Many have asked me why I would want to serve as president of the Monroe County Bar Association. There are only so many hours in a day to accommodate professional demands and other community boards as well as eating, family and friends and working out once in a while. In the back of my mind, I thought that when I grew up, I wanted to be like colleagues and others who had served as poised, articulate bar leaders and advocates for the profession, particularly the wonderful women who have led the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys.
But there are many additional reasons to take on this role. Importantly, I believe in the power of the collective. Together, members of our legal profession can accomplish more good than any single lawyer can ever achieve individually. And yet I realized that many people living and working in Rochester — even within our legal community — were unaware of what the MCBA does with its collective strength to benefit Rochester. Yes, they know MCBA offers CLEs, but the rest was a little vague in their minds. They might have heard about the Diversity Clerkship Program, which brings first-year law students from diverse backgrounds to Rochester to work for firms, legal services, corporations and the courts. They may not have known the extent of the time and effort that MCBA staff and the Diversity Committee volunteers invest in recruiting students and organizing the program or making continued tweaks to increase diversity and enrich our legal community. Together with GRAWA and RBBA, the MCBA creates a win-win for Rochester and the employing organizations. Look for the MCBA to continue to stimulate conversation, educate and inform on diversity, when we will present a program on Oct. 2 featuring Dr. Lisa Werkmeister Rozas, a renowned speaker on issues of oppression, critical consciousness and implicit bias.
MCBA repeatedly plays the role of convener, supporter and public educator for the greater good, addressing issues that impact Rochester ranging from the assigned counsel program to access to justice. When Albany attempted to increase registration fees for lawyers, MCBA joined with other bar organizations to successfully persuade the governor to abandon the idea — a win for all lawyers, members and non-members alike. MCBA organizes public forums where all judicial candidates can present their credentials, so that all voters can make informed decisions.
Similarly, MCBA invokes the power of the collective to convene public conversations on topics ranging from the First Amendment to gun control to educate inform and benefit Rochester. MCBA staff supports the Lawyers Coalition for Racial and Social Justice, a joint initiative of the Rochester Black Bar Association, GRAWA and MCBA, to educate and inform about important subjects such as racial profiling and the mayor’s proposal for a Police Accountability Board, bringing together experts to present all sides of issues impacting the greater Rochester community. Later this year, MCBA will join with other community organizations to present a program on hate speech and anti-Semitism, racism and misogyny. These issues impact all of us: lawyers, whether or not they are MCBA members, as well as non-lawyers.
MCBA programs and activities promote the well-being of all lawyers. Along with other bar organizations, MCBA has shined the light on the stress and isolation that lawyers, judges and law students confront in the profession, often exacerbating underlying depression and anxiety. MCBA has convened discussions and provided education on these issues and has gone well beyond just the talk to provide help. With financial support from the Foundation for the Monroe County Bar, MCBA has partnered with Tree of Hope, a local collaborative of private practitioners, to provide confidential free counseling for any lawyer in crisis. When a lawyer calls the hotline (585-353-1541) for help, no one will ask if he or she is an MCBA member. Similarly, the meetings of the Lawyers Support Group, a professionally facilitated informal group providing support and strategies for managing stress and anxiety and combatting isolation, are open to all – not just dues-paying MCBA members.
The list of programs that support lawyers in need goes on: Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (585-234-1950) was established many years ago, to assist attorneys and judges and/or family members and colleagues affected by addiction. The SOLACE program (585-327-4104) provides support and assistance to anyone employed in the legal system — including at the courthouses or in firms, and their families, who confront loss or a catastrophic illness, ranging from gift cards to mitigate the loss from a fire to blood drives and medical referrals.
Perhaps most important, a significant benefit of getting involved with the MCBA is the meaningful personal relationships that result, reducing isolation and anxiety. Watch for innovations that will provide new and different reasons to leave your desk and engage. This year, we will integrate more and different options for networking opportunities, to provide time to socialize and establish the connections that can lead to referrals and business. You will find practical tools and offerings to intrigue and improve your professional (and personal) lives: for newer lawyers, strategies for managing student loan debt and financial management, as well as achieving career success. For all lawyers, how to save in each decade to prepare for the next act, whatever that may be. Recognizing that technology is both our friend and our nemesis, we will continue to present hacks for all lawyers so everyone can embrace and implement tech tips that really can simplify our lives.
Look for CLE in sound bites — one-hour updates on hot topics and trends, to meet the time constraints of our busy schedules. And, because not everyone can get away from the office, even for an hour, CLE will come to you, in new and improved applications for remote participation, even on your own schedule.
Circling back — why aspire to be bar president? Because it is too easy to let someone else have all the fun, and because I have benefited from the leadership of those who stood up here before me. Yes, it’s time to pay it forward; time to continue to build on the good works of the MCBA and engage more of our legal community in more ways. I invite you to join me on this journey — call, email or write me with your ideas and bring your energy to the MCBA.
Carolyn G. Nussbaum is president of the Monroe County Bar Association and is a partner and litigator at Nixon Peabody LLP. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.