Continuity and Change
This newsletter carries the announcement that Fern Schair, our incomparable Executive Secretary and Chief Administrative Officer, will be leaving the Association in June after 15 years of extraordinarily able and devoted service. This forthcoming major organizational change offers us an appropriate opportunity to take stock of who we are, where we have been, and focus on where we should be going.
The Past and the Present
To understand what has occurred at the Association over the last 15 years, and to put Fern's accomplishments in perspective, consider the following: In January 1982, when Fern became the Association's third Executive Secretary, the Association had 13,000 members. Today our membership numbers 21,000. Seven percent of our members were women in 1982. Fern's widely recognized efforts in promoting women in the profession is certainly part of the reason why that number has risen to 27% today. Minority membership has also significantly increased.
Today, the Association is more representative of the profession in other ways as well. In 1997, far more than any other time in its history, the Association has a significant number of attorneys working for the government, in the corporate sector, law schools, public interest organizations, and in small to medium size firms (only 25% of Association members practice in a firm larger than 100 persons).
Our growth can be measured in other ways as well. A state-of-the-art Technology Center did not exist 15 years ago. It does today. Two renovations of our landmark House, the latest just completed following a successful $3 million capital campaign, have given us a larger and vastly improved physical structure that will ultimately permit us, at a considerable savings, to stop leasing space in the adjoining Bar Building. Our $9.3 million budget is balanced and our endowment fund has increased 200%, to $5.4 million.
In 1982 the Association's legal referral service - providing legal assistance and referrals to the public - received approximately 8,000 calls annually. Last year the number was more than 110,000. We are now exploring ways to offer a comparable referral service to the indigent, so that someone who needs, but cannot afford, a lawyer can receive legal advice over the phone, and be referred, if additional assistance is needed, to an appropriate provider for indigent legal services.
This project is an outgrowth of the Association's increased focus on legal assistance to the poor. When Fern became our Executive Secretary the Association had no formal program through which public service programs were carried out. Today, under the auspices of the Robert B. McKay Community Outreach Law Project (established in 1987 as a result of initiatives by Fern and others), we run a number of projects that each year enable over 1,000 volunteer lawyers to receive training and provide assistance in cases involving domestic violence, housing, immigration, matrimonial and other matters.
This year we created a Public Service Resource Center to assist experienced lawyers who want to devote substantial time to public service activities.
In 1982, continuing legal education was not high on the Association's agenda. Today, as lawyers in this state prepare to adjust to the realities of mandatory continuing legal education, we offer an increasing number of high-quality and cost-effective programs.
When Fern began here we had 113 committees; today our committees number 180. One major new area of emphasis that has drawn Fern's particular attention has been committees focusing on professional and lifestyle issues, in areas ranging from diversity in the profession, to the quality of life of junior associates, to part-time and unemployed attorneys.
The Association's Future
This Association was founded in 1870 to root out corruption in the judiciary, and to advocate reform in the law. We must continue in these never-ending efforts, and in particular champion integrity in government (including campaign finance reform), a strong and independent judiciary composed of the most highly qualified men and women, and needed changes in the substantive law at the local, state and federal levels.
At the same time, we must continue to serve the profession's conscience. We must embrace and promote all that is good within the profession and tirelessly seek to strengthen those areas where change is needed.
The Search for a New Executive Secretary
Fern has provided exemplary leadership for this Association, and invaluable advice to the nine Association Presidents with whom she served. It is impossible to adequately thank her for everything she has done. We will miss her enormously.
But strong organizations often become even stronger when change, no matter how initially unwelcome, occurs. Fern has provided us with an extraordinary foundation on which to build our future. When our search process is completed I am confident this Association will emerge ever more vibrant, and with an Executive Secretary who will follow Fern's great tradition of leadership, innovation and wise counsel.
To find this new Executive Secretary a search committee has been formed, which I will head, and which will also be composed of former Association presidents Barbara Robinson and Conrad Harper, and Association Vice President (and former chair of the Executive Committee) Sam Seymour. We have already begun our work with the single goal of finding the best person to serve as our Executive Secretary in the years ahead. If you are interested in applying for the position, or know someone who is, please write to me at Proskauer Rose Goetz & Mendelsohn, 1585 Broadway, New York, New York, 10036.