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President's Message | Nov/Dec 2019 Newsletter

“Is there anybody out there?”

I was fifteen when Pink Floyd dropped The Wall.  Without telling my parents, I sent Columbia Records a dollar to get ten records (I clearly did not read the fine print) and one of those was The Wall. 

Music was a big deal.  My grandmother was the organist for our church, my father played lead guitar in a band and my mother played the piano constantly (likely to drown out the din).  The Hurteaus did not have a lot of things, but we had a piano, guitars, drum pads, some wind instruments and an amazing cabinet stereo console (millennials and Z’s will need to look this up).  The cabinet stereo console was the family jewel.  Not certain of this, but I think my parents took out an equity loan to buy it.  The only thing more prized was the oversized illustrated and tasseled bible that had its own table in the center of the living room. 

What I liked most about the cabinet stereo console, in a house of eleven people (at minimum), was the earphones.  Yes, in the 1970’s people had earphones.  To sit on the floor in the living room, put MY music on the turntable and just listen without interruption, was mind-blowing.  It was one of the few times that I felt completely alone and able to just enjoy something for myself.

Well there are times when writing this column that I feel alone and writing for myself.  In a hotel room in New York City typing away, thinking of what might be of interest to you all.  On a plane, trying to be prescient.  Or just in my Albany office, telling the story of the many incredible people that make up this membership. 

When writing this morning, I found myself singing songs from The Wall, and landed on the lyric “Is anybody out there?”  Besides bringing back the memory of my purchase of that album, and listening on the headphones on the living room floor, it made me wonder what the membership is thinking and if anyone is actually reading the stuff I write.

Perhaps because I am the oldest, and could never understand why my parents thought they needed more children once they had me (let alone eight more), I need a lot of attention.  When I began as President I said that I wanted to have a dialogue with members, to explore the value proposition of membership and to generally discuss the profession and the wider community in Albany County that we all live and work in. 

And although that dialogue has happened in-person at the many events that I have attended this year, aside from random and stray comment, I have heard very little about the articles I write in this Newsletter.  I want to change that this month.  If anyone is actually reading this article, I would like you to send me an email to comment on one or more of the issues I am going to raise below.  Or just write to say hello.  The email address is dhurteau@nixonpeabody.com – and I want you to light up my inbox.

Let’s Talk About Membership

What is the membership value proposition for ACBA?  I would like to hear what members think. 

I can list several propositions, and will give you all a few that resonate with me. 

ACBA, and the same is true of the Capital District Women’s Bar Association and Capital Region Black and Hispanic Bar Association, is truly your local bar.  The people in this association are the professionals you meet every day, in your office, in court or out in the community.  Because we are uniquely local, we are focused on what is happening to and with the attorneys right here in Albany County.  ACBA provides opportunities for truly local CLE, gatherings with Judges and other professionals and to have social events like bread, cake and pie baking contests.  It is, from my perspective, the bedrock of a legal practice or career in this County.

The membership dues are a relatively small investment in the career of any attorney in Albany County.  For those in private practice, meeting just one other attorney at an event that refers you work, is worth every penny of the dues.  For the attorney working in public service, the connections you can make in case you decide to leave public service are very helpful.  If you are in-house, you have the opportunity to get out of the business silo and socialize with other professionals.  If you are a young attorney or student at Albany Law School, the opportunity to meet peers and potential mentors (not to mention employers) is incredibly valuable. 

An ACBA membership provides the opportunity to put down your phones and other devices and actually say hello to a person – in person.  For all the good that technology brings, it does tend to encourage a somewhat unhealthy relationship with a piece of metal.  We have moved our relationships from face to face – to Instagram, Facebook or FaceTime (at best).  I recall both my daughters in grade school “dating” for months without ever actually talking to the person when in school.  A membership organization (while using social media – please feel free to sign on to the ACBA Instagram and Facebook accounts) provides the important opportunity to actually speak to other humans.

Now I understand that some will push back and say they get nothing from ACBA that justifies the dues.  They say there are plenty of other outlets for social activity and that there is way too much out there competing for their time and resources.  They might also say that ACBA does not provide programming for them or what they do.  That they can get free CLE at work and do not need to attend ACBA programs. And they do not like hanging out with attorneys, in any event. 

How do we respond?  What do we say and how can you help us develop a cogent retort?  Do you think I am making strong value propositions?  How do we get those value propositions out to non-members?  What are the strengths and weaknesses or our argument for membership?  What am I missing?

Access to Justice

Do we care, as a membership or as attorneys, that the average person cannot afford to hire us? 

The median income in the United States is just over $63,000 a year.  It is a bit higher in Albany County at $66,000 a year.  That said, only four out of every ten Americans have the resources to pay an unexpected bill of more than $500. A legal bill for almost anything is going to exceed $500.  The result is that an incredible number of people in our community do not hire attorneys to assist them with obvious legal needs.  They either try to represent themselves or they give up or give in.  That means people lose housing, jobs, wages and live in dangerous situations because they cannot afford to get the help they need.

Frankly, I view this as an abject failure of the legal system.  How did we leave so many behind?  Was it a blind rush for the money, was it that we just did not want to do this work or is it something else?  And how do we deal with this ever increasing issue?  Or do some not even see this as an issue?  Is it something this membership should even be concerned with addressing?  Can there be a paradigm shift?  Are there solutions in private practices, or should this be left to the not-for-profits and government to solve?

A lot of questions.  And I would like you each to chime in.  I promise to synthesize your thoughts for my next Newsletter Article.  And if there are other issues that you want to raise, if you want to reminisce about your love for the cabinet stereo console, please send me a note.

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