all to let me know if there are other areas where we can help. I can only say that during this wonderful year as your bar president, I have enjoyed being your advocate the importance of a local bar. I also promise I will continue in my commitment to represent the best interests of the bar.
Jon P. Getz is president of the Monroe County Bar Association and is the partner of Vahey Muldoon Reston Getz LLP. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.