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President's Message | March 2018 Newsletter

March is Women’s History month and as we celebrate we look back at some trailblazers of the Albany County Bar Association (“ACBA”). Indeed, Hazel M. Cole broke barriers when she became the first woman to be inducted into ACBA in 1919. I wonder what it was like for Ms. Cole. Did she attend social events? Did she network? Was ACBA a welcoming environment?

Regardless of how those questions are answered, as the first female member of ACBA, we can all agree that Ms. Cole’s membership showed courage and ambition. For some perspective, in 1919 the president of the United States of America was Woodrow Wilson and World War I had just ended. Most significantly, in June 1919, Congress approved the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, guaranteeing women the right to vote. That same year, prohibition was going into effect which meant ACBA events likely went without either an open bar or cash bar - a phenomenon that many members would frown upon today (although Albany was known to have its share of speakeasies). Nonetheless, Ms. Cole definitely charted a path for many of us to follow.

Approximately 69 years later, ACBA’s first woman President, Margarethe R. Powers served from 1988 to 1989. Ms. Powers broke the barrier as she sat at the head of the board table for the first time in ACBA’s history. Since her leadership, other exceptional women have served as president. I was fortunate to serve as a board member with two female presidents, Elena Defio Kean and Janet Silver, as long with some our finest male counterparts in the profession. Ms. DeFio Kean’s leadership style exemplified professionalism with a great sense of humor while Ms. Silver exhibited a level of dedication to ACBA that is unmatched. This diversity in leadership inspired me and set the tone for my involvement with the bar.

Thirty years after the first woman served as ACBA’s president, I am honored to be the first person of color to serve in the role. Likewise, I am the first person of color to serve as Justice of the Supreme Court in the Third Department. On the road to becoming a judge, I benefitted from wonderful mentors from both the bench and bar who encouraged me. While the road wasn’t easy, I stayed focused. And, just as I was inspired by both the men and women leaders of ACBA who served as president before me, I hope my leadership in the bench and bar inspires other members to become more involved and find their way to a leadership role with ACBA or elsewhere. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams” and “you must do the thing you think you cannot do.” It is my hope that in celebrating Women’s History month we all become more courageous and follow our dreams. We should also be proud of ACBA’s long history of diversity and inclusion.

As set forth in last month’s presidential column, each month I am showcasing a public service attorney with a short interview. This month I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Conway.

What is your current job title and description of work?

I am the Deputy Chief Motion Attorney for the Appellate Division, Third Department. The Third Department decides approximately 7,000 motions a year, and the Motion Department employs eight attorneys and six support staff to assist the Court in disposing of those motions as efficiently as possible. My responsibilities include reviewing motions, applications and orders to show cause filed with the Court, researching and analyzing the legal issues presented and preparing confidential memoranda and proposed decisions for review by the Justices. I regularly correspond and communicate with attorneys and pro se litigants appearing before the Court with respect to motion procedure and practice, and I also provide support and assistance to lawyers and pro se litigants seeking injunctive relief in emergency situations.

When did you decide to have a career in public service and what shaped that decision? and (3) If you previously practiced in the private sector, what were the reasons you switched to public service?

I did not envision myself having a career in public service; it evolved over time. In fact, I had planned to be a litigator beginning in high school when I had a part time job working as a file clerk for a large Albany law firm where my father was the head of the litigation department. After graduating from college I returned to the firm and worked full time as a paralegal in the litigation department for two years and continued part-time while attending Albany Law School. I planned on working for the firm as an associate after graduation. At the beginning of my third year, I was contacted by the Career Planning Office at Albany Law and encouraged to apply for a judicial clerkship. This was not something I had previously considered so I spoke to one of the lawyers at my firm who had done a clerkship and he thought the experience was invaluable. I applied to the Third Department and was offered a one-year position as an Appellate Court Attorney in the Court’s Law Research Department beginning in August 1998. One of the things I loved most about the job was the variety of the work and the exposure to the broad range of cases that come before the Court. I realized that if I returned to private practice I would have to specialize in one practice area. I was also impressed by the professionalism and dedication of the Justices and the Court staff. Their singularity of purpose in striving always for judicial excellence was something I felt privileged to be a part of. Near the conclusion of that first year I was asked to stay for a second and then a third, and in 2001 I was offered a permanent position as a staff attorney in the Motion Department.

Has working in public service changed your view on what it means to be a lawyer?

Yes. Before working for the Appellate Division my ideas about what lawyers did were shaped by the experiences I had in working in a civil litigation practice. During my years with the Appellate Division, however, I have had the privilege and opportunity to serve the Court in many different capacities including Deputy Administrator of the Civil Appeals Settlement Program, temporary staff attorney at the Attorney Grievance Committee and the Acting Deputy Chief Appellate Court Attorney in the Court’s Law Research Department. Each of these positions has provided unique insight into various ways in which the Court serves the public and the ways in which attorneys who work for the Court can help to make a difference in the lives of others. My work in the Motion Department is particularly rewarding because it allows me to help lawyers and pro se litigants navigate what can often be an unfamiliar and challenging process.

What can the association do to encourage more public service attorneys?

I think what you are doing with this newsletter is a great opportunity to inform the legal community about public sector legal work. By highlighting a different attorney in public service each month, you are letting members of the bar know what types of public sector legal jobs and opportunities exist in our area. At the same time you are encouraging attorneys in public service by recognizing that their work is important and valued.

Hon. Christina L. Ryba
ACBA President



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