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President's Message | May 2018 Newsletter

In celebration of Mother’s Day on May 13, 2018, I dedicate this column to my fabulous mother - Betty Jean West. My mom grew up in the City of Albany as an only child to Mary and Richard Rorie. Neither of my maternal grandparents had college degrees but they made sure college was in my mother’s future. She made them proud when she graduated from the State University at Albany with a degree in Mathematics and a minor in fine arts. My grandparents’ gift of piano lessons from an early age and their constant encouragement had paid off. In turn, my mother ensured that my three siblings and I were each provided with instrument lessons and that we excelled in school. As a result of my mother’s steadfast dedication and encouragement, my siblings and I all have bachelors and graduate degrees. We also play various instruments and from time to time we have been known to have impromptu jam sessions.

When I look back at everything that was on my mom’s plate as she raised four kids, I marvel at how she made it all work. Before retiring, my mother spent many years working in public service as a computer programmer for the Division of Criminal Justice Services. As a widowed working mother, she found a way to balance raising four kids, while simultaneously remaining patient, kind, and dedicated to our well-being. In addition, she always believed in our dreams and supported them (as long as they included a college degree). Most recently, when I ran for Supreme Court Justice in 2015, my mother moved in with us for a few months so I could again pursue my dreams without the fear of neglecting our son.

My mother’s generosity is boundless and I am so thankful for her. This month we celebrate all the mothers who make a difference and sacrifice their lives for others.

As stated previously, each month I will be featuring a public service member. This month I had the opportunity to interview Andy Ayers.

1) State your current job title and a brief description of the work?

I’m the Director of the Government Law Center, and a visiting assistant professor at Albany Law School. The Center studies state and local government; we have projects researching a variety of issues, including state constitutional law and history; the state and local role in immigration issues; and access to legal services in rural communities. We also mentor law students who are interested in public service, and help connect the law school to the community of public-service lawyers. Meanwhile, I teach legal ethics and administrative law.

2) What previous public service positions have you held?

For nine years, I was an Assistant Solicitor General (and eventually a Senior Assistant Solicitor General) in the Office of the New York State Attorney General. Before that, I clerked for the Hon. Sonia Sotomayor on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and for the Hon. Gerard Lynch on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. And in law school, I interned at the U.S. State Department and in the office of Senator Russ Feingold on the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

3) Have those previous positions assisted in the way you approach your work with the Government Law Center? If so, how?

Yes, absolutely. The biggest lesson I drew from my experience in government was that government is hard. Writing laws that work well, and achieve their intended results, is extremely difficult work even when everyone agrees on the goal, and of course there is almost always disagreement about the goal. Implementing laws, too, is extremely difficult work even under the best of circumstances. Bureaucracy gets a bad rap in our society, sometimes with good reason, but the truth is that it takes an extremely talented and diligent professional to make sense of the laws our administrative agencies are asked to administer. And there are so many challenges beyond the difficulty of interpreting the laws: scarcity of resources; political pressures, including anti-government sentiment; navigating the complex ethical rules that apply to government work; and the difficulty of implementing laws justly in a society profoundly shaped by racism, sexism, and discrimination against so many groups. This is part of why I think the Government Law Center’s nonpartisan research and analysis is so important: there are always important legal questions that our government lacks the resources to answer by itself.

More personally, my experience has a big influence on my work as a mentor and teacher.

I was deeply inspired by so many of the people I worked with in the state and federal governments. My role at the Government Law Center is, among other things, to help law students connect with the broader community of government lawyers, and it’s easy to encourage students to join that community when so many of the public servants I know are hardworking, intelligent, committed, and decent people and professionals.

4) What can the association do to engage public service attorneys?

I think the association is doing a great job already, by helping build a meaningful sense of community. According to a recent study, lawyers are the loneliest profession in America (you can read about the study at https://hbr.org/2018/03/americas-loneliest-workers-according-to-research). One of the things that helps with loneliness, according to the study, is building a community around a shared sense of meaning. I think that professional associations like the bar association are an important part of that work. They help us see that we’re part of a larger community, bound not just by the shared misery of long hours but by a common purpose. For lawyers in public service, coming together as a community through organizations like the association is especially important, because the same study found that government employees are lonelier than for-profit and not-for-profit workers. So we need more of a sense of community and shared meaning than we have. And that shouldn’t be so hard to achieve, because all government employees have a common purpose—making life better and more just for everyone in our society-and there’s nothing more meaningful than that.

Hon. Christina L. Ryba
ACBA President

 

 

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