Lately, I have been thinking about the unique attributes of the Rochester legal community. Many years ago, when I was interviewing at what was then Nixon Hargrave for a summer clerk position, Bob Witmer told me that Rochester was a special place to practice law — in a very good way. He also told me that this was due in no small part to the influence of the Monroe County Bar Association, the leaders of the association who insisted on collegiality among the members of the bar, and its omnipresence in the legal community. Times have changed: The influence of the MCBA is not nearly as pervasive, for many reasons. And, thankfully, the association and the profession look a lot different than when I became a lawyer.
Yet some things have not changed — the MCBA is still working to retain the special part of practicing law in the Rochester region. For many years, I did not really “get” the part about legal practice in Rochester being particularly different. Like many, without thinking about why it is this way, I simply accepted the benefits of litigating in a place where I can pick up the phone and have civil conversations with adversaries, and where our state and federal judges are wise, fair and accessible to lawyers.
But now that I know so much more about what the MCBA does, I see how its programs and service have a positive and supportive influence on our legal profession. For example, what other profession or industry in what community comes together to individually and personally honor the memory of all those who have passed away? Each November, the Memorial Committee of the MCBA presents a ceremony with the state judiciary at the Hall of Justice recognizing and remembering all of the lawyers and judges who passed away during the prior year.
This year, on Nov. 8 at 11:30 a.m., 32 lawyers and judges will be eulogized and recalled in a poignant court term. The dedicated volunteer members of the Memorial Committee have worked with families and former colleagues to produce personal tributes documenting their legacies. All lawyers and judges are honored, whether they were members of the MCBA or not.
The mosaic of memories that are shared at the event reflects the diversity of our legal community; those who will be remembered include lawyers who retired decades ago as well as those with young families, attorneys who were solo practitioners and those who worked in small and large firms, as well as in the courts, corporations and public interest organizations. This year, we will recall litigators, tax lawyers and prosecutors as well as defense lawyers. With a generous grant from the Foundation for the Monroe County Bar, the tributes are collected in a lovely bound book, to perpetuate the memories. I encourage you to join families, friends and co-workers of those who are being honored and attend this moving and unique ceremony.
There are additional ways in which this legal community is different from all others, and they tend to trace back to the work of our bar associations. Last month, I recounted the innovative collaboration among our federal and state bench, and the bar, to improve the training and diversity of lawyers standing up in our courtrooms. Where else are those with the ability to effect change willing to work with the bar associations to move beyond talking about challenges to innovate and craft practical solutions?
The list continues: On Oct.11, the MCBA Health & Well-Being Task Force is sponsoring professional Mental Health First Aid Training to teach attendees how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use and disorders, to enable them to reach out and provide initial support to someone in need, and help connect them to appropriate care. With a goal of providing this critical training — without cost — for up to 30 volunteers, the response was overwhelming and the program is fully subscribed.
Attendees include members and non-members of the MCBA, because stress and illness in our profession is an issue for all of us, and our colleagues and our families. This initiative joins the MCBA Confidential Assistance Program, along with the other work of the Task Force, Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, and the SOLACE program, to provide support to all lawyers who are in crisis. I can think of few other professions — or professional organizations — that are willing to invest to the same extent to support all those who practice in the field, regardless of whether they are dues-paying members. These are the programs that distinguish our legal community and your MCBA.
The collegiality of our legal community also sets Rochester apart. On Oct. 31, four of our Supreme Court Justices will present “Halloween Hearsay” at the Telesca Center; costumes may be optional, but I suspect there will be plenty of entertainment and laughs. The MCBA affords other opportunities to wine and dine with the judiciary, and to get to know them on a personal level.
On Oct. 23, our federal bench and bar will come together for the annual Federal Courts Dinner. Erie County will host the event this year, which offers a unique opportunity to meet-and-greet the judges, as well as old friends and also adversaries. And, on Dec. 5, the annual Bench and Bar Holiday Party will be held at the Memorial Art Gallery. As always, the members of the judiciary will be our special guests. But along with a new venue, there will be some new ideas for encouraging our members to attend and bring a friend. And, as a special benefit, the museum will be open for all to visit and view some of Rochester’s treasures, including special exhibits featuring Art Nouveau and works from De’VIA: Deaf View/Image Art from the permanent collection of the NTID at RIT, as well as The Store@MAG for holiday shopping.
I may not be a Rochester native, but I am a Rochester cheerleader — willing to tell lawyers who are “not from here” about what makes this community a special place to practice law. I encourage every member of our legal community to get involved in the MCBA and work to maintain what is special or unique (in a good way) and change what must go to bring our legal profession into the next decade and beyond.
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 email@example.com.