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President's Message | June 2018 Newsletter

As many of you know, New York has instituted a new Diversity, Inclusion and Elimination of Bias (D&I) CLE requirement for experienced attorneys, effective January 1, 2018. Prior to the enactment of this requirement, it was the topic of discussion at a New York State Bar Association (“NYSBA”) House of Delegates meeting in which I have the honor of serving. While some NYSBA members supported the rule, others felt the additional requirement was unnecessary and offensive.

So, does diversity matter? ACBA has proudly answered in the affirmative relying upon, among many other things, our Diversity Internship Program that began almost 20 years ago. While the program is currently a huge success, it’s important to reflect on how it all began. According to Hon. Randolph Treece, in the late 1990’s, when he was an active board member of ACBA as well as the president of the Capital District Black and Hispanic Bar Association (“CDBHBA”), the private practice bar in the Capital Region was almost completely lacking in racial diversity. To address this issue, he drafted successive plans. According to Treece, he initially modeled the plans after the New York City Bar Association and the Franklin Williams Commission plans. Unfortunately, after three iterations of a diversity plan proved unsuccessful, Treece happened to have a conversation with Chief Judge Judith Kaye about the lack of diversity in the Capital Region. Based upon their conversation, and wanting to send a call for action to the local bar, Judge Kaye convened a town hall meeting inviting managing partners of the major law firms in Capital Region, distinguished members of the bar, representatives of the Albany County Bar Association, the Rensselaer County Bar Association, the Schenectady County Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association, and the Capital District Black Bar Association, as well as representatives from Albany Law School. After intently listening to the attendees about the issue of race as it related to the practice of law in this region, and learning of the historical dearth of diversity, Judge Kaye utilizing her “bully pulpit” called the lack of diversity “a shame.” She demanded that something be done.

According to Treece, following the meeting he along with Judge Kaye, Jim Kelly, and faculty and administration at Albany Law School devised a program to create internships for minority law students in local firms. According to Treece, “Jim Kelly did a wonderful job in fielding firms into the program and has continued do so for nearly two decades.” Without a doubt, three other attorneys were instrumental from the program’s inception: Michael Friedman, B.J. Costello and Mike Murphy - with their support, the program had the ammunition to grow. And, after much planning, the internship program was rolled out in September of 2000. Soon thereafter, ACBA received awards for the program from both NYSBA (2002) and the American Bar Association (2003). In the years since the program’s inception, hundreds of law students have received paid internship opportunities at law firms in the Capital Region. A few of those interns have subsequently obtained full-time law firm employment and now are members of ACBA.

We applaud those law firms that have participated in our Diversity Internship Program because it is their dedication and commitment that will hasten the day when the private practice bar in the Capital Region reflects the full diversity of this area’s population.

Currently the committee is co-chaired by Jim Kelly and Mishka Woodly. Ms. Woodly recently received an award for her work as co-chair from the City and State Bar. I want to congratulate her for her hard work and her role as a mentor to so many Albany Law School students.

Last month, I had the privilege of presenting opening remarks at a collaborative CLE on Diversity and Cultural Competency (which fulfilled the D & I CLE requirement) and shared some of my personal experiences. I began my remarks with a simple definition of diversity which is “a range of different things.” Then I pointed out that historically conversations about diversity have been in terms of race and gender because there has been a pronounced history of discrimination against racial minorities and women in this country - both groups having been denied the right to vote. I continued by recognizing that in seeking justice and equality, during the Jim Crow era of my grandparents’ generation and the civil rights movement of my parents’ generation, activists chanted “We shall overcome.” And today, the women’s rights movement seeks equality by exclaiming “Me Too” and “Time’s up”. Such movements have traditionally led to greater inclusion in our society and now the diversity conversation includes other groups as well. But as far as the diversity conversation has come, there is still room for growth.

It is my personal opinion that diversity matters because without it, there is an appearance of partiality in the justice system. There is no question that we bring our personal experiences with us. Indeed, the more diverse we are, the larger the wealth of experience we have. It’s also important that everyone feels like they have a seat at the table and that they are being represented accordingly. To that end, the bench and bar should reflect our community as a whole.

All in all, the May 2018 CLE on Diversity and Cultural Competency was interactive and enlightening. The presenters were informative and reiterated to those in attendance that diversity matters and that we should all be aware of our biases so we can work around them. Accordingly, let’s embrace the new CLE requirement because ultimately it makes us a better bench and bar.

This month I had the privilege of interviewing Adrienne Kerwin, the newest co-chair of ACBA’s Public Service Committee for the public service highlight.

What is your current title and summarize your job?

My current title is Assistant Attorney General, but I am a Section Chief in the Office of the Attorney General (“OAG”) Litigation Bureau, which handles the defense of litigation brought against the State and State officials in federal court and NYS Supreme Court. As Section Chief I supervise the work of six AAGs, while managing my own caseload.

What motivated you to leave private practice and work in public service?

I liked the idea of litigating cases without always thinking about how to make my bosses money in the most time-effective way. At the OAG, I can spend whatever time is necessary on a case and not worry if I am billing too many, or too few, hours. I can focus on the law and litigating, and not on billing and schmoozing (which I am terrible at).

Has your job in Public Service changed your view on what it means to be a lawyer? If so, in what way?

It hasn’t changed my view on what it means to be a lawyer, but it has shown me that I can use my skill set on work to benefit an entire community instead of individuals. In private practice, the way to make a difference was to vindicate the rights of an individual person. In my job now, I can work on issues that will benefit larger groups and the state as a whole

What is the most valuable ACBA membership benefit for you?

I am interested in the volunteer initiatives that the Attorneys in Public Service committee is planning for the year ahead. I like the idea of meeting up to do small volunteer activities with people who also have an interest in supporting a particular cause.

What can ACBA do to encourage more public sector participation?

I would like to see ACBA offer more professional development programming focusing on things like moving into management/supervisory positions, communication, etc. that could benefit public service attorneys in the work place and assist in developing skills necessary to advance in their careers.

What other volunteer work are you involved in and why?

I attend a lot of fundraisers for organizations in Rensselaer County, like Troy Area United Ministries and Joseph’s House, and I also like to support Albany’s South End Children’s Cafe. I recently had three children from the Cafe into our office to learn about being a public service attorney! l

Hon. Christina L. Ryba
ACBA President

 

 

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