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MCBA President’s Message: Throughout pandemic, we found ways to adapt

Jill Paperno

Jill Paperno

As we have passed the one-year anniversary of the shutdown, I can’t help but reflect upon the past year. Though the pandemic is not over, we have more information and ability to respond than we did when it started. And while we may be optimistic about what science and medicine may bring, we are also exhausted … and traumatized. Many of us lost friends or family. Some lost jobs. Many experienced financial hardships. We spent a year without seeing loved ones or doing many of the things that make us happy. Our lives were upended. Certainly, some suffered more difficulty than others. (And if you feel the need for some help in dealing with all of this, at no charge for members of the legal community, please contact Tree of Hope Counseling at 585-353-1541.)

But we also found ways to adapt.

I visited Colorado last week for my son’s college graduation. While his remote senior year was far from what we would have hoped for or expected pre-COVID (and something we could not have imagined a year and a half ago), and the graduation ceremony consisted of names repetitively scrolling across a screen, it felt kind of “graduationy.” We attended celebrations (outdoors for us, and we are vaccinated) at students’ houses, where parents joined the parties. There were balloons, signs congratulating the graduates, excitement and tears. We had dinner with family.

The graduates and their families found a way to adapt.

As we had to deal with medical care, groceries, working from home and more, we learned to adapt.

I’ve also been thinking about the Monroe County Bar Association and how we managed to remain a vibrant, supportive, informative and educational organization throughout the pandemic. While this was certainly not a year I could have ever imagined or desired, especially as president, we produced high-quality, popular CLEs. We met. We offered assistance and guidance. These successes were in no small part due to the incredible work of MCBA staff, the Board of Trustees, our section and committee chairs, and our generous CLE presenters.

The MCBA and our members found a way to adapt.

And during the year, we did not merely strive to get by, but we spent time looking inward at our organization, and toward the future. The MCBA Board created two new committees, spent a great deal of time wrangling with the MCBA’s history and failure to address racism, and focused on how we can make changes for the future.

Although we never saw each other in person, we adapted.

The first committee that we formed was the Membership Committee, chaired this year by David Tang. David and the committee have been focusing on assessing how the MCBA should enter the upcoming period when we return to work, offices, social activities and events, how we can grow our membership, and how we can provide more of what members are looking for.

One initiative is a current survey being done of a random selection of members and non-members. Another initiative the committee looked at was monthly subscription payments for membership. This initiative is being implemented with our 2021-22 membership renewal starting in the next couple of weeks. The committee is now starting to consider ways to revise our membership model with an eye to what different members need or take advantage of.

While our membership did drop off this year, we plan to come back bigger and better than ever — with new offices and conference areas that will enable us to meet (in person for those who wish) for CLEs (without pillars blocking our view) and meetings, a new website in development, along with several other initiatives keeping our members in mind. We are so looking forward to the time we can meet and greet again. I believe we will have an even greater appreciation for the social connections MCBA offers once we get to see each other in person again.

Another committee we formed was the President’s Commission on Anti-Racism. Our Commission members have been selected, and they are:

  • Duwaine Bascoe, Esq., Abrams Fensterman
  • Robert Benz, Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives
  • James Bourdeau, Esq., Constellation Brands
  • Glen Jeter, Former Chair of the Board of the Urban League of Rochester
  • Erin Elmouji, Esq., Woods Oviatt Gilman LLP
  • Taren Greenidge, Esq., Constangy Brooks Smith & Prophete
  • Bradley Kammholz, Esq., Kammholz Rossi PLLC
  • Langston McFadden, Esq., Pullano & Farrow PLLC
  • Jill Paperno, Esq., Monroe County Public Defender’s Office
  • Cassandra Rich, Esq. Barclay Damon LLP
  • Maggie Robb, Esq., Empire Justice Center

We are looking forward to the hard work of examining the MCBA and its connections with the community and implementing policies and procedures that ensure we become an anti-racist organization.

This year was tragic and difficult. But given what we faced, I believe that our organization and its members demonstrated resiliency, strength, optimism and hopefulness. I also believe that our organization and its members helped many of us focus on goals and the future. I know that I benefited from all that MCBA, its staff and its members offered, and the connections we preserved through this isolating time. And for that, I would like to thank all of you who were a part of it.

As MCBA members begin to reconnect, I am so excited that Brad Kammholz is the person who will lead us through this return, as his enthusiasm, kindness, boundless energy and excitement will be exactly what we need as we move forward. The additional support of soon-to-be President-Elect Langston McFadden, and his thoughtful, analytical, supportive and positive approach will provide even greater promise for the future of the MCBA.

Jill Paperno is president of the Monroe County Bar Association. She is First Assistant Public Defender at the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office.